Michel Parmentier

Centre National des Arts Plastiques; Galerie Liliane et Michel Durand-Dessert

Works of art obey capricious rules, particularly in matters of content and context. In some cases context is not simply a matter relegated to the periphery, but becomes a central issue to the artwork and obliterates almost all its other properties. Michel Parmentier’s work could very well be considered a case where the original context of the work’s making is primary.

Considered on their own, Parmentier’s paintings and drawings present a number of remarkable formal qualities, but they seem, despite their context, to be timeless and authorless. At the Centre National des Arts Plastiques, Parmentier showed paintings consisting of 38-cm.-wide bands in alternating colors. The only variable from one canvas to the other is color: blue, gray, red, black. In all cases, however, it is clear how the alternating bands were made: creases imply that the canvases were painted after having been folded. They have been hung on the wall as is, without stretchers. The drawings are the result of an analogous process: horizontally juxtaposed strips of paper are fused together to obtain very large surfaces. Parmentier then makes random pencil strokes on the paper. The drawings, some of which were shown at the Durand-Dessert gallery, possess a certain weightlessness that makes them seem like shadows or ghosts when compared to the paintings.

Nevertheless, none of these works betrays its history. It is not apparent, for example, in the hanging of the paintings that the blue, gray, and red canvases were painted in 1966, 1967, and 1968 respectively, whereas the black ones were painted starting in 1984, and the drawings executed in 1988. The fifteen years that separate these two groups of works represent a caesura in the artist’s career when he stopped painting and ended his relationship with the group BMPT, a collaborative effort of Parmentier, Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, and Niele Toroni. He justified his decision in 1972, saying it was but an extension of the “objectively subversive quality” of his work. Seen today, Parmentier’s painting yields at least two readings. It can be seen as a milestone by which to measure the path traveled by his former associates during the time of the artist’s silence, or it can be seen in light of certain current art practices, so that it appears as neoabstraction or “neo-geo.” Certainly there is a contradiction in Parmentier’s recent return to painting and in the strict identity of his practice in relation to the past, and it is one the artist exploits through both content and context.

Daniel Soutif

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah.