Friday, May 18, 2018

Paul Pfeiffer, Desiderata @ Galerie Perrotin

Paul Pfeiffer, Three Figures in a Room, (2015-2017)

Paul Pfeiffer is the master of removal. His films and videos always involve a process of removing elements of found media footage, a process that results in whatever has been removed coming to loom larger than ever over what remains.

In the current exhibition at Galerie Perrotin, one of Pfeiffer’s most powerful series, Desiderata, shows footage pilfered from The Price is Right. Pfeiffer has removed the prizes, all sign of money, the sound, and other narrative elements such as the host, the audience and the music. Pfeiffer’s image depicts empty shelves in gaudy colours, flashing lights and other basic structural objects as the object of the contestants’ desire. The result is frightening. We watch people, sometimes in shorts, flip flops and halter tops, at others all dressed up for the occasion, but always short of breath thanks to the excitement and anticipation of whether or not they will win the jackpot. Because the actual objects of desire have been removed, it looks as though the pent up, sometimes frenzied emotions played out on the contestants' bodies in complete silence are a kind of nervous disorder. Pfeiffer’s removal of the objects, leaving the empty scaffolding that incites their desire, exposes the emptiness and futility of our search for wealth.
Paul Pfeiffer, Desiderata, 2017
The images in Desiderata are of all different sizes, some the size of our iphones, others the size of a tablet. The desire of the technological image is everywhere reflected on these streamlined and seductive screens. And so, as I watched the poor contestants anticipating a windfall, I saw myself caught in the circuit of desire that keeps me watching my iphones, waiting for the never ending narrative to finish. The images on display have no narrative, and we have a narrative that doesn’t finish; it’s all the same because in the end both create false promises. This repetition of the emptiness of our desires and their propensity to isolate us in obsessive behavior is a brilliantly captured by Pfeiffer.
Paul Pfeiffer, Three Figures in a Room, (2015-2017)
In another piece, Three Figures in a Room (2015-2017) Pfeiffer digitally removes the sound from footage of the most lucrative fight ever played out at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 2015. We see the fight on one giant screen (the three figures being the two boxers and the referee) while on an adjacent screen we watch foley artists creating the sounds in a studio. The production of the sounds through the use of everyday objects and homemade props is interesting, but once again, what struck me about the installation was the emptiness of the fight. How much of the excitement, anticipation and thrill of what was billed as the fight of the century is actually manufactured by the sound and presentation of the fight on a television screen. Without sound, the fight was tedious and unremarkable. Pfeiffer’s critique of our seduction by the manipulation of the mass media is once again, a very uncomfortable realization for the viewer.
Paul Pfeiffer, Caryatid (Marquez), 2016

In the final installation Caryatid (2003- ), Pfeiffer removes more than just sound. He edits out one boxer from the image, and manipulates the footage down to slow motion. We see the single boxer’s body shaking as it absorbs the shock of the punches it receives. We see the fluid fly from his mouth, the head thrown back, the body deformed in response to the beating it receives from an invisible assailant. The monitors are on the gallery floor, inviting us to contort our bodies in an effort to see closer up, to get a better look at the impact of one man’s animalistic pulping of another. Even viewers who have no interest in boxing will leave questioning their desire to watch, and keep watching, such violent images. For we can't help but watch ourselves watching in Pfeiffer's haunting installation of images.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Gérard Traquandi, La Véranda @ Galerie Laurent Godin

Gérard Traquandi, Untitled, 2018

Entering the Galerie Laurent Godin in the 13th arrondissment is like stepping into a Chelsea gallery in the early 1990s. It is an expansive warehouse space with original floors and structural details. Currently on exhibition, the recent paintings of Gérard Traquandi, works that are both sensuous and surprising, both bring the large white walls alive, and are made even more gorgeous by the atypical for Paris warehouse space.
Gérard Traquandi, Untitled 2017
Traquandi’s process is unusual and not immediately obvious to the naked eye. He lays the canvas on the floor and paints an often garishly colored, but diluted oil background before a second canvas painted in a different color is laid on top of the first. The impression of the paint on the second canvas is then left on the first creating abstract unpredictable waves, lines, tears and traces on the background. Even when the colors are not compatible the dialogue between them creates something special. The colors and contours of the resultant images vibrate, glisten and radiate with the changing light that results from our slightest movement around the space. But the works are not always soothing and synchronous. Some of them create a sense of agitation as the surface traces of the second painting are truncated, short and constantly changing direction. At times, the colors are dark and dense soliciting a melancholic reflection, at others they are bright and filled with air and light, and carefree.
Fra Angelico, Annunciation,
St Mark's, Florence
Gérard Traquandi, Untitled, 2018

Tranquandi talks of being inspired by Fra Angelico, and though the connection can take time to discover, the green of a work that reminds of the sea, and the wind moving across a cloudy sky is almost identical to the figure foregrounded in the Lamentation over the Dead Christ. And the dusty, sometimes shimmering orange robe of the Virgin in Fra Angelico’s Annunciation scene in one of the cells at the St Mark’s convent in Florence is virtually identical to the surface of one small Tranquandi work. While the colors and their layered application could easily remind of unevenly laid concrete, they also visually resemble the layers of color in the fresco technique. Tranquandi’s ability to take otherwise luminous colors and make them textured and soft, even though he can never be fully in control of their appearance on the canvas, at first seems unique. And then, it’s astounding to go back and recognize the same effect was achieved by Fra Angelico.
Installation View 
Floor of the Galerie Laurent Godin
In the catalogs available to read at the exhibition, there is much discussion of Tranquandi’s conversation between painting and nature. Yes, if we stand long enough in front of the paintings we will discover the sea, a forest, a landscape and water running down an invisible window. However, to my eyes, the most obvious thing in the world that these paintings relate to is concrete. The connection and struggle between concrete and abstract painting covers these canvases. And as if to reinforce my vision of the connection between the walls of the built environment and the labored application of paint in layers on a canvas, we start to see the resonance between Tranquandi’s paintings and the rough uneven surface of the gallery floor. But there is also tension: the transience and the ephemerality of the vibrant energetic painted surfaces are in direct contrast to the solidity and permanence of the ground that we walk on. Then again, as Tranquandi shows us, the floor is as transient as the art is permanent. And so, these very accessible works encourage us to be reminded that abstract art is not removed from the world, but is always interacting with it, enabling us to see from new, different and deeper perspectives.