“L’art du pastel de Degas à Redon”

Petit Palais - Musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris
Avenue Winston Churchill
September 15–April 8

Charles-Lucien Léandre, Sur champ d’or (On a Field of Gold), 1897, pastel, 64 x 45".

This sumptuous exhibition of pastel works from the museum’s collection offers up a virtuosic and refreshing display of the fragile medium’s myriad strengths, which have been valued since the eighteenth century. In the late nineteenth century, pastel crayons presented new avenues for technical and formal experimentation, as pastellistes, painters, and printmakers harnessed their friable yet velvety texture to capture nuance and ephemeral effects, creating drawings that rivaled and sometimes even surpassed oil painting in their scale and impact. Paradoxically, it is the luminosity imparted by this putatively mat and sometimes waxy medium that makes the more than 120 works on view so engrossing.

While the title of the exhibition points to acknowledged masters, works by less familiar figures, including Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Charles-Lucien Léandre, and Alfred Roll, are revelatory. After a historical preface featuring a lovely portrait head by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (La Princesse Radziwill, 1800–1801) and Jean-Baptiste-Auguste Leloir’s strikingly ashen Mort de Saint Joseph (Death of Saint Joseph), 1870, a life-size, quasi-monochromatic study of a dancer by Fernand Pelez (Danseuse mettant son collant, jambe gauche levee [Dancer Putting on Her Tights, Left Leg Raised], 1905)—one of two pieces by the artist here—signals a more modern turn. The remaining rooms feature a mix of portraits, landscapes, and figural allegories that scintillate with crepuscular tones and pearlescent highlights. Nudes such as Pierre Carrier-Belleuse’s Sur le sable de la dune (On the Sand Dune), 1896, exemplify the louche, feminine cast of a material that was once thought to be as sensitive as flesh and as expressive as butterfly wings. In contrast, Émile René Ménard’s undated Harmonie du soir en vert (Evening Harmony in Green) demonstrates its power to create an abstract, tonal idyll.

Leslie Cozzi

Nick Mauss

Campoli Presti | Paris
6 rue de Braque
October 19–December 9

Nick Mauss, Released it, 2017, glass panels, paint, liquid silver, 87 x 63".

Nick Mauss’s third exhibition with this gallery, arranged throughout both of its Rue de Braque locations, features works that deal with reflection, both literally and metaphorically. In the shadowy arena of Campoli Presti’s ground-floor space is the video installation The Moment (all works 2017). From a projector hung close to the ceiling, an image of a hand drawing an enigmatic sign is cast onto a mirror hanging from a wall. From there, the image is reflected onto the wooden floor, creating a subtle holographic effect while transforming the symbol into a viaticum for artistic creation. We also see this artwork reflected in Released it, a piece made up of nine small, rectangular mirrors. Using verre églomisé, a technique of reverse glass painting developed in the eighteenth century, the artist places this minor art form well outside the realm of the decorative. Mauss seals his handiwork with liquid silver, which pushes his imagery—abstracted figures and bucolic settings created through swiftly applied black brushstrokes—into something sensuous and nearly three-dimensional.

In the third-floor showroom is Procession, constructed using the same reverse-painting method. It was conceived to be subjected to frequent changes in natural light. The work invades a large wall and seems to be in intimate dialogue with two large antique mirrors that were already on-site. The scene is transporting, gently guiding the viewer to someplace otherworldly yet everyday.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Maria Chiara Valacchi

Olga Balema

High Art
1 rue Fromentin
October 19, 2017–November 23, 2017

View of “Olga Balema: None of the beauty of the landscape can reach her pupils anymore,” 2017.

Fifteen of Olga Balema’s modular foam-and-vinyl sculptures—bubble-gum pink, mint green, gender-neutral yellow—form a dissembled matrix spanning the rococo molding of this gallery’s walls. Composed to first draw the eye to discrete spaces and then cohere, the attenuated shapes recall the pixilation of a degraded image, producing the illusion of a big picture but offering up instead the reality of missing information. The works function not unlike Richard Artschwager’s “blps”—sculptural lozenges that reconfigure space into the viewer’s vertical and horizontal coordinates. But where Artschwager used smooth, inoffensive black vinyl or playfully teased and rubberized horsehair for his blips, Balema seems to have scavenged her stuff from a junkyard of late-’70s prom limos. They are seamy, distressed.

Artschwager’s materials were meant to hone the optic; Balema’s return the viewer from the optic to the body. A tear in vinyl forms a puckering, sallow mouth, like a cigarette burn in a school-bus seat (all works Untitled, 2017), while creases in the printed scales of pink faux-alligator leather evoke the skin cells collected there. Like the artist’s earlier biomorphic work, these objects are corporeal without being explicitly so.

In a second room we find suspended from the ceiling a double-ply length of transparent vinyl in orange and green. The effect is something like that of a filmstrip. Its final cel takes the form of a sculptural pocket. (A pillow sits just below this pocket, as though the cel had ballooned into space.) With each of these works, Balema returns touch—or memories of touch—to images. Recourse, perhaps, to the problem of her show’s title: “None of the beauty of the landscape can reach her pupils anymore.”

Annie Godfrey Larmon