Gloria Friedmann

Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture

Of German origin but a resident of France for some time now, Gloria Friedmann had her first show at the Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, in 1981 and participated this past summer in Documenta 8. Oriented toward nature early on, the sculptures and installations of this young artist focused at first on the issue of landscape and its pictorial or sculptural representation. In her more recent works, which in their own way evoke something of the tradition of 19th-century Romantic painting (notably that of Caspar David Friedrich), Friedmann has been developing a simplified approach to form, making use of ordinary materials from everyday life and from industry. For example, in Neiges éternelles de la Jungfrau (Eternal snows of the Jungfrau, 1983) she conveyed the essence of a mountain landscape with a plain white bedsheet, while Mer de glace (Sea of ice, 1985) consisted of an arrangement of car-door windows. Approximately a year ago, Friedmann’s meditation on nature seems to have veered off in another, and also probably more ambitious, direction, with works in which explicit figuration has completely disappeared. Her preoccupation with natural materials is as strong as ever in these works, but the issue of landscape has been redefined here through a sculptural vocabulary that recalls Minimalism, if only in appearance. The simple, geometric forms taken up by Friedmann were not chosen for purely formal reasons or as a reference to art-historical precedent, but because they can effectively convey the physical and metaphysical essence of natural materials.

The six pieces shown here, all from 1987, demonstrated this quite clearly. Semblable: comme l’hiver, maintenant (Resembling winter now)—the titles are usually carved or engraved on the works themselves and are integral to them—consisted of a rectangular glass receptacle placed directly on the floor and filled with soil, on top of which were scattered hawthorn petals. In an abstract yet down-to-earth way, this organic layer of white evoked the transition from winter to spring, in which the white of the snow gives way to the white of the flower petals. Audelà (Beyond, 1987), which was the most beautiful piece in the show, is a tall, square receptacle of glass, filled with fragments of broken glass that sparkle under the light—a luminous column that is striking in its dominating verticality. These two pieces respectively introduced and concluded the show. Compared to them, Ici-bas (Here below), positioned prominently in the center, was much less successful. It consisted of a large, flat rectangle of packed earth that served as a pedestal for a red cube, resembling the color of human blood, and four similar forms (a cube and three parallelepipeds), each of which had been covered or filled with one of four kinds of animal or vegetable matter—ivy, wild boar skin, feathers, or grain.

The exhibition was not confined to the culturally symbolic space of the museum but moved out into the natural landscape, to the mountain chain of Belledonne, a few kilometers away. Here, Friedmann created a large-scale permanent sculpture entitled Ex aeterno tempore (Out of eternal time). Of raw earth and covered with red pigment, it was not a work that could be viewed, like those in the museum, simply by walking around it. Rather, it was a kind of secular temple. The visitor had to enter it in order to discover a rectangular opening that frames one of the snowy peaks of the mountain chain. This was the culminating work of the exhibition, directing the spectator toward the contemplation of nature itself.

Reviewed by Daniel Soutif.

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah.