This year, MACBA has presented a series of exhibitions revolving around one specific curatorial theme: Women: Fiction, Politics and Creation. “Women” refers to the female artists, photographers, writers, curators and all those who helped in the production of this curatorial project in 2016.
In association with the French Embassy in Argentina and the Franco-Argentine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, MACBA presents the “French Salon”, an exhibition curated by Marie-Sophie Lemoine. It aims to highlight the diversity of the contemporary art scene in France, from the 1940s until this day, by showcasing the work of: Véronique Joumard, Cécile Bart, Geneviève Claisse, Vera Molnar, Valérie Belin, ORLAN, Suzanne Lafont, Ode Bertrand and Tania Mouraud.
The “French Salon” was intended to introduce various French contemporary artists to the local Argentine audience. More than solely presenting what they have in common, this selection of artworks invites us to question the various approaches, concepts and artistic mediums involved in their creation. It also enables us to further our comprehension of the complexities of contemporary art. Conceived as the disruption of modern paradigms, contemporary art has led to the rejection of a comprehensive history; the end of single medium specificity; the return to certain media considered outdated or traditional; a strong recognition of authorship; heightened technical skill alongside objects that promote gestual crafting AND the coexistence of the material with the conceptual. It marks the end of purism, in terms of medium, quality and technical competence, without necessarily excluding it.
The artworks presented are displayed in such a way that a link can be established between the formal components--such as the geometric shapes, lines and colors--and the chosen medium and space. Regarding the medium, painting prevails here. The traditional discipline of painting has not been abandoned or replaced by newer techniques, but coexists alongside them. What has changed is our way of approaching, thinking and interacting with it.
Dean of the exhibition according to the curator, Vera Molnar is considered to be the precursor of numerical and algorithmic art. Her visual language revolves around fundamental elements including the line, the circle, the square and the curve. She intends to strip her works of any sign of subjectivity, for her practice derives from the art of Mondrian, Malevich and the Zurich concrete artists, as well as from exact sciences and mathematics.
In 1968, she became one of the pioneers of the use of the computer in artistic creation. She creates images, composes them by hand with shapes and materials of her choice before submitting them to a technical program that elaborates all their possible variations. She always works in series, with designs that vary in time, producing sequences that allow different interpretations. Thereby in the minimalist rigour of her works, she introduces a certain quantity of chance and disorder, that alter the rigidity of her formal constructions.
In dialogue with Vera Molnar are three works by ODE BERTRAND. Her art, which can be placed between geometric abstraction and concrete art, employs geometrical figures defined around the number Phi. Intrigued by the expression of rhythm, Bertrand has made the straight line her best ally, just like Molnar. In this series Sceau (or Buckets), a tension is created where the black lines cut and intertwine each other, forming various triangular schemes. The eye can follow the lines’ trajectories, sometimes continuous, sometimes interrupted, that run over the surface of the white background.
Linked to the geometric abstraction of the constructivists is Genevieve Claisse who seeks ideals of formal purity and perfect execution. In this instance we can see how the line becomes more than just an element of the composition. The same line links together and accentuates the use of the triangular shape, attempting to make the sharp angles and oblique inflections actively penetrate the space. Her intention is to generate a certain dynamism in the composition, by combining the forms’ scales and directions. The artist actively employs the frames’ contours to create tension, and in some cases abandons these material restrictions to invest the spectator's tangible space.
Another geometric artist is Cecile Bart who has always used geometry in her artistic practice. Yet very early on, she felt the necessity to free herself from the constraints of two-dimensional painting and, in the late 1980s, came up with her series of Peintures/Ecrans or Paintings/Screens. These Tergal fabric canvases are stretched onto frames and carefully coloured in several layers using a paintbrush, in order not to disrupt their transparency. The prominence of line and form seen in the previous artists’ works is replaced by a new use of geometry, paint and colour that relates to the spectator’s space. The artist often intervenes directly in the architectural space by disposing her screens in various ways, fixed to the ground, in frames or in suspension, according to the exhibition space. They create unique chromatic effects that are ever-changing.
