Ricardo Brey’s current mixed-media exhibition consists of photographs, text, and various pieces of badly aged man-made detritus, such as old-fashioned metal buttons, broken crockery, threadbare work gloves, and rotting wool coats. The Cuban artist assembles these forlorn pieces of ordinary life around photographs of trees printed on weathered fabric. Almost all of Brey’s utilitarian objects are now useless. But the trees, which fell victim to deforestation in Cuba, retain their nobility and grace—they’ve aged beautifully. Brey’s complex series of works presents the simple message that we’re ruining nature without creating anything of comparable value and longevity.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is Birdland, 2001, a vitrine containing some of the aforementioned materials, in addition to shattered ostrich eggs, license plates, pencils, and lost keys: a horn of plenty presented as a spill of irredeemable trash. Many of the items nonetheless hint at interesting histories: The buttons here, though mostly cracked, are intriguingly carved, and the coats, once upon a time, might have been chic. The intricate, thick, and knotted trees depicted in a pair Brey’s collages—Mono-no-aware and Voyage, both 2016—transmute nature’s unpredictability into beautiful forms and curves. Soggy bits of cardboard and rusted metals surround these works. It’s fair to say that the junk—potential tetanus hazards and proof of humanity’s misguidedness—looks considerably older than the ancient trees themselves.
Belgian artist Pieter Vermeersch’s second solo show at this gallery’s Paris location comprises seventeen abstract paintings, all Untitled, 2016, made on canvas and marble. They do not readily blend into the architecture of the space—a strategy the artist has employed before.
The show opens with a series of large chromatic fade-outs on canvas. Each painting has been defaced with scratches: meditative gestures that seem to function as indices of the body. In another room of the gallery, two paintings with more rigid monochromatic gradations, created to mirror each other, have been partially obscured by a pair of marble slabs leaning up against them. The artist sets up an interesting dynamic between the permanence of the marble and the impermanence, even feebleness, of human mark-making.
Other pieces highlight the intensity of the rich pigments he uses. Vermeersch’s colors, like blades, cut through the natural patterns of his hard supports, such as onyx and red travertine. His planned abstract forms contrast remarkably with the abstractions—built over hundreds of years—of the stones. In five smaller paint-on-marble works, the artist stops playing illusionistic games. The daubs of oil paint atop smooth, cold planes create perceptual phenomena that are decidedly sculptural.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Identity in today’s world is more muddled than ever by sociopolitical mayhem, but Vincent Perez takes a plainspoken approach to this predicament. His recent series “The Parisians,” 2016, photographed around Paris’s metro Château Rouge in an African neighborhood, mixes street style with an alfresco studio feel. (The Swiss-born Perez himself is a curious but respectful outsider; moreover, he is known as an actor/director in France). Each subject brandishes a bright palette of garments and accessories: taxi-yellow nails, red headscarves, pink paisley button-downs. Their hues are accentuated by the use of a flash, contrasting sharply with Paris’s muted architectural background. The snapshots, taken of strangers on the fly, bring to light a quiet pride as well as visibility to a marginalized community in contemporary French society. In this way, the photograph is a document, but it’s equally a reinforcement of the community and a validation of the self. This vision is more distinctly celebratory in the sartorial splendor of a sapeur wedding, where guests are adorned with swathes of lace and natty bow ties.
In the next room—but worlds away—Perez showcases portraits taken in Russia, where he has been traveling regularly for twenty years and where he has begun to exhibit photographs of artists and dancers. His connection to the country’s cultural heritage began with its literature, and he channels this reverence into straightforward images: In one, a couple is posed before ruched fabric in nuptial dress, while in a neighboring image, the duo is dressed casually, cigarettes burning in their hands. In the latter, the woman’s shirt bears two hearts, pierced by an arrow.
In the November 30, 1978, edition of the SoHo Weekly News, William Zimmer wrote of Cy Twombly’s paintings, “One is reminded of graffiti on men’s room walls . . . brutish and even downright nasty—a compliment.” This institution, having dedicated two prior exhibitions to Twombly’s oeuvre (in 1988 and 2004), offers the first major retrospective of this artist since his death in 2011. This completist array of 140 works gives us expressive canvases, multimedia sculptures, and placid photographs culled from both private and public collections.
Twombly began his career by deploying industrial paint. His early series of untitled works from 1951 are followed by Volubilis and Ouarzazat, both 1953, in white lead pencil and wax crayon. Textural and gruff, these pieces are offset by the stoicism of black-and-white photographs such as Table, Chair and Cloth, Tétouan, 1953, and still-life photos, made at Black Mountain College in 1951, of glass bottles and stained cloth. Twombly’s shift to oil appears to crystallize with Empire of Flora, 1961, and Dutch Interior, 1962—works peppered with frenetically articulated genitalia and breasts. (As Zimmer put it, Twombly has a “strange co-tenancy of the life of the mind with the life of the body.”) The artist’s multicanvas painting cycles entwine measured historical allusions with visceral vigor. In the cycle Nine Discourses on Commodus, 1963—named for the violent Roman emperor—tempestuous crimson, white, pink, and yellow devolve like rabid Impressionist nymphaea against a cool gray.
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.
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.
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.