Monique Frydman

Baudoin Le-bon

At first, Monique Frydman’s work was somewhat reminiscent of Bram Van Velde’s. But in 1967 the Parisian avant-garde, and the political situation of the time, set her in a new direction. While a generation of artists led by Claude Viallat, Louis Cane, and others began a return to abstract painting, Frydman traveled to Cuba and, during the spring of 1968, to Prague. She began to use personal recollections in a way that most “radical” artists had specifically put aside. Completely isolated from the “individual mythologies” of the early ’70s, her work possessed a quality of the hand; these were essentially drawings (which, after all, are what formalism repressed the most) peopled with ghosts.

This work should be considered in the context of the changes that had occurred in the art world at the time—the interest in psychoanalysis (the “Lacanian subject”) the discourses of “desire” (Jean-Francois Lyotard, Roland Barthes), the resurgence of feminism in France. All of these were behind the huge figures done by Frydman in 1976–77. They can hardly be explained as a return to figuration in deference to the trends of the period. These expressionist transcriptions represent bodies without heads or feet; in retrospect, they seem to echo Judit Reigl’s series of “Men,” though their sexual identity cannot be defined. The interest of these drawings, beyond their direct, massive strokes, lies in their “heroic” format. Frydman quickly assigned to them the status of paintings; the next year they reappeared as the background in the stretched canvases of this period of her work, which she executed with great exuberance. Interestingly, color was reintroduced here, but without mingling with the drawings. Its application on both sides of the large sheets of tissue paper which were glued like a transparent grid over the raw canvas of the drawings allowed it to remain completely autonomous, as if it were still a taboo for Frydman. Under the veil of patches of blue, sienna, red, and ocher the figures appeared intact, like a sort of sinopia. Indeed these canvases do have the appeal of frescoes, but ones that have been displaced, fragmented by time. It is as if they could disappear at the drop of a hat, as do those in the catacombs in Fellini Roma.

For a while, it seemed that Frydman had rediscovered black and white. In this exhibition, however, an investigation of the vocabulary of color is developed with redoubled complexity. Imagine sections of painting that are at once transparent and solid-seeming, detached from the wall like a page torn from its plaster. The negative force of these paintings is often close to tragic expression. The question of the figure is posed constantly. This work stands out from that of most French artists; it might seem anachronistic when contrasted with that of the “new fauves,” or the current imagists of all genres, but in fact it is concerned with something else altogether. Is it still expressionist? I would be tempted to see in it, rather, a paradoxical confrontation with an obsession that no “expression,” no “figuration,” could ever satisfy. Is it still concerned with a vision of the transcendent? Perhaps, but with a vision more fragile than ever.

Xavier Girard

Translated from the French by Jamey Gambrell.