Gloria Friedmann

Galerie Montenay-Giroux

For several years now, Gloria Friedmann has waged a campaign against the blurring of boundaries between media images and real life. In a series of ephemeral tableaux vivants entitled Les Représentants (The representatives, 1994–96), two of which were presented in her recent show, she leads the viewer to an abrupt confrontation with natural substances that are becoming less and less visible in today’s environment. In each of these works she boldly places animals and the detritus of mass-market culture side by side on a meaningful site: horses and wrecked cars in a working-class residence in Regensburg, Germany; cows and a heap of shopping carts in front of a supermarket in Dijon; sheep and motorcycles in the plaza of the Georges Pompidou Center; and a pink and black pig before a pile of plastic garbage bags on the lawn of the Centre d’Art de Vassivière. While the playful, anti-establishment, neo-Dadaist spirit in these and other works may not always be immediately grasped by viewers, they inevitably provoke a certain shocked awareness.

Friedmann’s works recall those of American artist Cady Noland. But although one could consider Friedmann’s pieces “still lifes,” she is not interested so much in creating an object as in juxtaposing postindustrial detritus with dying organic matter. One cannot escape feeling astonishment and compassion before a dismembered draft horse, hanging from a rope, whose eye socket holds electronic equipment; the title of this piece, YP 32, 1996, could easily be a license-plate number.

Géant Casino (Giant casino, 1996) comprises shopping carts piled one on top of the other and filled with cow skulls, as well as television sets retransmitting the day’s programs. In this work, made before the “mad cow disease” furor, the reality of a phenomenon that was caused by the criminal vagaries of the economic system and exaggerated by the media lends resonance to artistic fiction. Friedmann’s project thus addresses problems of an ethical, ecological, and political dimension in Chambord 87, 1996, when she places a photograph depicting Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand posing in front of the Chambord château inside an aquarium, so that pretty fish appear to swim around them. But while one detects a certain derision in this work—as well as in a piece entitled Dow Jones, 1996, in which a photograph of a session at the stock exchange lines the bottom of a cage enclosing orange canaries—the questions that are broached remain open-ended. Whether they are naturalist allegories or contemporary vanities, these works offer, with jarring wit, a warning against our decreasing awareness of the physical world.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Jeanine Herman.