Critics’ Picks

Kafka et l'écureuil (Kafka and the Squirrel), 2019, oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 21 1/4".

Kafka et l'écureuil (Kafka and the Squirrel), 2019, oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 21 1/4".


Gérard Garouste

Templon | 28 rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare
28 rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare
March 25–July 17, 2021

Although he first showed at Leo Castelli in New York and Rudolphe Zwirner in Cologne during the 1980s, Gérard Garouste remains best known in his native France. His dreamy, distorted, and sometimes garish figurative canvases evoke the literary worlds of Cervantes and Ovid along with religious themes from his rigorous Talmud studies. The artist’s whimsical painterly style and spiritual, folkloric, and historical scenes also recall fellow Franco-Jewish painter Marc Chagall.

Many of the twenty-six large oils currently on view here feature Jewish subjects, including Franz Kafka, philosopher Gershom Scholem, Prague’s Old-New Synagogue, and Jesus. Informed by his years of tutelage under rabbi-philosopher Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Garouste’s iconography ranges from the obvious—as in La martre et la toupie _(The marten and the top)__, _2020, a warped portrait of Kafka accompanied by characters from his stories—to the obscure.

Decoding the triptych Le Banquet (The Banquet), 2021, requires a deep dive into Garouste and Ouaknin’s discussions (or “Correspondances,” as per the exhibition’s title). In the central panel of this lively scene, Kafka and Scholem are seated around a table with Walter Benjamin and Éliane Amado Levy-Valensi, among others. The side panels feature gondolas, masks, and confetti falling from a giant dirigible and a flying acrobat’s wicker basket. Confetti, it turns out, is at the crux of an epiphany Ouaknin had while tutoring Garouste. In a documentary presented in the exhibition, Ouaknin recounts the “Aha!” moment when he realized that the etymology confetti traces back to a kind of Italian coriander whose seeds were coated with colored sugar and thrown during celebrations. He links this tradition to the story of Exodus, in which God assures the Israelites that honey-flavored crumbs the size of coriander seeds will fall from the sky for their nourishment. Illustrating this recontextualization of manna, Garouste depicts his fantasy soirée as a seder set during the Carnevale di Venezia.