A Parisian Revolution: Le Plateau Goes Painting
(Paris.) Over the years, Le Plateau has earned a reputation for some of the most mind bustling, abstracty conceptualistiest exhibitions of contemporary art in Paris. To appreciate the standard Le Plateau experience, a PhD or two is, if not required, than at least tacitly expected. On this background, it was nothing short of a sensation when the art centre announced its latest show, (un mural, des tableaux) (A Mural, Some Pictures) (brackets part of the title): It’s all about painting. That’s right, Le Plateau condescends to exhibit coloured substances spread on a surface. And as if this were not shocking enough, the forms to which said coloured substances are arranged on said surface visually resemble entities from the multitude of sensations we habitually refer to as “reality”, in other terms: this is figurative (well, most of it is). Whatever happened to the world, is nothing left to rely on? The exhibition space has been completely remodelled for the occasion, narrow white corridors reinforce fears we might be guinea pigs for a fundamental change of politics. Turning the eyes to the ceiling, exceptionally arty, almost Pollockish, patterns match the show. Not to overstress visitors, we get rarely more than one image at a time before staggering onwards, around the next corner. And thanks god! not all is lost, there’s some refuge for the regulars. Or so we thought. In fact, we were convinced, that a work apparent in variations on each and every wall throughout the show, PM062 by Stéphane Dafflon - it looks like ECG, or seismograph, prints, bicolored stalagmites (the things growing upwards as opposed to stalactites growing downwards - mind the aged mnemonic: “old ‘tites hanging down”) varying from pink/blue to orange/black, purple/yellow, etc. - were not actually painted, but stripes of tape glued on the walls. To our utmost surprise we later read, that it is indeed acrylic paint applied to the wall (and not to tape). Be that as it may, it looks like non-painting, and even a placebo can be useful to console distraught intellectuals desperately searching for “their” Plateau. Only restrain yourself, when you smile knowingly and want to tell everybody, “that’s how they do in a gallery when whitening the walls between shows, tape on the floor to protect it from dripping paint”. It’s not. The other works are indeed as painted as it gets, starting with Denis Castellas’ Untitled portrait of C3PO. On closer inspection, the face might belong to a (human) fan in disguise, a bald transsexual wearing creepy sunglasses and a massive earring. The artist being in his sixties, the work induces musings on the longevity of Pop Cultural icons. Recent studies suggest that there’s not even any trivial education left today - say “Phone home” to a Millennial and it will ask whether you prefer Samsung or iPhone. Drop a reference and be sure nobody recognizes it, “know everything by a click” turns out to mean “could know everything by a click”. The manifestation of technics is a potential, not a reality, but this only on the side (stop Cyberdyne before it’s too late. And watch Idiocracy). Now, what about a character from a movie franchise that acquired a cult following almost forty years ago, but that has since been altered, technically "enhanced" and adopted to please ever new target groups? It raises a lot of questions about authenticity, about who owns a product/an artwork - the creator or his/its audience. Worse, if you’re one of those ignorant millennials, you might only know the sh---y new Star Wars trilogy, never having watched the classics at all, and won’t even be able to identify the android. (Grumpy old man, me? Wait, we’ll – almost - mention Stetler and Waldorf in two paragraphs from now.) Loïc Raguénès took an image, every contemporary artist reveres: round “sold” stickers (hopefully) honouring price lists in gallery shows. His are not red, but green, the colour signifying hope in occidental tradition (nod to art history, check), and cover the canvas like they would a paper before being applied next to a painting, deciding the artist’s, and the gallery’s, fate. The picture exists in several versions that are not multiples, but slightly, slightly, differ from each other (lazy sales strategy, check). Loïc Raguénès also presents Muppets that DOES NOT SHOW THE MUPPETS but our friends from Sesame Street. Fine, Jim Hanson created both sets of characters, and still the title is misleading. We agree with the official explanation of the pointillist style (actually, that’s the idea behind those other works too, the “sold stickers” intended as enlarged “points”/details, and what we took for an anti-capitalist statement against the mercantile mechanisms of contemporary art only our vicious mind), but cannot quite follow them to the point of seeing Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe referenced here. All joking aside, it’s hard to draw – or shall we say: “paint” - the line between interpretation and arbitrary imagination. To recognize the Dejeuner sur l’herbe in five fully clothed puppets carousing around a garden table seems just as justified as seeing Da Vinci’s Last Supper here, or Beckett’s End Game for the presence of Oscar the Grouch. Maybe it’s what we not see: Miss Piggy lying naked in the grass, with Kermit the Frog wearing a top heat – outside the painted scene. Must every interpretation be supported by evidence intrinsic to the artwork, or is the artist’s word sufficient? If an artist claims his being influenced by a canonical work of art history, is this necessarily true and relevant – would this be a painting about digestive troubles caused by too many peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast if they afflicted the artist in painting it? It's all in there, the question is “in what” or "wherein", an artwork, or the world. Next comes a guy lost in an orgy, ever unsure of himself. Scared of the spirits he summoned he hides behind the mask, eyes wide open and “naked” as in “vulnerable” (Johannes Kahrs). The stalagmites are yellow/red. Then more Sci-Fi with Bernhard Martin (kitschy glibberish German neo surrealism), whilst Sophie Fanchon's pictograph shows the possible outcome of Donald Duck making sweet love to the Playboy Bunny. As we are nearing the end, the stalagmites are joined by stalactites, sharp teeth snapping close. A chamber of portraits by Jean-Luc Blanc, one of which carries a tarantula on his cheek. We don’t ask why. And there’s many more artists we cannot possibly all include here. The pulse gets higher, overturns and climactically falls horizontal. The wall painting becomes canvas, the sharp triangular forms oppose each other sideways on a canvas. It’s now that we arrive at the only nude painting in the show, innocently named Cover 604. And damn, is she gorgeous. A photorealistic copy from nature, or the artist’s mind, who is actually an artists’ couple: Ida Tursic & Wilfried Mille. The average admirer of paintings will easily agree to the definition: Art is when a naked girl looks sad. And what else would you ask for? The newspaper style exhibition leaflet features that image as a centrefold, it’s the kind of art everybody would happily put on his (though rather not “her”, the mere presence of a "her" even counteracting the impulse) wall. (un mural, des tableaux) is the show at Le Plateau for all those who hate Le Plateau. And it’s well done. Great artists, retinally yours. P.S.: Being much sympathetic to Le Plateau, we were constantly on the lookout for conceptual mind games. Thus, about halfway through the show we were delighted to discover an installation of two metal buckets on the floor, under an elaborate mechanism in the roof structure that allows water to constantly drip down. One of the buckets is half full – or half empty? – the other only sporadically catches a drop. This our life, time, that’s the eternal change, it’s panta rhei, holy water and the Man from Mars sharing brotherhood (obscure literary reference, check). The origins of life, all history, manifested in lumps of biological matter, a primeval soup, autocreating on the bottom of these buckets. Visitors narrowly avoiding to “kick the bucket” unwittingly prove how art alone can overcome the Freudian death drive. Furthermore, the restrooms being right next to this installation, the monotone sounds it emanates not only evokes the infamous Chinese water torture, but incites visitors to go and pay tribute to their very own nature too, thus constituting an indirect example of “art relationnel”, whilst from the opposing wall, a portrait casts a sceptical glance on the scene. - Wait, you say? All this is pure imagination, there is no installation, and what we saw nothing but the caretaker’s intervention in art, overruling the curator’s will to power, thus integrating the manifestation of his – or even her, adding without a doubt a feminist dimension - very own creativity, unbeknownst beforehand of his - or her – own creative potential, and outsider-artistically creates without a restraint, on the border to craftsmanship, posing yet many more questions, that refuse to be pushed aside easily? Almost got us there. The press release commences with the promise “Once doesn’t count”. Phew! You would be missed, Le Plateau.