SPRINGTIME IN PARIS
The fun-loving artist Rob Pruitt contributed a couple of incandescent paintings to “Arthur Rainbow,” Mar. 9-Apr. 14, 2012, a ravishing group exhibition held this spring at Air de Paris, the gallery that represents him in the City of Light. The show also included works by Stéphane Dafflon, Dorothy Iannone, Pierre Joseph, Lily van der Stokker and Sister Corita Kent.
Everything in the show seemed light enough to levitate, but the pieces by Kent, Iannone and van der Stokker stood out. Three formidable female artists of certain ages -- Sister Corita died of cancer at the age of 68 in 1986, Iannone was born in Boston in 1933 and now lives in Berlin, and van der Stokker is Dutch, born in 1954 -- all employ Pop-derived texts and images to communicate a breed of spirituality that’s respectively chaste, carnal and pleasurably ironic.
Kent is famous for bold serigraphs that convert media images and advertising into antiwar messages of religious love. In Handle with Care (1967), for example, the title phrase is spelled out in dazzling green against an orange disk, while the purple words “see the man who can save you the most” float subtly in the background. Applied to religion, the word “save” acquires a meaning diametrically opposed to its original commercial context.
The mature work of Dorothy Iannone, on the other hand, is almost solely concerned with earthy sexual love. In Irresistible Strangers (1982), a psychedelic double-gendered two-headed nude sports breasts, a penis and a purple halo/necklace that ends in the head of a snake -- a union of bodies so intense that it causes a physical transformation.
A more postmodern cynicism characterizes the works by Van der Stokker and Pruitt, but buoyant colors still reign. Van der Stokker often blows up her goofy little drawings and paints them on the wall. A snowman-shaped mural of a pink mountain with a radiant blue sky was in the front gallery, figuratively singing out “Darling” to everyone walking in. Prices ranged from €25,000 for the Van der Stokker mural and €30,000 for the Iannone painting to $70,000 for the Pruitts.
Huzo Lumnst, an equally weightless 1973 performance by Guy de Cointet that took place in Paris’ Sonnabend Gallery, was recreated at Air de Paris on Mar. 31 in conjunction with “Arthur Rainbow,” and the remains of this event had been left in the gallery’s back room. An enigmatic French artist who died of AIDS in Los Angeles in 1983 at the age of only 49, de Cointet was sometimes known as the Duchamp of L.A.
Cizeghoh Tur Ndjmb, a series of 12 framed silkscreens printed with nonsensical (or coded) combinations of numbers and letters, hung on the walls, credited to Huzo Lumnst, an imaginary female artist. Seen on a monitor in the corner, an actress recited an evocative dialogue of sentences, some appropriated from soap operas, all the while gesturing exaggeratedly at the artworks.
Posing is also a passion for Jean-Luc Verna, a flamboyant Air de Paris artist who was not in the show but is a notable gallery artist all the same. Adorned with extensive tattoos and theatrical facial piercings, Verna recently played every part in Brice Dellsperger’s 2011 recreation of Kubrick’s films Eyes Wide Shut (helped by prosthetic body parts, wigs and some digital manipulation), which was screened at Team Gallery in New York early last year.
On his own, Verna sings, dances and creates spooky transfer drawings descended from the malevolent, late-19th-century erotica of Félicien Rops. He also makes nude self-portrait photographs that mimic the uncanny moments when punk performers unwittingly take positions echoing famous old works of art. His work is currently included in “Les Maîtres du désordre” (Masters of Disorder), a large exhibition at the Musee du quai Branly uniting objects, costumes and works of art from great anthropological collections with works by contemporary artists including Annette Messager and Thomas Hirschhorn. Verna’s photos sell for €6,600 each.
An equally melodramatic series of paintings could be found at Semiose Galerie on Rue Chapon, a few blocks away from the Centre Pompidou. André Raffray, who died in 2010 at the age of 84, was the head of animation at the Société Gaumont, the oldest continuously operating film company in the world. On Mar 31-May 5, 2012, was an extensive series of dozens of his small gouaches, done in a charming wooden style reminiscent of early figures by Balthus and his brother Pierre Klossowski.
