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“Contre-cultures 1969–1989, l’esprit français”

La Maison Rouge
10, Boulevard de la Bastille
February 24, 2017–May 21, 2017

View of “Contre-cultures 1969–1989, l’esprit français” (Countercultures 1969–1989, the French Spirit), 2017.

Countering the French national motto of “liberté, egalité, fraternité,” this searing archive of nearly seven hundred works posits that freedom in France is not at all a given but rather some holy illusion looming in the distance, a “hypothesis whose boundaries need to be pushed at all times,” according to curators Guillaume Désanges and François Piron. Enter counterculture’s vibrant expressions of civil unrest. See Michel Journiac’s gleaming white Formica guillotine, Piège pour une exécution capitale (Trap for capital execution), 1979, installed amid posters decrying police brutality in the banlieues, or pages from the notebooks of filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Marxist Dziga Vertov Group. Themes of sexual liberation loom large: Feminist and pro-queer political cartoons appear alongside the face of Marie-France, transgender Parisian pop star and muse to photographers Pierre et Gilles.

The timeline begins in the disappointed wake of the 1968 revolution, and stretches forward to economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s, yet the direness of these times is softened by the works’ comic delivery. Where the French may lack liberty, they are fully entitled to their heritage of caustic reflexive satire, a civic duty dating back to the Marquis de Sade. The show, in fact, features Roland Topor and Henri Xhonneux’s 1989 film Marquis, an homage to the father of sadism, which was released on France’s bicentennial. In it, the marquis has both a dog’s head and a philosophy-talking penis named Colin.

Topor was a regular contributor to Hara-Kiri, a parodic magazine shown here with one issue’s cover proclaiming the Virgin Mary a “tranny” (“Prove it,” she says through the shaving cream on her face). For its irreverence, Hara-Kiri was shut down three times before relaunching as Charlie Hebdo, the world’s most notorious alternative weekly. No attempts to kill l’esprit français have yet succeeded.

Janelle Zara

“Cholet–New York”

Kamel Mennour | Rue du Pont de Lodi
6, rue du Pont de Lodi
April 27, 2017–July 22, 2017

Kamel Mennour | Rue Saint-André des Arts
47 Rue Saint-André des Arts
April 27–July 22

View of “Cholet–New York,” 2017.

François Morellet, who died last year, designated himself the “freak child of Mondrian and Picabia.” Morellet created grid-based paintings and abstract planar compositions that look sober and rigorous yet reflect the artist’s declaration that “art is frivolous even when it takes itself seriously.” Upon entering the gallery (the exhibition extends to Kamel Mennour’s Pont de lodi space), one sees three square oil-on-wood pieces from 1958, 1969, and 1970, hung on patterned wallpaper, titled Trames, 1972. The adjacent room contains a vitrine of decorative mosaics photographed at the Alhambra, which inspired a series of spare silhouettes Morellet painted in oils using sharp angles (“2 fois 90°, 90°, 45°, 45°, etc.,” 1957). He also played with materiality, using adhesive for large-scale patterning and installations in flashing neon. The show celebrates the artist’s prototypical contributions to Minimalism and Conceptualism, but it also asks: Why are some artists more well known than others? Morellet’s legacy is framed against his transatlantic contemporaries—better-recognized figures such as Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Sol LeWitt, and Fred Sandback, whose works also appear in the show. Having always resided in the French town of Cholet, away from Paris, Morellet lacked visibility.

A beef ensued when the February 1973 issue of Flash Art noted the similarities between a work LeWitt made in 1969 and a piece done by Morellet more than a decade earlier. LeWitt responded with several column inches of protest in the magazine: “Single works can always be shown to be similar to other single works,” he rationalized. In a letter to his then partner, Beatrice Conrad-Eybesfeld, LeWitt wrote: “To say I copy ideas is not true but if they become part of my mentality they are mine also.” An artist’s work is never, ultimately, examined wholly on its own terms.

Sarah Moroz

Chiharu Shiota

Galerie Daniel Templon | Paris
30 rue Beaubourg
May 20, 2017–July 22, 2017

Chiharu Shiota, Destination, 2017, wool thread, metal, dimensions variable.

Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota has likened her artistic practice with yarn to that of a calligrapher. It’s a fitting parallel: Shiota trained in painting before gravitating toward three-dimensionality. She studied in Braunschweig, Germany, under Marina Abramović, and later in Berlin, where she lives today. Her immersive environments and intricately wrought objects, enigmatic yet deeply physical, are the results of painstaking labor. Shiota’s current exhibition, consisting almost entirely of works produced this year, occupies the main gallery and its annex. Destination, 2017, is a site-specific, room-engulfing labyrinth that has the sprawl of an uncontrollable fungus, a haywire cat’s cradle, or a webbed cathedral in red. Like her installation The Key in the Hand, 2015—made from second-hand keys ensnarled in massive amounts of scarlet string for the Japan pavilion at the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale—the work engages directly with the volume of its surroundings.

Shiota’s canvases, such as Endless Line I–III, a triptych, or her five-part work Silent Explosion I–V (both 2017), flatten the effect of her threaded tangles—their crosshatch patterns evoke cells enlarged under a microscope. But even those surfaces refuse to stay completely planar: The threads claw past the rectangle of the canvas onto the sides. Shiota’s other sculptures tangle quotidian items (a child’s dress, a telescope, a chair) without addressing the stories behind them. Around these anonymous possessions, the networks of yarn stand in for muddled memories that no one will ever unfurl.

