A FIRM REJOINDER to charges of the French art scene’s insularity, the nineteenth annual Printemps de Septembre has thoroughly taken over the city of Toulouse. This year’s expansive edition, headed for the second (and last) time by MAMCO director Christian Bernard, occupies more than thirty venues across four other additional towns. What Printemps organizer Jean-Max Colard described as “a small, local affair” that (until two years ago) involved just eight or nine venues is now a full-blown cosmopolitan project.
Bernard used poetic language to introduce his “festival of exhibitions” to a crowd of artists, curators, and journalists gathered in the courtyard of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts early Friday afternoon, describing the city as the “amniotic fluid for the contemporary.” He explained that his two editions of the festival are actually “one proposition in two temporalities, one that develops and reconfigures in its second appearance.” Offering his project to the “urban flâneur,” he advised us to take our time, since “time is the last luxury we have.”
The crowd dispersed and followed dozens of painted white arrows directing them through the city’s winding streets. I took Bernard’s advice, strolling and chatting with artists Jim Shaw and Amy O’Neill and curator Fabrice Stroun. “Is there anything like this in the US?” Shaw pondered. O’Neill didn’t think so: “There’s no money.” Shaw jokingly offered the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles as a possible example—but no, that didn’t work either. “I was still roller-skating in 1984,” O’Neill noted.
Stroun led us to our first stop—Andreas Döbler at Galerie GHP—where the artist was showing punk-rock-inspired canvases arranged on a black-painted Styrofoam structure. (By way of explanation, Stroun told us that Döbler is a former member of Celtic Frost, one of Europe’s first heavy-metal bands.) Colard soon joined us at the gallery and led us on a tour of some of his festival favorites: at Les Jacobins, Berlinde de Bruyckere’s installation of human limbs cast in wax and a taxidermied horse slung from metal poles; Jean-Luc Verna’s show of drawings at Fondation Espace Ecureuil; and at Galerie Duplex, Pierre-Olivier Arnaud’s elegant black-and-white photographs of jewels, water, and rays of light.
At Les Abattoirs, installations by Shaw and Cosima von Bonin took over the lower level of the museum, and an accrochage of works from public and private collections filled the main floor. “The closest thing you can get to actually moving MAMCO to Toulouse,” Straun quipped. We took a taxi to bbb, an independent space set a little further afield, which featured work by Grégory Derenne and Alexandre Désirée, recent graduates of Paris’s Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Like last year, Bernard used the independent space to juxtapose large-scale canvases by an abstract painter (Désirée) and a figurative one (Derenne). A highlight of the festival was Cyprien Gaillard’s beautiful new film, Pruitt-Igoe Falls, which made its French premiere in an old municipal waterworks building––a not unsubtle nod to the waterfall depicted in the film, which is projected onto the cloud of dust that rises from a demolished Glaswegian building.
Early Friday evening, O’Neill’s commission for the festival, The Old Woman’s Shoe—a sculpture that will join the permanent collection of the Centre National des Arts Plastiques—was unveiled at the DRAC (Direction Régionale Affaires Culturelle Midi-Pyrénées). She made a speech in French, telling the story of Henri Rousseau and Pablo Picasso at a dinner together in Paris. Rousseau apparently toasted Picasso, saying, “You do Egyptian, and I do modern. Together we encompass it all.”
At the opening-night party in the courtyard of Toulouse’s Beaux-Arts, tuxedo-clad waiters passed canapés while dapper bartenders served Champagne Pommery, fast becoming the unofficial beverage of contemporary art in France, at the crowded bar. I compared notes on Frieze and FIAC with curator Vincent Honoré and dealer Catherine Bastide, and caught up with Gaillard, who was happily back from his residency at Proyectos Monclova in Mexico. He brought over a round of champagne and enjoyed the party a little incognito: “People may know my name, but they don’t know my face.” I left early, but Derenne confirmed that the party continued until first blush. As evidence, when passing by bbb Saturday morning I spotted a fully horizontal Désirée outside the gallery, still clutching his phone and a pack of cigarettes.