Françoise Vergier

This exhibition—the first retrospective of Françoise Vergier’s work—included 70 rarely seen pieces dating from 1980 to 1995. The large number of works presented could perhaps be attributed to the fact that Vergier typically works on a small scale, with the exception of the life-size statues of women she sometimes sculpts.

In Vergier’s work one finds evidence of her sensitivity to nature, her affection for literature, and her loving relationship with her child. Despite this personal aspect of her oeuvre, some of her work retains a link to Conceptualism. The early pieces that appeared in this show—which date from 1980 to 1987 and can be broken down into various elements (drawings, photographs, letters, and solid-steel parallelepipeds)—can be exhibited in many different ways. References to art history or poetry are integral to the artist’s modest, sober approach in a number of works, including Le Poids et la mésure (Château sous la neige, Gustave Courbet) [Weight and measure (castle under snow, Gustave Courbet), 1984–85], Vermeer (ou Françoise Vergier et la Piece ancienne) [Vermeer (or Françoise Vergier and the ancient coin), 1986] and Souvenir (Hölderlin) [Souvenir (Hölderlin), 1987].

In the more recent pieces, Vergier has avoided cultural references, achieving a highly original and deeply expressive formal quality. She has fashioned, for example, painted limewood reliefs that resemble medallions. Each is about a foot across and covered with a piece of convex glass that accentuates the roundness of the form depicted underneath. The subject might be breasts, as it is in Jamais deux sans trois (Never two without three, 1989), a woman’s belly, as in Bouzou, 1991, or a heraldic form in the shape of a penis, with a gilded metal fly perching on it, as in Masculin (Masculine, 1992). Small sculptures pay homage to ancient fertility goddesses, and their bellies and breasts may even proclaim themselves masters over a male sex imprisoned under a glass bell jar, as in Le Jugement de Paris (The judgment of Paris, 1992–94).This unexpected aggression, appearing suddenly where there had been no sign of a feminist agenda, was rather surprising. One wondered whether the preciousness of certain objects, for example the bell jars enclosing landscape drawings as meticulously detailed as old-fashioned miniatures, reveals a desire to impose a certain order on the world—perhaps to envision a predominately feminine universe. The painted limewood sculptures of women, perhaps modeled on the artist’s own body, have the hieratic quality of statues dedicated to a goddess. Their apparent perfection distances them from the viewer, inspiring as much unease as admiration. In these, as in much of her work, Vergier strikes at the very heart of her subject.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Warren Niesluchowski.