Critics’ Picks

  • René Rimbert, The Douanier Rousseau rising to glory and entering into posterity, 1926, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 22''.

    René Rimbert, The Douanier Rousseau rising to glory and entering into posterity, 1926, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 22''.

    From the Douanier Rousseau to Séraphine: The Great Naive Masters

    Musée Maillol
    61, rue de Grenelle (Reopening September 2017)
    September 11, 2019–February 23, 2020

    This is the first large-scale exhibition focused on the “Naives,” a loose coalition of self-taught painters so called because their delightfully amateurish canvases were reminiscent of those by the original “naive master,” Henri Rousseau (1844–1910). Organized by theme—with galleries dedicated to landscapes and seascapes, florals and animals, still lifes and portraits—the show provides a comprehensive introduction to the circle, active until the mid-twentieth century yet since largely forgotten to art history.

    Unlike the Realists or Impressionists who preceded them, the Naives did not distinguish themselves by their choice of subject matter. Rather, they possessed a talent—likely, unintentional—for rendering classical, and even sentimental, fare vivid and bizarre through flat perspective, abridged brushwork, and folksy detailing. It is for this reason that they were admired by a new generation of modernists, notably Picasso, interested in creating pure and essentialized formal vocabularies. Take, for example, Louis Vivin’s Paris, Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre (Paris, Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre), 1930, which shows the famous hilltop church and gardens seen as if through the eyes of a child, a far cry from its slick tourist postcard representations. Here, the landmark looks more cartoonish than majestic—painted at a comically gigantic scale and surrounded by broccoli trees and stick-figure pedestrians. An ensemble so awkward as to be completely, ineffably charming.

    Beyond rediscovering the Naives, the exhibition pays overdue homage to Dina Vierny. A founder of the Musée Maillol, she is typically remembered as Aristide Maillol’s muse: She was, to quote her unfortunate New York Times obituary, “the model whose ample flesh and soft curves inspired the sculptor.” But as the curators highlight, Vierny’s contributions to twentieth-century art extended far beyond her physique. An owner of the prominent postwar Galerie Dina Vierny, she was an early collector and champion of the Naives, and it is thanks to her that their work survives to receive the welcome reappraisal provided here. 

  • Golnaz Payani Pâlir sur couleur (Fade on Color), 2019, fabric, yarn, and wood, 25 1/2 x 17 1/2".

    Golnaz Payani Pâlir sur couleur (Fade on Color), 2019, fabric, yarn, and wood, 25 1/2 x 17 1/2".

    Golnaz Payani

    Praz-Delavallade | Paris
    5 rue des Haudriettes
    November 14, 2019–January 11, 2020

    In her first solo show at this gallery, Golnaz Payani deftly—in some cases, defiantly—uses embroidery techniques and tools to alternately conceal, reveal, and subvert traditional Persian motifs. Working on paper, canvas, linen, or soft mesh, the Iranian-French artist adds or subtracts threads to evoke floral and geometric patterns. For L’Ombre en lin (The Linen Shade) (all works 2019), Payani painstakingly removed vertical strands from linen canvas to create a frayed Gol-O-Morgh (flowers and birds) design at the center of the composition. Whereas this paradisal Persian motif is typically rendered in luscious colors, here it exists as a ragged and ghostly negative image. Conceptually more complex, Pâlir sur couleur (Fade on Color) can be read as a mashup of Eastern and Western florals. By embroidering a Gol-O-Morgh outline in white thread over a prismatic flower-printed fabric, Payani erases and reframes occidental blooms. In addition to highlighting similarities and differences between two culturally distinct styles of ornamentation, the superimposition also enraptures as pure, fizzy abstraction.

    In the middle of the gallery, Quand les poussières tombent (When the Dusts Fall)—a laser-cut wooden map of Tehran propped up on low supports—suggests a magic carpet hovering several inches above the floor. Far from enchanted, however, Payani’s depiction of her native city shows an emptied and crumbling metropolis. The buildings and monuments have all been excised, leaving an expanse marked by pristine gaping holes connected by a delicate web of streets. A layer of fine concrete dust coats the sculpture’s latticed surface as well as the floor beneath; an ephemeral affirmation of the cyclical nature of creation and destruction.

