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by Jeff Rian
Fauvism at the Musée de l'art moderne de la ville de Paris
The current must-see Paris show is "Fauvism, Trial by Fire" at the Musée de l'art moderne de la ville de Paris, a retrospective devoted to the first truly modern art movement (Oct. 29 1999-Feb. 27, 2000). The show traces the development of Fauvism from Neo-Impressionism (particularly the Pointillism of Paul Signac and Georges Seurat) and Symbolism (Gauguin, van Gogh, Redon) through Bonnard's candy-colors, and trips to the Mediterranean by Matisse and Signac. Fauvism quickly captivated artists from England to Russia, and became a big sensation at the 1905 Salon d'Automne in Paris, when critic Louis Vauxcelles decried works by Matisse, André Derain and Maurice Vlaminck as a "wild beast" style.
The Fauves reinvigorated painting for the new century by giving it vivid, pure colors and a childlike touch. Matisse favored adjacent compliments: green and red over orange and purple. Vlaminck used blue for black. Their brushstrokes looked more like finger smears and crude daubs, and their subjects were simple and direct -- landscapes, portraits, still lifes -- as was the case with Impressionism and later with Cubism (by contrast, Symbolism took up recondite subjects). Critics, the public and many artists hated it.
The show in Paris begins with Matisse's 1904 Pointillistic Luxe, Calme et Volupté and ends with his Le Luxe II (1907-08), which depicts three bathers with simple planes and few colors -- grass, sky, flesh and sand. In between are all the known and many of the forgotten Fauves smearing paint across the continent in an evolution that moved from points, to smears, to planes of color. In 1905 the first Fauves were joined by Kees van Dongen, Othon Friesz, Georges Braque and Raoul Dufy. Others who adopted a Fauvist style include Alexej Jawlensky, Edvard Munch, Giacometti, Mondrian, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Emile Nolde, Kandinsky and Kupka. Clearly, Fauvism was the root of many art movements that followed.
The exhibition makes apparent both the movement's international scope and its broad similarities of style and subject matter. Yet exceptions stand out, such as Piet Mondrian's pale mauve and yellow Paysage de mer (1909-10), which previews his interest in abstraction, and Edvard Munch's wild, whirly eyed bohemian in La Vigne vierge rouge (1898-1900), descending from a blood red house toward center stage, and prefiguring his legendary Scream.
The few Picassos in the show also looked comparatively sedate, and one 1910 Boccioni is a set up for Futurism. The essentially painterly Fauvist movement ultimately died with the advent of Cubism, Futurism and Dada, which would change the rules of art-making irrevocably. Still, Fauvism was the impetus for the century's recurring expressionist painters, all the way up to the "wild" style painters that appeared in Europe in the 1980s, particularly in Vienna and Berlin.
"The Other Slumber"
One flight up from the heat of the Fauves at the Musée de l'art moderne de la ville de Paris, "The Other Slumber" is a dreamy, David Lynchian blend of installations, videotapes and photographs, playing on men and women afloat, adrift, and doing what they do: struggling with love (Oct. 29, 1999-Feb. 27, 2000). Included is a large color photograph by Anika von Hausswolff, called Hey Buster! What Do You Know About Desire?, that shows a German shepherd on a beach with a female cadaver. The mood is further set by Anna Gaskell's video, set in a dark room, of a girl in a pool coming up for air; and Koo Jeong-a's photographs of snow falling in a dark alley, the flash of the camera reflecting off large snowflakes.
The best for me was Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone's cool and dreamy installation. In the corners are four video monitors (showing various images, including a car in the snow, a girl in front of a crumpled backdrop and a man in bubbling water) and in the center of the space are three suspended plastic pods with speakers set in them playing what sounds like songs by lover-boy Chris Isaak. The walls are painted lemon yellow up about two feet from the floor, and the color then fades into iceberg white.
Roni Horn, "Events of Relation"
Across the hall at the museum, New York artist Roni Horn's "Events of Relation" (Oct. 29, 1999-Feb. 27, 2000) includes photographs and two large, blue-glass ottoman-sized forms called Untitled (Flannery) (1996-97), which made me think of Flannery O'Connor's dark southern Catholicism set in medicine-bottle glass. Horn's early floor pieces often have 3-D words set in shiny Minimalist metal beams. Here a photographic series, "Still Water (The River Thames for example)"(1997-99), shows water from overhead and has captions like "A Rat Surrendered here," "See poem No. 1340 by Emily Dickinson, 1870" or "Going into the water is going into yourself."
