New York

Claude Yvel and Henri Cadiou

New York Cultural Center

The Museum of Modern Art’s modest exhibition “Collage and the Photo Image” seems to have been mounted as a pleasant way to pass the summer, but it forms a surprisingly effective confutation of a dead serious, reactively polemical exhibition at the New York Cultural Center, “Reality and Trompe-L’oeil,” “by French New Real Painters.” The French New Real Painters are but four in number, and of the four Claude Yvel gets the most space and makes the catalogue statement. Those paintings in the show that are not a direct ripoff of Harnett, Peto, and 19th-century American trompe-l’oeil painting in general—and most of the paintings are of that variety, coyly updated—amount to Parisian back street versions of Richard Estes. In his catalogue statement Yvel writes that once Gauguin said “Painting must never lapse into anecdote or trompe-l’oeil,” all art became abstract on that advice; all art, that is, with the exception of the work of a few Dutch and Belgian painters Yvel names who were courageously working in representation “already before the second World War.” It is as if there were ever a time in the history of art since the Renaissance when thousands of painters were not painting representationally. He writes of the indifference of the Parisian art world to tight representation in the ’50s as “confirming once again the Parisian public’s particular lack of comprehension when confronted with unconventional forms.” Unconventional forms? Unconventional forms might have brought indifference from the Parisian public of the ’50s, but that has nothing to do with these paintings. Another more handy explanation for indifference is easily found. Finally Yvel claims that he and his mates were ignorant of 19th-century trompe-l’oeil until the Alfred Frankenstein exhibition catalogue on the subject a few years ago. Like the esteemed senator from Hawaii, I am tempted to mumble into my microphone, “Boy, what a liar.“ But whether the statement is true or honest is really irrelevant: whether Yvel and his colleagues knew about it or not, trompe-l’oeil has already been thoroughly examined, and originally conceived or not, their work only repeats the achievement of work accomplished almost a hundred years ago.

The paintings themselves, somewhat like the paintings of Estes, have a curious position somewhere between gestural representation and photo-Realism. Brushstrokes are not visible generally: and the color is bright and necessarily rather flat. They are not painted from photographs and they don’t look it, if for no other reason, color boundaries are hard, crisp, and clean, unlike the blurred color edges of photo-Realism. In fact, they have no connection to photo-Realism except by cashing in on photo-Realism’s current big box office. Like most instances of trompe-l’oeil, the paintings are amusing to look at, and in places the craftsmanship is impressive. When the subjects depicted are not those of standard trompe-l’oeil, such as papers of various kinds tacked to a depicted flat surface, they are shallow boxes containing tableaux on various themes: Nazi Germany, photography, motorcycle racing, etc. A few of the paintings make references to “avant-garde” art. Henri Cadiou has a trompe-I’oeil Fontana in the show, a Picasso as if in a junk store, and a Duchamp urinal, as well as other obvious references to collage.

While the Cultural Center shows paintings of collages, The Museum of Modern Art shows actual collages using photographs. Thus, one show consists of depictions of collage, the other of collages of depictions. Obviously if the “New Real French Painters” had made actual collages of their subjects, that wouldn’t have been a particularly NEW thing to do, but neither is depicting collage which was already pretty exhausted before collage itself was even thought of. True, to my knowledge Harnett never depicted pinup girls tacked on his depicted wood panels, so perhaps there’s the new wrinkle, or more accurately, kink.

Bruce Boice