  • Vera Kox, footprints to fingertips (detail), 2019, insulation panels, foam, ceramic, cast aluminum noodles, plaster, pigments, silica gel, copper pipe, hair extension, 50 x 54 x 34".

    Vera Kox, footprints to fingertips (detail), 2019,
    insulation panels, foam, ceramic, cast aluminum noodles, plaster, pigments, silica gel, copper pipe, hair extension, 50 x 54 x 34".

    Vera Kox

    30, rue des Envierges
    November 21–December 21, 2019

    For an exhibition that wields the materials of construction and mass production (plaster, silica gel, polyurethane foam) to more whimsical ends, it’s fitting that Vera Kox’s “footprints to fingertips” unfolds in a gallery called 22,48m2, a measurement both architectural and absurd.

    A bubble of happy accident envelopes each of these installations, all made within the past two years and most titled after the show itself. Upon entering, visitors find what could be a botched Slip ’N Slide: A blue insulation mat unravels, like a cartoon waterfall or a seamless photo-shoot backdrop, at the viewer’s feet. Plaster pools atop it, the color of melted confetti-cake ice cream and complete with silica-gel sprinkles. Other motifs: piled Styrofoam, copper pipes sprouting streams of synthetic hair extensions, and objects that resemble a mix between a crumpled baby blanket and a topography model made from a sponge rag. In this last motif’s most striking iteration, a dusty-rose ceramic exudes plushness as a bruisy pale blue at its crests produces a near iridescence. In her most recent works, Kox puckishly confounds our tendency to expect the texture we see to cohere with the texture we feel.

    Such sensorial aporia emphasizes a marked absence of the body here: “footprints to fingertips,” the indices always in retreat. These are the limits of the human—temporary impressions left on the ground, inches of skin located at one’s farthest extremity (fingertip, the very mechanism of deixis). These bodily lacunae, however, are not empty. Kox is largely inspired by Constantin Brancusi, who considered his sculptures “mobile groups” that, through spatial proximity, formed entirely new relations and communities of their own. Likewise, Kox works the space between works—all 22,48m2 of it—so that it hums with exchange, a numinous dimension of the art itself.

  • Barbara Hepworth, Torso I (Ulysses), 1958, bronze, 52 × 33 × 25 in".

    Barbara Hepworth, Torso I (Ulysses), 1958, bronze, 52 × 33 × 25 in".

    Barbara Hepworth

    Musée Rodin
    77, rue de Varenne
    November 5, 2019–March 22, 2020

    Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975), Dame of the British Empire, sculptor of Single Form, which sits serenely before the United Nations building in Manhattan, has finally been given a monographic exhibition in France. Despite their grace, her sculptures in stone and dense tropical woods are indeed heavy and not easy to ship, though they have been shown several times at the Musée Rodin, beginning in the late 1950s. When invited to contribute to the second edition of the “Exposition internationale de sculpture contemporain,” in 1961, Hepworth presented Torso I (Ulysses), 1958, which is now back in Paris and on view here. A little over four feet tall, the bronze sculpture suggests a broad-shouldered hero, and the waves and flotsam he may meet at sea. 

    Curators Catherine Chevillot and Sara Matson have gathered a wealth of Hepworth’s personal photographs, as well as a selection from her studio library and a collection of letters she exchanged with Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and Pablo Picasso. The gender of Hepworth’s correspondents gives pause. Are these documents included in order to assure the audience of her importance? Hepworth’s dark, dense Seated Figure, 1932–33, carved from a Guaiacum trunk, doesn’t need any letters to prove the nobility of its form: a female body knotted around itself and looking out from a solid, smoothed frame. Nearby, brilliant Mediterranean-hued lithographs from Hepworth’s 1954 sojourn in Greece emphasize an attention to color that is clearly evident in her careful selection of wood and stone.

    Adjacent is a children’s play area with bright ovoid objects conceived by the organizers. This is the first time this kind of space has been created at the museum. While the ambition to open the gallery to young families is a welcome shift, it is worth asking why this space for children was introduced alongside the work of a mother and not a father. While motherhood does occasionally surface as a theme in Hepworth’s art, it is the landscape outside her Cornwall studio that remained her most consistent muse. The expansiveness of that environment is best evoked in the last room, an open space of white walls illuminated by skylights. Here, the artist’s intuitive forms and finely worked surfaces gather playfully, liberated.