exhibition, Paris, photography

Revisiting the History of Photography (1. Jan Dibbets)

1 Anton Giulio et Arturo Bragaglia.jpg

Anton Giulio Bragaglia and Arturo Bragaglia, Salutando, 1911, 17.5x23cm, Galleria civica in Modeno

To question the nature of photography is the aim of Pandora’s Box, an exhibition curated by Jan Dibbets at the MAMVP in Paris (a museum the artist is familiar with), from March 25 to July 17, 2016. Hailing from conceptual art, Dibbets was among the first to examine photography itself (alongside William Anastasi, then Michael Snow, John Hilliard, Tim Rautert and Ugo Mulas). Around 1970, he created a series of photographs addressing the processes and mechanisms of photography , as well as its essence, as opposed to the images represented: the “how” of photography rather than its “what.” In this exhibition, Dibbets presses forward with these same concerns, reframing them within the history of photography, and nourishing them with readings of Vilém Flusser’s ideas –a thinker he discovered while preparing the exhibition. (This fact was of great interest to me, of course; it is more thoroughly explained in a video of his interview with Fabrice Hergott than in the catalogue).
Pandora’s Box has been put together by an artist, not an art historian, and therefore there were some liberties taken, some partial choices made, some incongruous selections (especially in the last section, which was quite disappointing), and some bizarre omissions (from the five precursors I just cited, only Anastasi and Snow are featured, and Mulas’ absence in particular is baffling, if it is not simply a petty move by Dibbets). Those choices will appeal or not to the visitor, but –at least until the last section– they make for a compelling exhibition. Continue reading

exhibition, Paris, photography

Seydou Keïta, Fascination & Ambiguity

1 Seydou Keïta, à gauche ST, 1956

Seydou Keïta, Untitled, 1956-1957 (printed 1997), 120x180cm [left]; Untitled, 1958 (printed 1997), 120x180cm [right]

Seydou Keïta’s work (on view at the Grand Palais, March 31 – July 11, 2016), one of the great African photographers, is both fascinating and ambiguous. Fascinating because Keïta’s undeniable talent as a portraitist bestows unparalleled dignity and beauty on his models. He is one of the first to go beyond semi-ethnographic portraits of stereotyped Africans, standing stiffly with their official insignia (whether they were dignitaries or constables – the one pictured above is the latter), and neither inclined nor allowed to demonstrate any sign of individuality. Keïta pushes back against this Eurocentric and colonial gaze, and goes beyond it in letting his models’ personality shine through, in seeing them as human beings in their own right, with their styles, personalities, emotions, with their grace or their pride – like this young woman featured on the exhibition poster (pictured above, left). The contrast between the two portraits displayed side by side is a good indication of the radical change Keïta heralds, an upheaval in the way we look at African men and women. Continue reading

contemporary art, installation, Paris

The Outside & the Inside: Eva Jospin at the Louvre

1 Eva Jospin, Panorama

Eva Jospin, Panorama

The initial shock of Eva Jospin’s installation in the Louvre’s Cour Carrée (April 12 – August 28, 2016) comes from its display. To discover its high reliefs, the visitor has to pass through several consecutive concentric enclosures to reach the center. First, the classical buildings of the Cour Carrée; next, a circular basin made of stone containing stagnant greenish water; then, set in this basin, a decagonal pavilion reflecting the Louvre facade on its walls – echo and mirror. (The glass Pyramid is not visible because of the obtuse angle towards it; obfuscating the Pyramid – another “grafted” structure – is definitely not fortuitous.) Continue reading

exhibition, Paris, photography

Revealing Creative Genius(es)? Of Photography’s Imposture

1 Willy Rizzo, -Picasso, époque

Willy Rizzo, “Picasso, red period”, Paris Match nº211, March-April 1953, photomechanical reproduction, 35,2×52,5cm, coll. Forney Library