Closely linked to colour, light is one of one of the main components of Veronique Joumard´s work. The artist in interested in the the phenomenon of artificial, industrial light, and its means of production. She distances herself from a more classical tradition in which light was linked to the creation of illusionism in painting. In other words, light was used to construct an atmosphere, a space that included volume, shadows and perspective. If some artists in the 60s such as Dan Flavin or James Turrell did make light the central component of their work, Joumard keeps to an extremely literal use of it by not exploiting its chromatic dimension nor its compositional qualities.
MACBA presents her installation Tableaux-lumières (Frame-Lights), part of a series she has developed since 1989 and constantly adapts to the exhibition space. Not only does she enable us to view light’s retinal or esthetic effects, she also confronts us with the actual conditions of its appearance. Alongside this installation, a projection of Passage de Lumiere (or Passage of Light) rather ironically features a source of natural light, that resembles the moon, by means of an artificial projection of a video. Both artworks invite us to reflect not solely on light, but also on concepts such as space, time, and materiality.
The photographs of ORLAN and VALERIE BELIN present many similarities: Belin has constructed a collection of works relating to the body’s materiality and the vanity of appearances. Her artistic investigation coincides with ORLAN’s reflection on the deconstruction of feminine identity and stereotypes.
ORLAN is an artist who rejects natural, social and political determinism, through any form of domination, such as masculine supremacy, religion, cultural segregation and racism.
She turned her own body into an artistic instrument through live performances of plastic surgery she carried out during the 1990s, alongside her production of video, sculpture, photography and use of digital technologies.
In Salon Frances people will find ORLAN´s series of photographs African Self-hybridizations. Through digital means, ORLAN has created hybrids of her own face with portraits of women from African tribes. She has used black and white ethnographic photographs, that display specific ornaments and signs of cultural identification, as the reference point to her series. By merging different cultures and eras together, she questions the aesthetic canons all women are confronted to, no matter what society they are from.
Whilst ORLAN confronts us with close-up images of her own face, the bodies visible in Belin’s photographs evoque pin-ups from the 1930s, that are presented in a somewhat absurd and recurrent pattern, in a domestic setting. Drawing on reality, she creates a series of images based on subtle games of repetition and variation. The frontality of her viewpoint, the absence of context and the chosen format present the various subject/objects of the series as icons. They reveal that beauty is an artificial and idealistic construction. Also, the display of the photographs in the center of the gallery emphasize the artist’s intention to present the works like objects occupying the space, rather than two-dimensional images. In this sense, they can be conceived as installations; inevitably, not only does the spectator face Bob, he walks beside and avoids the figures.
Suzanne Lafont photographic work immerses the spectator in ways that reveal the artist’s appreciation of language and fiction. She is interested in capturing movement through photography, therefore often makes references to theatre, cinema and performance. Exploring different ways of understanding the world, Lafont resorts to classiques, appropriating them and adapting them to a more modern version, always with a new outlook.
Embarras, meaning confusion or discomfort in French, is the title of her series in this exhibition: it portrays an actor attempting to unfold a chair. The object seems to be moving and endowed with a life of its own, resisting to the gestures of the person holding it. For the artist, Embarras “are the failed manipulation of objects”. This staging confronts the spectator, whilst also referring to silent films and comics.
The last artist is TANIA MOURAUD, a self-taught artist whose practice is marked by an interest in different materials and mediums, ranging from installations and sonic experiments to film. Through her videos, which she has produced since 2000, she stresses one main concern: the destruction of man by man, in order to raise awareness of the consequences of our actions on nature.
The video, Ad infinitum, meaning “to infinity” in latin, renders the migration of whales from the reefs of Baja in Mexico. The eight minute long video shows the choreography performed by whales’ to teach their calves how to swim against the current in order to reach Alaska. For the artist, the sound is of equal importance as the image: Mouraud has selected samples of the songs of birds and sea animals, and combined them with industrial noises such as boat engines and water being agitated by motors. This piece speaks to the various myths that portray the whale as symbolising the protection of nature and humankind. At the same time, it refers to man’s ancient fear of the unknown. Ad infinitum invites us to see ourselves as forming part of a bigger whole, as beings who can live in harmony with other species, thus making us reflect on the potential of life and its fragility.
This exhibition has demonstrated that parallels can undoubtedly be drawn from the works of these nine different artists, despite the wide range of themes and mediums they cover. The similarities and differences found amongst these artists’ visual languages reveal the complex nature of French contemporary art.