Bernard Frize at the Musée d'art Contemporain, Nimes
One of France's best painters is Bernard Frize (pronounced "frieze"), whose retrospective in Nimes (June 19-Sept. 26, 1999) shows his work's progress since 1980, when he began exhibiting.
Frize is known for fresco-like paintings made with a wide, boat-painter's brush loaded with paint. He often mixes paint with a waxy resin and drags his brush across a wet surface, melding long, slow strokes into a creamy, satiny, nacreous ground. This blending of figure and ground is essentially both his subject and style.
Frize's rainbow colors tend to be transparent -- blue-marine, raspberry crimson, lemon yellow, tangerine, a piney green. He rarely uses black. He paints donuts, swirls, crosshatches, grids, lattices and seismic wave shapes in repeated patterns and single elements, on small and very large canvases.
His first works were more opaque, with color imbricated upon color. In one recent allover work, the opaque pink surface is covered with nubbins of hemispherical drops.
Frize is a systematic painter whose style seems to guide him through incremental steps. He came of age during painting's efflorescence in the 1980s. Just downstairs from his show in Nimes hangs a Ross Bleckner painting of op-like stripes along with works by Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke. In their company, Frize looks something like a genre painter. And by international comparison he is. Yet in France his determined superficiality and dense pearly rainbow surfaces remain dignified and serious, and his retrospective is solid and consistent.
Hans Hemmert at galerie cent8
One of contemporary art's requirements is that an artist find a style, or gesture, and run with it. Berliner Hans Hemmert chose the yellow balloon. He makes them big, big enough to fill a room. He performs with them, videotapes them and photographs them.
For an installation called Emergency, Hemmert squeezed a four-meter-tall yellow balloon over a furniture installation. In another work he set up and photographed his studio inside an immense balloon. He has also climbed inside one of his balloons and had himself photographed from the outside, grabbing things, creating a slapstick effect.
Hemmert's chosen material, a fat, buttery, latex balloon, is more often used for literal uplift. His balloons call to mind pods, second skins, wombs, and are, in fact, friendly, wiggly, animal-like sculptures. Whether Hemmert can make a career of balloon art is at this point moot. What's interesting is how far he has taken the idea.
Tacita Dean at Marian Goodman
The subject of English artist Tacita Dean's exhibition at Marian Goodman's Paris gallery is an abandoned, half-built house on the "hurricane" side of Cayman Brac island in the Caribbean. The "bubble house," as the locals call it, was left unfinished like a dream in progress (its builder now doing 35 years for fraud).
Originally Dean set out to do a "piece" on Donald Crowhurst, the English adventurer who in 1968 fooled everyone into thinking he was the front runner in a solo sailing race around the world when in fact he never left the Atlantic (apparently, he then jumped overboard and drowned). But during her excursion she came across the bubble house, which she thought would be a fitting accompaniment to the shipwreck. Dean filmed and photographed both, which she calls "shameful relics of fraud and deceit," producing works that have eye appeal and are fraught with hope run literally aground.
An accompanying text explains everything, maybe a bit too much. The Caymans are tax shelters, places of financial mischief. One might wonder why an artist is doing a reporter's job. A worst-case scenario -- do folks who get away with fraud end up as art collectors? It was a pretty good show, even though the mystery was gone along with the crook.
Yan Pei-Ming at Durand-Dessert
If you like painting to be big, fast and recognizable, then Yan Pei-Ming is your man. Ming, as he is called here, came to France in 1981 to study painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Dijon and ended up staying. He basically paints portraits -- big ones -- in wide, fat strokes of gray-scale impasto, attacking a surface with a robust confidence to bring an image to life.
His favorite subject is the late-discovered pervert and murderer of millions, Mao Tse-Tung. He also paints homeless people, each of whom he calls an "invisible man," Buddha, squatting nude girls and huge, ranging landscapes, often referring to them as scenes of crimes.
Yes, he tiptoes to the brink of kitsch and echoes the macho sentimentality of a Bruce Lee trying to save painting from both the philistines and critics. But he gets your attention and makes his old-fashioned medium look tough and alive.
Moriyama Daido at the Deep
Formerly based in Tokyo, the Deep recently opened in Paris with an excellent exhibition by Moriyama Daido, a photographer best known for his black-and-white work. Here, he shows for the first time his highly detailed color pictures of people and cities, often taken at night.
Born in 1938, Moriyama had his first solo exhibition in 1970. According to Moriyama, his color work tends to be more improvised than the black-and-whites, for which tone and contrast is always thought out. Yet the color pictures have a high-keyed contrast and rich textures, with lit areas emerging from deep, ocean darks. Most curious is how Moriyama's photographs look like Polaroids or faded snapshots and are simultaneously richly toned and stylistically really fresh.
Stéphane Magnin at Art: Concept
Stéphane Magnin is a prolific young French artist (b. 1965) whose kitschy, pop style is full of op art lines, fluorescent colors and plastic bubble forms. Art Concept is a small space, so Magnin's show was limited to an op-like video on the floor and several "abstract" paintings made of molded Sawada Platex. The walls were painted too: a chocolate brown horizon line, about four inches thick, goes around the room at eye-level, framing his molded paintings. There's also a large, very simple two-inch-thick arabesque line made with glue and flocked with motes of charcoal.
Generally Magnin's subject is the period style itself and how it can be morphed and mutated. At that level he is protean and varied, but sometimes takes it in too many directions, with figures and op-like drawings and tchotchkes and bubble-form objets overcrowding a space. But at Art:Concept, he pulled off a terse, coherent show (with a lot of unshown pieces stacked up in the back). The glue drawing, the brown geometric wall painting and the plastic paintings à la Courrèges stood out like gems.