Sarah Moroz

Kaye Donachie

FRAC Île-de-France | le plateau
22 rue des Alouettes
May 18, 2017–July 23, 2017

Kaye Donachie, In the Last Hours, 2015, oil on canvas, 20 x 14 1/2".

Glasgow-born, London-based painter Kaye Donachie threads her work with a pantheon of real and fictional heroines, from German Expressionist poetess Henriette Hardenberg to Hari, a character from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris. Her female protagonists are executed in a crepuscular palette, sometimes disrupted by bright gashes of color. Although human figuration is central, the compositions openly play with interiority—their dreamlike superpositions and fades feel cinematic, as if constructed from layers of negatives. The paintings are vividly gestural but contemplative, intimiste.

Historical works by iconic artists such as Claude Cahun and Lee Miller are paired with the paintings. Miller’s photograph Model with Lightbulb, ca. 1943, introduces the leitmotif of mutable perception in relation to female subjects and form early on in the exhibition. Throughout, the vintage images converse fluidly with Donachie’s contemporary ones; the resonances are often forthright and engaging. The seductive curves of a female silhouette, examined in the black-and-white print of Florence Henri’s Nu – Femme au Jacinthes (Nude – Woman with Hyacinths), 1930, echo Donachie’s paintings of a taut torso in muddied pale blues (In the Last Hours, 2015) and an upright nude in lilac purple (Every Beginning Is Only a Sequel, 2009). Similarly, Donachie’s series of cyanotypes, “Untitled,” 2015, featuring leaves or hands, privileges the same subjects as the mixed-media works by Josette Exandier and Henri’s still-life photographs. Manifest within Donachie’s work and strengthened by dint of juxtaposition, the exhibition exalts women as subjects, creators, and manifold selves.

Sarah Moroz

Helmut Newton

Musée de la Photographie Charles Nègre
1 Place Pierre Gautier
February 17, 2017–May 28, 2017

Helmut Newton, Catherine Deneuve, Esquire, Paris, 1976, laser-jet print, 40 1/2 x 28".

The French Riviera is a fitting context in which to exhibit Helmut Newton—few other places effect that particular mix of vulgarity and glamour. The photographer readily embraced this combination, as he was a Côte d’Azur dweller himself (a house near Saint Tropez in 1964, a Monaco residence in 1981). The exhibition provides a sampling of his nudes, fashion photography, and portraits, both silver-gelatin and laser-jet prints, plus a vitrine of Polaroids. Some of the first works presented are masculine portraits shot from the 1990s: from the searing gaze of actor Ralph Fiennes, Vanity Fair, Venice, 1995, to the distinguished profile of industrialist Giovanni Agnelli, Vanity Fair, Turin, 1997. His depictions of famous men—a monocled Karl Lagerfeld, Paris, 1973, or a bespectacled David Bowie, Monaco, 1982—showcase masculinity as debonair, but his portraits of women are explicitly stylized, eroticized, and exhibitionist (or just a whisper away from being so).

Newton’s women are femmes fatales. A model for American Vogue sips wine with one breast hanging out of her spaghetti-strap dress like a louche Greek goddess (Monaco,1996); a different model, shot from above, shares that sculptural quality—her breast is also exposed (Roselyne, Chateau d’Arcangues [Salon], 1975). Voyeurism is a throughline in Newton’s work, especially in Woman Being Filmed, 1980, where an audience gazes fixedly a woman whose top is being unbuttoned by a man. If Newton’s signature is female fetish, he is at least tongue-in-cheek about it, notably in the series of close-cropped profiles for Italian Vogue he titled “Rushmore,” 1982, immortalizing long-lashed, anonymous models.

Sarah Moroz

Michel Nedjar

Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne (LAM)
1 Allée du Musée
February 24, 2017–June 4, 2017

Michel Nedjar, Untitled, 1977–78, dyed fabrics, 23 x 14 x 4".

Self-taught artist Michel Nedjar is the son of a tailor and the grandson of a schmatess, or second-hand clothier. Given this history, his recurrent use of recycled textiles carries a sense of inevitability. His earliest recrafted poupée, or doll, was a broken-off leg from his sister’s toy. Nedjar interred this shamanistic fetish in the backyard then dug it back up. Burial and retrieval are persistent themes in this career-wide show, which highlights collage, assemblage, found objects, muck, and bright stitching. Nedjar’s composite works double as reliquaries for his own life as well as mementos for modern tragedies.

As a youth Nedjar was marked by Alain Resnais’s chilling 1956 documentary Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog), about Nazi concentration camps. The psychic fallout from this dispatch permeates much of Nedjar’s work (exacerbated later by the AIDS crisis and the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks). Depictions of anonymous, teeming figures appear in the series “Icônes” (Icons) or in loose vortices with “Les foules” (Crowds), both 1986–92. His contorted and gnarled effigies called “chairdames,” 1978–86 (the title an ambiguous portmanteau of the French words for “dear” or “flesh” and “lady” or “soul”), were purchased by Jean Dubuffet, who deemed them “nightmarish” for their undead-looking features. Nedjar’s other dolls are less grim: There’s a cheery assortment made from costume scraps for the carnivalesque Jewish holiday Purim (“Poupées Pourim” [Purim Dolls], 1998–2013). His 173 “Poupées de Voyages” (Traveling Dolls), 1996–2013—fashioned from plastic, shells, tickets, feathers, flattened cans, driftwood, and other locally sourced rubbish from cities around the world—present an alternative cartography and attest to the artist’s boundless capacity to reinvent from wreckage.

Sarah Moroz