Though known as the “grandmother of the French New Wave,” for decades 88-year-old
felt she wasn’t allowed to be an artist. Looking back, the filmmaker realizes it was something she had always desired: she had studied art history at the École du Louvre and photography at the École des Beaux-Arts, was friends with artists, and had been following the work of many others since the age of 18. But in France, especially, she was pigeonholed. “They put me in the drawer as a filmmaker,” she said. “And it’s not that they don’t like me. As a filmmaker, they love me. But in France, it’s taken 10 years for them to consider giving me the right to do something different.”
In 2003, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist invited Varda (then in her mid-70s) to participate in the Venice Biennale, a pivotal moment in her embrace of visual art. “I’m lucky, in a way, to have discovered another form of expression in the last part of my life,” she said. “[Obrist] pushed me toward what I desired, and from that time it has become so obvious that this is what I always wanted to do.” Today, Varda has just completed a documentary with the street artist
called Visages, Villages
(2016). And her work from 1949 to the present is currently the focus of an exhibition at the Blum & Poe gallery in New York City, which runs through April 15th.
In many ways, doing something different has been the guiding principle of Varda’s 60 year plus career. Her work as a filmmaker, though associated with the French New Wave, has been marked by near constant change and abundant curiosity: she has shifted easily from narrative features to documentaries, sometimes combining the two. Through it all, there has always been the sense of an artist looking at the world, again and again, through persistent creation and playfulness. And she shows no signs of slowing down.
The exhibition at Blum & Poe traces the arc of Varda’s career, from photography through film, to video installation and sculpture: it opens with a selection of images she shot and first exhibited in the courtyard of her Paris home in 1954, while also including a new series entitled Cabanes de cinema
. Made specifically for the exhibition, the pieces consist of miniature versions of the shacks she has built on a larger scale at the Cartier Foundation
, with walls and ceiling constructed out of the discarded film strips of former projects.