Critics’ Picks

View of “Embellishments,” 2012.


Yan Tomaszewski

Primo Piano
4 rue Gabriel Laumain
February 15 - March 24

As the “Greater Paris” project of urban development beyond the Périphérique (ring road) climbs higher on the city government’s political agenda, the cultural sector is enjoying exponentially improved access to exhibitions and events in various locations. For instance, the Tram contemporary art network, an association of art spaces around the region, facilitates transport for special visits or openings.

One contentious site on boundary between outer and inner Paris is at the heart of a work in Yan Tomaszewski’s current solo show. Proposal for a Museum on a Desert Island, 2009, is a nearly twelve-minute video showing the artist acting as a mountain climber, architect, and worker, while clandestinely entering a construction site on Seguin Island. Located in the Seine on the western outskirts of Paris, the island once housed the famous Renault factory, and many grand proposals for recycling its existing structures or constructing new architectural developments have been declined in the years since the factory ceased production. The camera homes in on Tomaszewski marching up and down vast areas of variegated land (or, rather, piles of rubble) in what seems to be a long expedition leading to a flat area where he stops to mark out a potential floor plan in blue chalk lines.

Also on view is a series of drawings on photocopied photographs of contemporary Paris, titled Embellishments (francigenum opus), 2010, which extrapolate on an unrealized gothic urban plan (to unify the city in the style of Notre Dame cathedral, the epitome of thirteenth-century Paris architecture) proposed by Victor Fournel as a counter to Baron Haussmann’s nineteenth-century transformations. The latter’s predominance is further referenced here as his portrait Der Baron über dem Nebelmeer (The Baron Above the Sea of Fog), 2012, restages him facing front in Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 canvas Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog). Finally, still questioning the attainment of new heights, Tomaszewski diverts the form of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, printing on the squares of fabric professional announcements for rocailleurs, a French word for artificial rock workers or craftsmen, who contributed to Haussmann’s park decorations. What is it that we’re praying for?