Ellipsis (II) (1996) is a grid of 64 photographs of door numbers in white-tiled bathhouse in Reykjavik. Dead Owl (1997) is a pair of photos of the same white stuffed owl. And Pi (1994-99) is an installation of 45 black-and-white and color photographs of people, water, animals, feathers, barren landscapes, a sanded floor with a mound of wood dust in a corner and paneled walls painted robin's egg blue.
Horn's work is a catalogue of other places and atmospheres. She turns remoteness into a pensive calmness full of cool air and northern reticence -- everything that Fauvism is not.
Vik Muñiz at the Centre National de la Photographie and Galerie Xippas
Brazilian artist Vik Muñiz uses a variety of exotic mediums to make drawn and painted images that he then rephotographs -- a method that is both poetic and clever. He makes drawings in wire of teddy bears or a chair; he uses black string to redo famous landscapes by Constable or Gerhard Richter to look like high-contrast aquatints; he draws a Hans Namuth photograph of Jackson Pollock in tangy marmalade; a portrait series called "Pictures of Chocolate" includes Marilyn Monroe and a Rorschach blob drawn in chocolate; he makes images from an almost-finished plate of spaghetti marinara or cigarette ashes and peanut butter and jelly.
He photographs them all. The result is the kind of pop history as if made by some crazy inspired mom and dad. For the most part the interest of the subjects themselves is overwhelmed by Muniz's passion to transform them. It's impressive -- but too bad Vik's not actually Vikkie so I could give it one of those feminist readings.
Marina Abramovic at Galerie cent8
Abramovic's announcement card, which reads, "With a sharp knife cut deeply into the middle finger of the lefthand [sic] Eat the pain," pretty much sums up the artist's long-running Body Art project, begun years ago with her former partner Ulay. In this exhibition, Abramovic combines installation and an astonishing number of videos; all presented with style and panache (a gift all her own).
A photograph shows Abramovic in the midst of a big, gory heap of beef bones. A room holds a table with four head-sized stones -- black, green, crystal quartz and amethyst. Another room holds 12 drawings for a Spirit Cooking Book. And Video Portrait Gallery, 1998/1999, shows a series of 14 close-up endurance videos of the artist screaming, combing her hair till it falls out, burying her face in crystals, hanging upside down, and so on (at 93,000 FF each or 930,000 for the lot).
Abramovic's is endurance art of Kafkaesque proportion, made real and poignantly personal. You can't not feel it. Across the street at a second space she installed a series of outdoor videos, using actors, one who stands up to his shoulders in water, another who shivers in a cold forest, another who presses his ear to a rock in a stream. These are beautiful enactments of suffering enshrined through a utopian "self" -- which maybe suits a world fraught with public paranoia and fear of "other."
Tørbjorn Rødland at Air de Paris
This exhibition is the Norwegian photographer Tørbjorn Rødland's first in Paris. He often uses a large-format camera to photograph highly detailed landscapes, mostly of forests and streams, often with people in them. Here, he presented photos of six nudists (five were yummy top models), four landscapes, a car in a Dabai desertscape and an interior. His theme is nature vs. urbanity.
His naturalists all wear sneakers and have a plastic shopping bag or cellular phone to show their city trappings. Thus he satirizes the Scandinavian clichés of healthy nudists communing in nature, albeit in really stupendous photographs (ranging in price from 6,500 FF to 20,000 FF) that combine real babes, old-style romantic beauty and a palpable social bite.
Melanie Counsell at Galerie Jennifer Flay
An English artist living in France, Counsell erected in the gallery a stepped, bleachers-like structure made with the rough side of Masonite facing out. The piece rises up at the entrance right to the ceiling. Generally, Counsell's very esthetic films and videos relate subjects to architecture. Here, when you step back in the first room and look at her construction through the doorway the whole thing seems to stand up, creating a striking visual effect.
Thomas Struth at Marion Goodman
For his most recent Paris show, German photographer Thomas Struth juxtaposed his well-known, large, Canaletto-like tableaux vivants of museum visitors alongside huge photographs taken beneath the dense jungle canopy. Landscape has been a hot topic in photography for about a year now, and Struth's large-format jungles (at around 200,000 FF a pop) thrust us right into big, green Tarzan worlds that, for all their realness, look like Hollywood-style backdrops (perfect for Banana Republic). Oddly enough, the scale and crystal stillness made these jungle gnarls and crowded museum arcades unreal to look at. Maybe that's what makes them like paintings.
JEFF RIAN is a writer living in Paris.