Critics’ Picks

View of “Jean-Marc Bustamante,” 2012.

View of “Jean-Marc Bustamante,” 2012.


Jean-Marc Bustamante

French Academy of Rome, Villa Medici
Viale della Trinità dei Monti, 1
February 5–May 6, 2012

With this wide-ranging retrospective of work from the past thirty years, Jean-Marc Bustamante is making up for his absence––with the exception of his participation in the French pavilion during the 2003 Venice Biennale––from the contemporary Italian art scene. Curated by Éric de Chassey, this show offers a fresh reading of the entire creative path of this French artist who, after training as a photographer and working with Denis Brihat and William Klein in the 1980s, became one of the pioneers of large-format color images and later went on to create three-dimensional installation and pictorial work, such as silk-screened images on monumental Plexiglas panels. The show is distinguished not only by its comprehensiveness, but also and above all by its close relationship with context. Indeed, the exhibition design is site-specific, as can be seen, for example, in the “Peintures” (Paintings) series, 2012, a sequence of paintings conceived specifically for the Villa Medici’s grand salon and inspired by the chromatic tones that Balthus chose for its walls.

A striking addition to the show is a group of nearly forty works by the seventeenth-century Flemish painter Pieter Jansz Saenredam, who is known for his exterior views and interior scenes. Although Bustamante employs different expressive means, like Saenredam he also addresses physical and psychological qualities of space. The intellectual exercise of pairing these two artists enables their works to establish an ideal dialogue, since both develop perspectival concepts that are rigorous but at the same time suspended from the quotidian reality to which they refer, almost to the point of abstraction. Thus Saenredam’s depictions of religious architecture alternate with Bustamante’s works that depict urban scenes (many from the early 1990s), in a play of visual and semantic references that hover between past and present, and which find an ideal venue in the historic Villa Medici.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.