Patrick Faigenbaum

With all due respect to the artist, the first thing that came to my mind—once the visual and emotional shock of his monumental two-part photo installation “Louvre et Chaussée d’Antin” subsided—was a one-line joke: “What’s the difference between a tailor and a psychoanalyst? One generation.” For the visitor, Patrick Faigenbaum’s artistic variation on the generic saga of the Eastern European Jewish immigrant began with “Palmarès,” 2004, a mosaic of the ten large-format color photos disposed along the wall opposite the entrance to the vast workshoplike space that the Louvre has recently devoted to interventions by contemporary artists. These lush, large-format tableaux vivants represent the final days of Palmarès (literally, “prize list”), the clothing boutique on rue de la Chaussée d’Antin run by Faigenbaum’s aunt for more than thirty years. Like a visual countdown, the photos mark the end of an era in ten exquisitely suspended moments, from the baroque commotion at the sales counter—where Mme Bogman, the aunt, peers out from behind an enormous desk and a dizzying array of garments—through the burlesque cohabitation of customers and demolition crew, to the classicizing desolation of a final fitting session, with a white-robed model and her seamstress-attendant posed like antique statuary in the pregnant void of an arcaded dressing room awaiting destruction.

The “Louvre” pendant to “Chaussée d’Antin” occupied the other three walls with what was at first sight a stunning counterpoint to the “Palmarès” series: twenty spectral, fragmentary, black-andwhite photos of Michelangelo’s two unfinished Slaves (both dated 1513), which have been in the museum’s collection since the late eighteenth century. In contrast to the circumstantial nature of “Palmarès”—Faigenbaum learned in December 2003 that the boutique was closing and started photographing two weeks later on a daily basis—the Louvre project (“Untitled,” 2003–2004) involved eight months of intimate weekly rendezvous with the Slaves on days when the museum was closed to the public. In contrast to the familial immediacy of “Palmarès,” Faigenbaum’s Slaves are the product of an artistic dialogue with the past. In contrast to the synthetically narrative images of the boutique, far closer to film stills than documentary photos, the Slaves are (with the exception of one almost full-length portrait of the Rebellious Slave barely emerging from stone and shadows alike) analytically fragmented into close-ups of heads, torsos, and lower limbs.

And yet, for Faigenbaum, the worlds of the Louvre and Chaussée d’Antin have always coexisted, or at least since his early teens, when, already set on becoming an artist, he used to skip school to visit the museum. And the emblematic struggles of Michelangelo’s Slaves against captivity and death have their echoes in the deportation of the paternal grandparents and an aunt he never knew, or even the day-to-day struggles of those who survived. These parallels make “Louvre et Chaussée d’Antin” a moving homage from one generation to another. It is even more remarkable because Faigenbaum succeeds not only in bringing rue de la Chaussée d’Antin into the Louvre but also in capturing the expressive beauty of the clothing boutique, just as, by bringing Michelangelo’s Slaves into his own darkroom, he has infused a living dimension into the most transcendent of sculptures. But through this artistic balancing act between observation and invention, Faigenbaum has at the same time created a world of the imagination where visitors, whether or not they are familiar with his history or Michelangelo’s, can circulate freely among sculptures and mannequins, shoppers and slaves in a history of their own making.

Miriam Rosen