The paintings, created between 1976 and 1983, illustrate episodes of Les Brigades du Tigre, a ten-season cult television series about a 1912 Parisian crime-fighting team. Flappers with long cigarette holders populate the panels, along with dramatic action sequences depicting beatings, bank robberies and explosions. It’s a wonderful effusion of early-20th-century Paris, filtered through a 1970s sensibility.
A more melancholy group of photographs by British artist Ryan Gander (who has shown all over Europe and had a 2008 solo exhibition in New York at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery) was on view at gb agency, Feb. 24-Apr. 13, 2012 -- pictures of an exhibition that, it turns out, was seen only by gallery employees. After their installation, the works were documented, dismantled, repacked and sent to another show in Naples. Small photos of the pieces were then printed as if for an article in an imaginary art publication with texts hidden by colored bars.
The rather mystifying press release (as well as the pictures on the gallery’s website) describes the works as if they’re still in the gallery, but the photos hung like faint echoes in the places from which the art had been removed. One image shows a box with mysterious contents that can only be identified if the container is destroyed, a venerable conceptual art idea that has surfaced in works by Marcel Duchamp and Robert Morris. Another shot features the artist’s small child posing covered with a sheet, like a hidden antique statue.
Situated near the stairs are two blurry, ghostlike pictures of a visitor to the show (could it be the artist, though he is confined to a wheelchair?). In one, the individual enters the gallery from the street. In the other, he walks up the very same staircase to exit. Gander’s work is tantalizing, using endless replication to poetically keep its distance. The show is on sale as a complete installation, titled “The conceptual cul de sac, a series of nine framed pages torn from various art magazines.”
Richard Kern’s signature photos of topless young girls, on the other hand, are blatant. The selection of vintage and recent shots on view at Galerie Jousse Entreprise comprised black-and-white pictures taken in the ‘90s, along with some recent work in color. There was also a video of various young beauties moving from one sexually provocative pose to the next, including a woman in bondage gear holding up torpedo shaped breasts.
Highlighting slippages between pornographic and consumer desires, two rows of four new photos (priced at €3,300 each) hung in the back room, one row set in bathrooms and titled after the prescription drugs each model holds, and the other depicting girls lying in bed with brand-name cellphones on their chests. The show’s most striking image, however, was a lone (and singularly acrobatic) shot from 1997, which captured a woman poised upside down with her head in a toilet bowl.
Scatological suggestiveness also preoccupies Gelitin, the collective of four male Austrian artists who’ve been working together since they met at summer camp in 1978. Their latest Parisian exhibition could be found at Galerie Perrotin’s annex, a smaller building behind a majestic principal space.
The quartet is represented by nine different galleries located in Italy, England, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Miami and Tokyo. In New York they show at Greene Naftali, where in 2010 they held an eight-afternoon public performance in which they created a sculpture while blindfolded, assisted by teams of hip artists like David LaChapelle, Cecily Brown and Tom Sachs.
Their Perrotin show, titled “the voulez vous chaud,” included several large collages of photos from other performances embellished with vulgar plastilline and wood additions. Genital and anal appendages prevail, and spaces often have ground planes below and above instead of skies. One picture featured a kind of human pyramid dangling upside down from a sidewalk, with various colorful tubes stuck on the print, as if snaking out of participants’ rear ends.
The most memorable work on view, however, was a close-up of somebody’s derriere. Hands are spreading out the buttock’s cheeks, revealing a black rabbit’s profile painted around a bunghole eye. Another face below materializes out of a scrotal nose, its two eyes and four teeth formed by small blobs of plastilline -- all inspired, no doubt, by Georges Bataille’s famous solar anus. Prices ranged from €12,000-€39,000.
“Arthur Rainbow,” Mar. 9-Apr. 14, 2012, Air de Paris, 22 Rue de Louise Weiss, Paris.
“Andre Raffray: Les Brigades du Tigre,” Mar. 31-May 5, 2012, Semiose Gallery, 54 rue Chapon F, 75003 Paris.
“Ryan Gander,” Feb. 24-Apr. 13, 2012, gb agency, 18 rue de 4 fils f-75003 Paris.
“Richard Kern: Vintage and recent works,” Mar. 17-Apr. 21, 2012, Galerie Jousse Entreprise, 18 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris.
“Gelitin: the voulez vous chaud,” Mar. 10-Apr. 21, 2012, Galerie Perrotin, 76 rue de Tourenne, 75003 Paris.
ELISABETH KLEY is a New York artist and art writer.