New York

Martial Raysse

Iolas Gallery

The Martial Raysse exhibition now at the Iolas Gallery is another engrossing example of the misconstruction of the New World by the Old. M. Raysse utilizes American-made artistic and technical inventions, but makes his presentations with an endearing quality and giddiness that can only be French. There are three kinds of works in the show; paintings which are made up of separate rectangular panels of identical size, constructions of plastic and neon, and intarsia-like reliefs of flat layers of colored plastic. Also, at least one of the paintings has a neon ornament.

The paintings utilize blown up photographic images of faces, usually distributed over several of the constituent canvases of the work. “Distributed” because in some cases panels containing part of the image have been displaced from their expected sequence, or replaced with seemingly extraneous bits of imagery, often tropical foliage. Quite a few of the abstract shadow forms in the photo images (which are done as if extremely contrasty) and all the backgrounds are flocked. (Yes, flocked.) The concept here is essentially Warhol’s one of the enlarged photo image appearing against a plain or metallic paint background. The trouble with Raysse’s flocking is that instead of being the surface, as is Warhol’s paint, it is so obviously on the surface; the objective image does not just materialize within the context where we are prepared to have to consider it pictorially (flat rectangular wall object with image), it was already there and somebody has flocked the damn thing! It becomes frou-frou, and irrecoverably so.

The plastic wall pieces are identical in compositional imagery and layout to the flocked paintings, but the material here has dictated an even greater coarseness of image. The layered effects operate analogously to the flocking, not letting a pictorial image be one, and not being interesting enough in themselves to satisfactorily embellish the obscured image. There is no special logic to the material itself either: these pieces could just as easily be glossy, painted plywood, Masonite, or some such.

The one big neon and plastic piece, Proposition of Escape: Heart Carden, uses these materials as they would be employed in the theater or the movies. Proposition consists of a long S-shaped path studded with ten blinking blue neon hearts. About two-thirds of the way along this path is a gate of rural form, neon-illuminated from within. Perhaps it is a runway for Irene Bordoni or Mistinguette, who knows? The suggestion of the blinking hearts is rather that of the spotlight flittering over the empty stage during a tearful premier night because the greatest little dancing nymph since Taglione has been taken from the world by Cruel Destiny. Anyway, this kind of object and image is so fundamentally a part of American cinematic and theatrical fantasy of a certain sticky order that it cannot possibly, in this form at least, alter its karma and become a full-fledged avant-garde conceit.

So, in his present show, Raysse comes off as truly bested by the material that he wishes to deal with. It must be far more thoroughly assimilated by the artist before its spirit can invest his own works, and merely slightly dolled-up simulacra of certain things in American art and life don’t really make it. They cannot, because their derivative qualities testify that the artist, no matter how sincerely fascinated or even obsessed with this spirit, is not yet at the still point where he can articulate its possibilities as well as its peculiarities.

––Dennis Adrian