Gérard Gasiorowski

Recommencer. Commencer de nouveau la peinture” (Starting Again: Starting the Painting Again) surveyed the career of French painter Gérard Gasiorowski (1930–1986), who began his career as a successful Photorealist in the mid-1960s and then rebelled, violently, and spent the following two decades producing abstract paintings, naive acrylic sketches, syrupy kitsch, and modest painted objects. In the atrium, where the exhibition began, curators Frédéric Bonnet and Éric Mangion introduced their strategy, an achronological presentation of the work that sought to patch through alternative narratives for the painter’s fraught relationship with the medium. Three large paintings faced off to brilliant effect: a Twombly-esque iconographic index, Opem Ibri Gabé Gabé, 1983; a splendidly sinister Photorealist image of a man in sock garters and cowboy boots catching a ball before an audience of sophisticates (Regardez-moi [Look at Me], 1970, from the series “L’Approche”[The Approach]); and Giotto—Atelier de Gasiorowski, 1984, a vigorous, gestural painting of a hooded figure hulking away from the viewer, remarkable in its spontaneity and handling of space. These last two were hung so that the figures in them seemed to turn their backs on each other—recoiling from the opposite style, as Gasiorowski himself did countless times in the course of a career marked by about-faces and repudiations.

Although this exhibition’s presentation sought to portray Gasiorowski as a jack-of-all-aesthetics—as if to divert attention from the skip-around painter by forcing his viewers to be skip-around spectators—its logic was under siege from the work itself. For, as seen here, Gasiorowski’s uneven oeuvre intimates a restlessness derived not from a free spirit but rather from deep pessimism and self-estrangement. While some groupings, like a room of self-portraits through the years, managed to cohabit delightfully, a tale of sour reactivity emerged with the works and ephemera of the fictional Akademie Worosis Kiga, founded in 1976 and named with an anagram of Gasiorowski. Purportedly run by the draconian professor Arne Hammer, the AWK represented a period of punishing compulsiveness (consider the eighty-four paintings of hats presented here, despotically exacted from the imagined pupils, a roll call of Gasiorowski’s more successful contemporaries). This ended with Hammer’s assassination by an Indian deity figure Gasiorowski called Kiga, subsequently ushering in yet another style—cloyingly sincere spiritual symbol systems—to negate the one that preceded it. The violence of this coup and its plain connection to Gasiorowski’s professional frustrations (and, moreover, his inability to transform them into successful Conceptualist farce) exposed what the curatorial conceit attempted to camouflage by rejecting chronological presentation. Inadvertently, the exhibition made Gasiorowski’s vacillation appear pathological—his wavering faith in painting driving him to ever more extreme bouts of abnegation and mysticism. Things looked dire by the time one reached the last room. Painted boxes, kits, and tchotchkes from the series “Kiga,”1976–83, might have been charming had they been presented individually, but corralled together behind a plastic railing in the center of the room, they evinced a debt to Rauschenberg that is lamentably clear. And alongside the execrable dung-watercolor sketches, Les Jus (Juices), 1979, and a pile of turdy Tourtes, 1979, they ended the show on a note that was, in short, abject.

One could wish that the exhibition had ended elsewhere—for instance with Hommage à Manet, 1983, two canvases one above the other, each some thirty-three feet long. The bottom one shows an elongated, fiery-hued asparagus, the top a bull’s silhouette: Manet’s single asparagus, that wan remainder painted in his last years; and Lascaux’s fauna, which Bataille nominated as not just the birth of painting but the birth of man—like two luminous time lines running in parallel. In the interval lies the honest, human fear behind Gasiorowski’s unappeasable beginnings-anew: that what might appear to be the end of Painting may just be the end of one man’s painting.

Joanna Fiduccia