Sunday, September 16, 2018

Kate MccGwire & Mathieu Dufois, Ce monde-ce et l'autre @ la galerie particulière

Kate Mccgwire, Squall, 2017
I was very happy to kick start the season’s gallery visits with this exhibition at my local gallery, la galerie particulière, a joint show of Kate Mccgwire and Mathieu Dufois, Ce monde-ci et l’autre. The juxtaposition of two artists whose work is not obviously connected produces fascinating results, emphasizing the other worldliness in each suggested by the title Ce monde-ci et l’autre. Mathieu Dufois’s work, which I didn’t previously know, is conceptually and visually compelling. Dufois produced the works on view in this exhibition while at a residency in the Vallée Vézère, in the prehistoric world of the Dordogne. Many will know the ancient cave drawings of bison and other bovine animals from Werner Herzog’s 2010 film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams documentary on the miraculously preserved images.
Mathieu Dufois, The Herd 2, 2017
Dufois transfers archival photographic images, usually taken at night, of animals to drawings, and in that transference he claims to be bringing the past to life. While the animals in his images are not the same cave drawings, they do look like ghosts are racing away from lights under which they are visually trapped. The animal forms are like apparitions not meant to be discovered, not meant to be visible, who have accidently stumbled into the light. In other of Dufois’s images, the light looks to be a spotlight that effectively puts them on a stage, and consequently, the animals begin to perform for the camera. The images play with time, representation and the ancient world of the lost, hidden animals. It’s just that they happen to come out at night, happen to be caught by the camera. Dufois talks a lot about questions of memory being triggered by the old images, but if it’s another world at stake here, it is something and somewhere more mysterious and more unreachable than the historical past.
Kate Mccgwire, Swarm, 2018
In contrast, Kate Mccgwire makes sculptures that are so present they are unnerving to the point where they become frightening. That said, I must say, since I was familiar with her feathered forms in glass cabinets, I wasn’t as creeped out as I was the first time I saw them. The titles of her work have the sense of something crawling and shaking on the skin. Swarm, 2018, Squall, 2017, Tremor, 2018 on display here are her familiar feathered compositions and creations that on one level we want to resemble birds, but on another, have no relation to the living flying creatures. The sculptures draw us up close and we admire the pretty patterns of the feathers and then we recoil as, over time, they take on characteristics of being alive. Mccgwire’s works are otherworldly in that they sit somewhere between the sinister and the beautiful, the natural and the man made, the living and the dead. If we look at them for too long, we start to fear they might suddenly burst out of their cabinets and attack us. On a more serious note, her work challenges the way we look, where we stand in relation to a piece of art, and draws attention to our desire to make the unknown knowable.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Laurent Grasso, OttO @ Galerie Perrotin

Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018

Laurent Grasso’s OttO is a complex and fascinating exhibition that ticks so many of my personal “not to be missed” boxes. The experimental film that gives its title to the exhibition, OttO was filmed in the Australian outback in the region of Ayers Rock and the Olgas on the territory of the Yuendumu aboriginal community. Grasso sent drones and hyperspectral cameras into the air to video the otherwise invisible energy and activities of the earth and its atmosphere. As an Australian, I grew up knowing all about the Aboriginal Songlines that were brought to international renown by Bruce Chatwin’s 1987 novel with that same title. The Songlines are the dream paths that follow the spirits of the earth that, in turn, give life and meaning to Australia's indigenous cultures. Each of these paths has a song that is the language of the Dreamtime, which, when sung brings the aborigines together with the earth, rocks, and vegetation as they wander nomadically across their ancient land. Grasso’s cameras find their own different paths, but still in the spirit of the Songlines.
Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018
It’s striking to see the desert through Grasso’s drones, to wonder at the energies that are made visible and to think of the 65,000 years of history that are contained in the lines they trace. And perhaps most profound of all is that while we might have wrought havoc on much of the earth’s atmosphere, polluted the seas and built structures that cover over the tens of thousands of years of history secreted by the land, the Australian desert is largely untouched by human manipulation. It is uninhabitable. Deserts like this area of Northern Australia have the last laugh; together with the sea, they are perhaps the only places left where we can still connect to the prehistoric, to the history of time. Give or take the erosion and other time related changes, the desert is surely one of the last places that looks like it did 65,000 years ago. It is also one of the last places on earth where the spirit of the earth can still enter into our beings.

Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018
Grasso’s film underlines our diminished importance in the face of this land. The activities of the atmosphere and the land, the weather and the skies are unceasing and frenetic; we see flames bursting out of rock crevices, water veins suddenly appearing, and a vast, incomprehensible salt lake (presumably Swanson Lake) appear in the middle of nowhere. This landscape is a phenomenon that undoes any ideas we might have that we will ever fully understood and conquer this world. It is an infinite mystery.
Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018
The images recorded through the drone show rocks, red earth, and the wild growth of the desert floor. And then in images from the hyperspectral cameras, we see a world in brilliant, glaring colours, filled with spectres and shadows, the secrets of a magnificent landscape revealed for their vibrant and unceasing energy. In among the shapes in gaudy yellows, purples and reds, we see the form of a man in an Akubra hat. He is apparently Otto Jungarrayi, a Waripiri Elder who guided Grasso across the terrain. Otto's figure is fused together with the land and its energy, making visible his place across generations in the weaving of Songlines in the Dreamtime. The booklet given out at the exhibition tells us that Otto has a counterpart: Winfried Otto Schumann (1888-1974) a German physicist who discovered “the low frequency reflecting in between the earth’s surface and the ionosphere and its wavelength coincided with one over the integer of the circumference of the Earth.” In other words, Otto Schumann made a scientific discovery that would eventually lead to Grasso’s visualization of the invisible mysteries that have given substance and meaning to indigenous Australians for thousands of years.

Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018
Exhibition Installation
Galerie Perrotin
The remainder of the exhibition includes images and objects that support the theme of making visible the invisible energies that surround us in a world we otherwise think we know and command. The physics, electronics and technology that Grasso uses to make his art are sophisticated, and he includes multiple historical, philosophical and artistic references to elevate his works into conceptual sculptures that, nevertheless, can be aesthetically exquisite. His materials of glass, steel, ether, copper, light, wood, stone and even screens, are sumptuous, and they remind us of the textures and reflections, the unseen turns that we overlook in the objects and images on the paths of our daily lives. Grasso’s work is riveting and not to be missed—even for those who are not tied to the Australian outback as a spiritual home.

All images courtesy Galerie Perrotin

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Ryman's White @ Centre Pompidou

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Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1974
The permanent collection on levels 4 and 5 of the Centre Pompidou is now open for visitors. A new, open staircase now makes the transition between modern and contemporary art more comfortable, encouraging reflection as we move from one part of the twentieth century to the next. And because the staircase leads directly to the central corridor of each space, the first thing I noticed about the new hanging of contemporary (postwar) art was the replacement of Warhol’s Ten Lizes with a Robert Ryman triptych, Untitled, 1974. Placing the all white piece in prime location is a courageous move on the part of the Pompidou Centre. Unlike Ten Lizes, Ryman’s white plexiglass works are not instant crowd pleasers. I imagine that many people who stop to examine the work will not know what they are meant to be looking at.
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Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1962

For others however, Ryman’s flat white works can be approached as a challenge. Once we get past the hesitation that comes with determining their status, the works are infinitely fascinating. As we move around the space in front of the one at the Pompidou, the triptych never sits still. The panels change from white to cream to a tinted grey, from reflective to absorbent of light, and as the work catches the light, together with the movement of our eyes, we notice the individual panels appear to be different sizes. And then, when we try to photograph it, the white picks up the ultra-violet light of the gallery illumination and the panels become coated in a blue shadow. A similar refraction causes another single panel painting, Criterion, under plexiglass to become striated with a series of vertical bands of shadow in the iphone lens. If it weren’t for the fact that the bands continue on beneath and above the painting, we might mistake the work for an Agnes Martin image when looking at the photograph the next day.

Kazemir Malevich, White on White, 1918
What I love most about Ryman’s white paintings is the difficulty of looking at them. Not only is it difficult to know what we are looking at and where to focus, but they also hurt the eyes. White has a way of pushing us back with its cold distant definitiveness, and when Ryman finishes the work by placing it under plexiglass there is nothing inviting us closer. But in a later Untitled white painting from 1962, Ryman softens the blow. In this expressive early canvas, Ryman weaves slithers of blue into short, thick brushstrokes, giving thickness to white paint and reminding us that painting is an object. This is accentuated by the fact that the paint, the prime and the canvas are mounted on cardboard and framed, layer upon layer, under glass, as if it was an object in a display case. 
Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting [Three Panel], 1951
The privilege of white painting by Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, Robert Rauschenberg, all the way back to El Lissitzky and Kazemir Malevich is that white can’t be reproduced. It can be created, but not reproduced or represented by another medium. White painting looks like nothing in a photograph. Or white looks blue, or catches the light that supposedly illuminates it, light that discolours the white, but is meant to be doing the exact opposite. And so we have no option but to see in the flesh that the object of painting is the paint itself. In this sense, white forces the recognition of painting more than any other colour. Yes, a lot of works don’t reproduce, but very few reproduce as nothing – only white can do this. The fullness of white in the flesh that renders Ryman’s work an optical experience, goes together with the inability to reproduce the white paintings, to make art that is not only reduced to its ontological components—paint, light, seeing—but in doing so, it will always resist commodification. For me, that makes Ryman’s white paintings great.
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Robert Ryman, Criterion, 1976
I say all of this, and yet today, nearly sixty years later, the experience I have with these works is one encouraged by lush and dense paintings that are more expressive than ever. And so, I have to admit, some of the white works are anything but empty and nothing. In another contradiction that I like to think the artist would scoff at, in 2015, Ryman’s Bridge (1980) sold for $20.6 million. I guess then that there must, after all, be some value in white.