Michel Nedjar

Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne (LAM)
1 Allée du Musée
February 24, 2017–June 4, 2017

Michel Nedjar, Untitled, 1977–78, dyed fabrics, 23 x 14 x 4".

Self-taught artist Michel Nedjar is the son of a tailor and the grandson of a schmatess, or second-hand clothier. Given this history, his recurrent use of recycled textiles carries a sense of inevitability. His earliest recrafted poupée, or doll, was a broken-off leg from his sister’s toy. Nedjar interred this shamanistic fetish in the backyard then dug it back up. Burial and retrieval are persistent themes in this career-wide show, which highlights collage, assemblage, found objects, muck, and bright stitching. Nedjar’s composite works double as reliquaries for his own life as well as mementos for modern tragedies.

As a youth Nedjar was marked by Alain Resnais’s chilling 1956 documentary Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog), about Nazi concentration camps. The psychic fallout from this dispatch permeates much of Nedjar’s work (exacerbated later by the AIDS crisis and the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks). Depictions of anonymous, teeming figures appear in the series “Icônes” (Icons) or in loose vortices with “Les foules” (Crowds), both 1986–92. His contorted and gnarled effigies called “chairdames,” 1978–86 (the title an ambiguous portmanteau of the French words for “dear” or “flesh” and “lady” or “soul”), were purchased by Jean Dubuffet, who deemed them “nightmarish” for their undead-looking features. Nedjar’s other dolls are less grim: There’s a cheery assortment made from costume scraps for the carnivalesque Jewish holiday Purim (“Poupées Pourim” [Purim Dolls], 1998–2013). His 173 “Poupées de Voyages” (Traveling Dolls), 1996–2013—fashioned from plastic, shells, tickets, feathers, flattened cans, driftwood, and other locally sourced rubbish from cities around the world—present an alternative cartography and attest to the artist’s boundless capacity to reinvent from wreckage.

— Sarah Moroz