Summer in the City with a Taxonomy of Group Shows
(Paris) Saturday, June 30th. Fashion labels have rented gallery spaces to use as showrooms for Men's Prêt-A-Porter collections, Metro station "Filles du Calvaire" ("Calvary Girls") changed its name to "Filles de la Cavallerie" ("Cavalry Girls") and City Mag "A Nous Paris" deleted the "o" from its name: it's Christopher Street Day in Paris. Just a perfect day for a walk from gallery to gallery to bring you this review on Parisian summer exhibitions.
In only three weeks the city will be deserted by locals; august belongs to the tourists. And even now, as school's out for summer, most art collectors have already left for holidays in St Tropez or their little Chateau on the Loire. For art dealers below the top level, July is like your mother-in-law's Christmas visit: no way to escape but no need to show any affection either. This is the time to take care of everything you pushed deep into your drawer during the past twelve months. But as the gallery doors are open, and some annoying students, artists in search of representation or tourists might enter, you need to show something. In most cases this will be a group show and many of these don't even try to hide the single goal: to empty the stock. Just like a summer sale without the discounts.
Chantal Crousel Gallery offers a great example; collages from Thomas Hirschhorn (mutilated war victims with fashion photography) join a Wolfgang Tillmans photo (shoulder of a healthy living person), Reena Spaulings' "Beach Paintings", videos from Anri Sala and Allora & Calzadilla, and much more. You may easily imagine the situation, one evening in spring at about ten to seven: One of the directors meditating over the image on the new blonde intern's T-Shirt - some flying Marvel superhero boxing two marvellous punching balls to the outer world. Whilst she is stocking files on the top board of a shelve, the manager's gaze slowly wanders down and without even realising that he is talking loud, his lips form what should become this year's summer exhibition title: "Superbody". We all carry the uttermost respect for this approach, but still, there are different ways to deal with the summer slump.
Like at Jean Brolly Gallery. They decided to create a little more coherence; "Paper Works" assembles everything out of the stock that was created on or with paper. Mostly drawings, but this is ok, at least you don't feel like on a Tunisian bazaar when entering, the show looks curated by some reflection and not solely the registrar's need of space.
Still, there is one further step to group show glory: booking a curator.
The easiest way to do this is to find someone close to you, who will not ask for too much artistic recognition (spell: "money").
Anne Barrault confined the task to her assistant, who chose the title "x, y, z, and t", and as we are all mathematic cracks you have immediately recognised that this is about time and space. The coordinate system contains some nice works like a video of self-erasing drawings from Jerôme Allavena or a Puzzle diptych from Sandra Aubry & Sebastien Bourg, but also a clock without pointers.
At Jocelyn Wolff gallery one of the two curators is the dealer herself, at least the other one, Eric Verhagen, does the job for a living. The exhibition title "Pika Don" is Japanese and means "Flash-Bang", an expression used for the nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We find mostly drawings from Miriam Cahn and Colette Brunschwig in Ernest Pignon Ernest style: shadows on the wall, but also a 1986 On Kawara from a private collection and a Desgrandchamps painting.
When the best curators are already on holiday, you may as well do like Galerie des Filles du Calvaire who bought their biker show "Hell Raisers" from Stefano Pult who originally curated it last January for a gallery in Zurich. Historic motorcycles (including Steve McQueen's Comet) join paintings and photographs from John Copeland, Steven Parrino, Jeffrey Schad and more. Well-chosen works, everything stays in the biker context.
Here I would have loved to add some words on Suzanne Tarasieve's "Summer Camps" (Crystal Lake?), a show with Larry Clark, TM Davy, E Templeton, etc., curated by Marie Maertens. Only once again I failed in finding her second exhibition space in Belleville quarter, despite the help of two maps. Instead I recommend "Étrange Été" ("Strange Summer") at White Projects gallery. A selection of this year's Montrouge Salon, with some funny works like Muhammad Ali photoshopped into a Street Fighter Video Game (Combo: "Ali vs. Ryu", 2012); the curator is the same as for the salon: Stéphane Corréard.
If you don't just run an art gallery, but a really big art gallery, you will not do a group show in July. If you attend Pinault stepping by for cookies and a shot of Pinot Noir on his return from a short shopping tour on Rue St. Honoré, you need to offer the real stuff, even when it gets 95° Fahrenheit outside and he comes in Flip-Flops and Hawaii Shirt (lovely image, isn't it? Maybe he brings his daughter-in-law). So now it's time to play with the big boys: Emmanuel Perrotin, Kamel Mennour, Larry Gagosian, Jean-Gabriel Mitterand, Thaddäus Ropac.
