Pierre Klossowski

Galerie Maeght Lelong

The strange, puzzling scenes in Pierre Klossowski’s drawings recall the old-fashioned pastime of the tableau vivant. The curiously timeless space of such tableaux evokes the story of Pygmalion—the wonderful transformation of the lifeless statue into the living love object, the transformation of the vision of life into the live vision. The tableau vivant is a kind of ritual, a conjuration of gestures and postures made symbols. That the deception may at any moment be released into movement sensitizes the viewer, concentrating his or her attention on the details of the whole.

A similar heightened consciousness is attendant on Klossowski’s pictures. The viewer is made into a voyeur—a pleasurable state, perhaps, but one which, as the story of Diana and Actaeon shows, is not without danger. Not only do these large-format colored-pencil drawings revolve around sexuality, but the figures are lifesized, realistic. And the drawing technique demands not only an obsessional endurance on the part of the artist, but also the most careful attention by the viewer. Everything becomes detail: the smallest portion of the surface consists of thin, separate strokes, placed beside, over, through one another, and the graphic element of each stroke communicates the obsessiveness of the draftsman. At first this quality monopolizes the attention of the viewer, but simultaneously another process is set in motion: just as the picture takes possession of the viewer, so does the viewer, stroke by stroke, take possession of the picture. In the consumption of the work, which mostly occurs unconsciously, the viewer becomes an associate in it; and given Klossowski’s erotic subject matter, becoming an associate means becoming a lover.

Klossowski’s art is a philosophical one, whose erotic images are not ends in themselves. On the contrary, they are metaphoric instruments of delimitation which crack open the viewer’s armor of consciousness and perception and which are intended to reach the deepest mental recesses. Klossowski’s investigations into the mimetic process, into the whole set of problems of image and reproduction, occur from a somewhat odd perspective in the context of contemporary art, for his pictorial conception, as Rémy Zaugg once accurately remarked, is more readily derived from the buttocks in an Ingres painting than from Cézanne’s apples. These pictures, anachronisms in the current art landscape, pose basic art questions in an extremely subversive way. This may explain their tardy public reception. The work also explores the discourse between word and picture, for the female form portrayed (always the same, identified as Roberte, and confronted with a variety of sexual provocations and strange forms of indecency) is the Roberte of Klossowski’s novels.

Familiarity with these books is not a precondition for viewing the pictures, which go far beyond traditional illustration. But Klossowski’s literary work remains a dimension of the drawings, a space that is felt even without having entered it. As a writer, Klossowski knows how difficult it is to portray new ways of looking at things within the given conventions. The undertaking becomes a stubborn, refined infiltration of the laws of syntax and lexicon. The drawings are not so much a continuation of that discourse as another level of it, in which it turns out that there are no fewer conventions to be infiltrated.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.