Do you –readers of Paris Match, exhibition visitors…– have the audacity to think you would be able to understand the complexity, plenitude and mystery of the pictorial or sculptural act of creation, just by looking at photographs or movies showing the artist at work? Well, the exhibition In the Studio (at the Petit Palais, until July 17, 2016) will crush any delusions you might have. You will see artists striking a pose with self-confidence and pride in their talent, promoting themselves on glossy paper, managing carefully their own image: from Ingres brooding or Pablo Picasso fooling around for Brassaï to Jeff Koons as a naked gymnast (not to mention the purely commercial product that is M.-P. Nègre’s photograph of M. Moquet for the Drouot Gazette, depicting her studio as “a place where, when hands are busy, orgasms are possible” –No comment). You will see portraits commissioned by journals, publishers, galleries or the artist him/herself, all in line with the same precisely defined and regulated logic, aimed at selling illusions. You will see Rodin pretending to chisel marble (which he never did) and Auguste Renoir, his hands deformed by arthritis, pretending to paint in front of Sacha Guitry glorifying French creative geniuses in 1915. But you will not see Lucio Fontana pretending to slash a canvas for Ugo Mulas, as the latter is regrettably not featured in this exhibition, even though he might have been the only photographer capable of portraying the impossibility of photographing the artist at work. Indeed, after photographing Jasper Johns, Mulas decided to stop picturing painters in the process of painting, thusly acknowledging the very ambiguity of the situation: “If the painter agrees to it, the image is purely promotional in nature; if he refuses and I do convince him, it becomes an act of violence.” Continue reading

exhibition, Paris, photography

To Each His/Her Kollar

François Kollar, Porteur de

François Kollar, Rail trackman, Arles, 1933, Réattu Museum.

Must one have worked as a blue-collar worker in order to accurately photograph them? Such a demand is rarely formulated when it comes to legionnaires, pearl divers, politicians or prostitutes, yet the idea imbues everything that has been written about François Kollar (at the Jeu de Paume, until May 22, 2016), from the tagline “Un ouvrier du regard / A Working Eye” to the press review. It might be relevant –if it was shown and sustained, if we were graced with explanations demonstrating how Kollar’s photographic eye differs formally and esthetically from photographers such as Kilip, Hine, Doisneau… who never clocked in at any factory, to my knowledge, whereas Kollar did, at Renault’s, in Billancourt (if only for two years). But the actual difference between those “sons of Kulaks” (not to mention others like the very bourgeois Thiollier) and Kollar-the-former-manual-worker is never argued for, and the moniker rings hollow, like an all-too-convenient mantra. Continue reading

exhibition, painting, Paris

Victor and Honoré

1 Jean-Hubert Fragonard, L'Heureux

Jean-Hubert Fragonard, L’Heureux Moment, ou La Résistance Inutile [The Happy Moment, or Resistance is futile], circa 1770-1775, bistre wash on pierre noire-prepared paper, watercolor highlights, 22.9×34.8cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Two beautiful first names, “victory” and “honor”, for two very different exhibitions. Fragonard, named in fact Jean-Honoré (Honoré Fragonard was the painter’s cousin, more interested in Thanatos than Eros…), died in 1806, and by then Bonaparte had become Napoleon entirely. Victor Hugo was born in 1802 –a date echoed in his famous poem “Ce siècle avait deux ans…”– and he would call the Bonaparte of his times, Napoleon III, “Napoléon le Petit”. Therefore, to compare Jean-Honoré and Victor may be arbitrary, yet I can’t help but see them as two faces of the same coin, as a photographic positive with its negative (but who is what?), as the two-faced Roman god Janus. Continue reading

contemporary art, event, exhibition, Paris, performance art

Olympia is Looking at You, or “Who’s Afraid of Deborah De Robertis?”

1 Olympia

Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863 & Auguste Clésinger, Femme piquée par un serpent [Woman Bitten by a Snake], 1847

Olympia dares to look at us. This is the real scandal: she is looking at us. This unworthy woman, showcased only to be glared at, sister to the nude featured on an Orsay Museum poster inviting the public to come and look at nudes with their children (26 years after the famous Guerrilla Girls poster which was taking to task the Met Museum), is looking at us. So passive, her desirable flesh ready for the taking, she should not have any agency, she should not be soliciting… And yet she dares to look at us in the eye, she dares to face us, brazenly, immodestly, defiantly. One day, maybe, we will have her, as they say, thanks to our charm –or rather our money. But we won’t own her: possessing her will be more akin to submitting to her. Continue reading