Perrotin brings us Farhad Moshiri's embroideries, and the sad thing about these works is how you sense from time to time the artist could really do better, he shows signs of intelligent reflection but then sadly falls back into mere room decoration. Like when he treats his works with a collection of knives. Sometimes ("We the Roses") this remotely reminds of Jeff Wall's famous photo "Knife Throw". Then Moshiri repeats it, and works like "Color Knife in White Frosting" don't say nothing at all, Subodh Gupta makes much better use of silverware. Maybe there is some meaning in an embroidered Einstein with Arabic writing like a signature on the bottom left, or is it just the signature - and even if, humanity may "sign" modern physics in all languages. One room especially proves the artist's potential. A writing on the wall formed out of numberless key holders in every possible variant (sport stars, company emblems, beer bottles, comic characters, ...): "See God in Everyone". A series of embroidered doormats, each with the inscription "God" in a different colour, on the second wall. A crying fairy tale queen on the third one. There is no longer one religion, you may find your own in many colours; even a collection of key chains, artworks or whatever else may become a personal cult, while the authorities who delivered religion as opium for the people and used it to rule have lost their absolute power (yeah, and "God is a concept // by which we may measure our pain", John Lennon).
But then again, well, some artists just answer "Quiet" (installation of 21 historical portraits, the title written in knives over them), when art history is raising its voice to drown the rustling of dollar notes.
In Perrotin's second exhibition space we find Aya Takano. Take a scanner and copy a page from a rather badly drawn manga. Open Photoshop and delete the text. Print out in big format, take a cutter and make some arty form (rhombuses!). Hang it and wait for Murakami fans without the resources to buy Murakami.
Kamel Mennour gallery once again stages a show that exceeds my limits of understanding. Sigalit Landau installed videos of men and machines harvesting olives and marble sculptures that you would describe as phalli if made by Jeff Koons, or poo, if made by Wim Delvoye. Landau baptised them all "Mary with child" + the name of the marble used.
JGM Gallery shows that Donald Judd was not only an artist, but also a gifted furniture designer. No irony here, he really produced small series of chairs and shelves, and whilst art may not have a function, an artist may well be a designer on a side job. We may thus regard, though not test some of Judd's models. They of course reflect his minimalism and if you don't aim for the mass market, you may call your creations just "Bookshelf #60" instead of some catchy "Billy".
But the real highlight of this year's summer exhibitions waits at Gagosian! Dan Colen created a bicycle sculpture surrounded by burning candles - a modern altar, a summoning, not a sacrifice. In the second room the walls have been tarred and feathered, upon entering you immediately get absorbed by the atmosphere. This peculiar smell, the light reflections, the movement of the feathers - this is impressive, and if you like to, you could think of climate conservatism, eh sorry: the need to save the world; tar like oil will vanish to make place for new gods without motors. There also is the notion of frozen movement on the walls, the reference to classic oil paintings, and so much more. The gallery made Colen include several drawings to have easy works to sell like memorabilia to the experience, but those don't disturb at all. On the first floor Gagosian put a group show but sadly no labels. There are wonderful paintings I was not able to determine the artist (the staff was occupied).
Finally Thaddeus Ropac presents Rona Pondick and top selling German neo-neo-expressionist Daniel Richter. Richter delivers the habitual figurative paintings in his well-known style with neon-colours and menacing silhouettes that carry weapons around and stand in front of abysses to wonder about those great mysteries. Sorry for digging out a cliché, but the punk became a teacher, life took Daniel Richter away from Hamburg's occupied houses to the opulent art academy of Vienna and he does not surprise anymore. What happened to the violent spirit of his first works after the turn from abstraction to figurative painting, or to the dancing monkey in his red skirt of "Why I am not a conservative" (2002)? On the contrary, Rona Pondick's little mixed media "drawings" are beautiful, fragile heads floating through the airs. With her you would not expect any provocation, but in a way her work is. The sheer vulnerability of human nature, she expresses as well in her sculptures of trees growing fragile hands or heads on a porcelain tomato; tenderness without crossing the border to kitsch. Peace and harmony, man.... Thumbs up!