“Hommage à Martin Barré”

Idées de la peinture: Hommage à Martin Barré” (Ideas of Painting: An Homage to Martin Barré), curated by Jean-Pierre Criqui, allows us to revisit a painter whose work is displayed all too infrequently relative to its importance. From one series to another, in ten paintings made by Barré between 1960 and 1991, the tools employed change (the paint tube itself, the spray gun, then a return to the brush), as do the forms (lines, bands or stripes, arrows, and truncated triangles or rectangles), but these variations only confirm the rigor and continuity of the artist’s tireless investigation into the fundamental givens of painting. Throughout his experiments, one constant emerges immediately: the importance of blank space, which cannot be described as a void, since it is active, or as background, insofar as Barré gives it the same status as forms and color. In the radicalism of black and white, his will to limit the usual contradictions, starting with the dichotomy between background and form, is clearly affirmed: the sometimes crisp, sometimes nebulous edges, achieved with spray paint and a piece of cardboard (67-F-2-113 x 105, 1967), the erasures and overpainting, the interplay of positive and negative (87-89-81 x 144-C, 1987–89)—all these are so many ways of avoiding hierarchies while holding together the components of the work.

Juxtaposing Barré’s works with nine others by painters of different generations and viewpoints, from Raoul De Keyser to Pascal Pinaud, indicates the parameters offered by this exploration and, as the title of the exhibition states, points toward certain ideas of painting. It is a question of format and presentation and the different relationships (focusing or immersion) they imply, but also of motifs—their repetition and alteration—and especially the use of this space, at once concrete and imaginary, that in the last analysis constitutes painting. Painting is envisaged here in the complexity of its relationship to the wall and in the subversion of its limits: beginnings or ends of lines placed at the edges suggest an unseen surround, just as the saturation of the space opens onto possible overflowings, and the de-centering of forms calls for other configurations. The plane of the canvas is detached from the wall but participates in its frontality and materiality, as exemplified by the effects of texture employed by Peter Halley (Privilege Level, 2000) as well as by the stratifications by means of which Albert Oehlen’s Untitled, 1992–2005, turns the support into a surface for the inscription of traces, such as the accidents suggested by Pascal Pinaud (Hennarot BMW, 2002). All sorts of hatchings, stripes, and grids, in an amused rereading of the modernist emblem, work toward the (de)definition of pictorial space: It is incomplete or discontinuous in Barré’s 79-A-100 x 200, 1979, symmetrical through repetition to the point of displacement in Bernard Piffaretti’s Sans titre (BP 188), 2003, reduced to an intersection in Robert Mangold’s Aqua/Green/Orange + Painting, 1983, or freely crumpled and tangled by Christian Bonnefoi in Beatus VIII, 2004. These works represent so many approaches to (abstract) painting that, in effect, they demonstrate its infinite variety, so many invitations to focus on and think about looking.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.