Critics’ Picks

  • Lauren Coullard, Hang Back, 2019, oil on canvas, 77 x 45 1/4".

    Lauren Coullard, Hang Back, 2019, oil on canvas, 77 x 45 1/4".

    Lauren Coullard

    18 Rue de l'Hôtel de Ville
    September 15–October 30, 2019

    “My work is not in the new, but in reworking history,” Lauren Coullard recently told me at her studio at DOC, the artist residency she cofounded in an abandoned high school building in Paris’s nineteenth arrondissement last year. She also spoke about her painting practice as dealing with “something between the sacred and the profane,” and referenced Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” describing an interest in “hybridity between man and woman, animal and artifice.”

    For this solo exhibition in Paris, Coullard borrowed the title and premise of Isaac Asimov’s 1941 science- fiction novella Nightfall. Referencing Asimov’s story of imminent darkness on a planet illuminated by six suns, she has marked a single black, indelible strike on five of the six square windows of the gallery’s upstairs office. Only six months ago, Notre Dame Cathedral burst into flames, releasing a black cloud of leaden smoke that engulfed this historic quarter.

    Coullard’s pale Carpet Sweeper, 2018, and her velvety, dark- purple Hang Back, 2019, two of the ten works in oil on canvas or wood here, hang side by side like adjacent pages of an illustrated fairy tale. Their seemingly anachronistic subjects—a winged dragon in the first and a knight on horseback in the latter—make perfect sense in the simultaneously triumphant and collapsing architectural geography of central Paris. On the evening of the opening, Coullard placed an elaborate pastry atop her Vaisseau Pousse (Spaceship Shoots), 2019. Echoing Asimov’s apocalyptic math, the pastry’s five tiny meringue puffs playfully complimented the ornamented android figure composed against the painting’s pale- pink background. Meanwhile, her icon-like Crystal Weeper, 2019, which curator Fabio Santocroce has hung just below the gallery’s plastic electrical box, suggests the blue of Mary’s mantele. The cloaked figure’s eyes are hooded in mourning. Levelling science fiction with religion, Coullard aims her precise brushstrokes at an approaching twilight.

  • Valerio Adami, L’incantesimo del lago (The Spell of the Lake),1984, acrylic on canvas, 78 x 103 1/2".

    Valerio Adami, L’incantesimo del lago (The Spell of the Lake),1984, acrylic on canvas, 78 x 103 1/2".

    Valerio Adami

    Galerie Templon | 30 rue Beaubourg
    30 rue Beaubourg
    September 7–October 19, 2019

    Valerio Adami will forever remain affiliated with the French intelligentsia of the ’70s. Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Derrida wrote essays about him, and in turn, Adami provided them with a fertile ground on which to implement their idea of art as language—one composed of thick black lines delineating sinewy, fragmented mannequins moving through a flat and shadowless space. Here was an art conceived as a cosa mentale, or “mental thing,” one that would allow one to “think through the eyes” (so Lyotard). A member of the Narrative Figuration group, Adami is a self-described drawer-painter. To him, the line is a “way of thinking,” while color, usually garish and always unnatural, comes in merely to add an état d'âme—an intonation to the discourse. His current presentation here, his sixth with the gallery, pulls from a decade less associated with his work: the ’80s.

    These dozen large-format acrylics show a calmer, and weirder, side to Adami. Here, his figures are usually seen from behind. One, carrying another, ascends a mountain (L’Ascensione, 1984). Another rests, abandoned in a languid, maybe morbid, reverie (Un amore : la morte, 1990). A third contemplates a brown bluff while languidly navigating stygian waters, in L’incantesimo del lago (The Spell of the Lake, 1984). The real star here, however, is color, treated in faded harmonies of burgundy, khaki, and ochre. The paintings become more painterly, making room for a floating ambiguity, allowing us to feel rather than decipher them.

    Is this phase less verbose, less blatantly erudite? Sure. But the historically determined eyes we cast on these images have also changed—grown accustomed to a new mediatic-technologic environment. In digital space as well, things cast no shadow. Freed from gimmicky postmodern aesthetics, his characters radiate a clearer mood: a foggy melancholy not unlike that cherished by the likes of Julien Ceccaldi, David Rappeneau, or Bunny Rogers, whose serotonin-depleted cartoonesques roam artificial landscapes littered with the cultural debris of a recent yet stone-cold past.