Marc Desgrandchamps

Galerie Zürcher | Paris

“The world remains whatever happens.” This phrase, which ends Marc Desgrandchamps’s biographical statement in a recent monograph, suggests some of the paradoxes apparent in his work: issues of permanence and event, timeless continuity and sudden presence, the known and the unexpected, stable reference and unspecified expectation. There is a sense of suspended temporality in his paintings, which are metaphors for both memory and forgetting. His recent show at Galerie Zürcher, featuring twenty works (all Untitled, 2007), revealed how the artist increasingly has been playing with the transparency of highly diluted oil paint in order to obscure his images, which are nothing more than banal scenes—landscapes (gardens, countrysides, beaches, or, more recently, cities) haunted, or perhaps not, by presences that are as concrete as they are fleeting. The drips produced by the thinness of the paint wash out the compositions to the point of nearly dissolving them, and while they leave “after-gestures” that become part of the work, these are subject to the viewer’s interpretation, like the decaying old walls in which Leonardo suggested an artist could find landscapes, battles, and uncommon poses: They are means by which to build through destruction, and vice versa, or to show through erasure.

Desgrandchamps intensively explores the dual nature of the pictorial surface—a plane that is both flat and capable of revealing depth, both real and metaphorical, both material and ripe for imaginative projection. In this way he brings the specific space of the painting up against other image systems, such as the photographs he uses as sources, not to mention film, which inevitably comes to mind when viewing the overlapping people in his street scenes, who seem to pass through like minor characters, absent to themselves as well as to others. They are caught in the flow of things, melting into the scene or absorbing it, as in one of those photographs by Lee Friedlander in which the reflections of a crowd blend with the objects in a storefront window. Such images speak to our own inability to extricate ourselves from our surroundings in order to truly perceive them.

Recently, Desgrandchamps’s pictorial and perceptual investigations have focused more on architecture than on the figure. Whereas once his paintings had simple backdrops, now he approaches site as he does figure, tirelessly chipping away at every certitude. Streets are deserted, not a soul in sight; what remain are only buildings—houses or, most often, apartment blocks, which, though inhuman, take on a corporeal presence. Their geometry is subjected to the lines of dripping paint, and the resulting grid wavers like a mirage, challenging the eye to try to frame its vision.

Guitemie Maldonado