“Je suis innocent” (I am innocent) is an intriguing exhibition that does a good job of conveying the visual and emotional complexity of Adel Abdessemed––a frequently censored artist. His work skillfully intersects heterogeneous references and draws without distinction from both the history of art and current events. At the Centre Pompidou, expository writing marries this Franco-Algerian artist’s iconoclastic practice with the grand tradition of Western realism. Matthais Grünewald’s tormented Christ from the Isenheim Altarpiece, 1515, is reduced to a serialized sign when placed in equipoise to the disquieting Décor, 2011, made of razor wire, a recurrent material in Abdessemed’s plastic vocabulary. His reference to Guernica, 1937, is more cryptic than tangible in Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, 2011–12, a hallucinatory accumulation of embalmed animals and half-burned shapes. This work’s dimensions correspond to those of Picasso’s masterpiece, but its sensibility instead refers to a certain lugubrious and mortal acceptance of the Baroque. Monsù Desiderio’s Les Inferns (Hell), 1622, when juxtaposed in the installation, marks the acme of this refined system of correspondences that cross over between past and present. Beyond the risks of a brutal, aestheticizing theatricality, Abdessemed makes use of mass media sensationalism in a critical, if not problematic, ethical tone laden with symbolic and subversive values. This is most evident in the numerous works on display that refer to current events, from the monumental Tel Mère tel fils (Like Mother like Son), 2008, created from pieces of airplanes assembled in two interweavings that allude to the tragedy of September 11, to the charred cars of Practice ZERO TOLERANCE, 2006/2008, which refers to the riots in the banlieues of Paris. These distinctive works share a direct and corrosive style in response to preestablished rules or significances, giving voice to the anxieties caused by differences of gender, race, and religion; at the same time, they also convey a reality of violence, concentrating in deliberately disturbing fashion on the failures and contradictions of contemporary society.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.