Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Donation Florence and Daniel Guerlain

Marlene Dumas, THe Army is Looking for the Enemy, 1985

There’s no secret to where the money comes from for this vast collection of drawings, watercolours, ink and washes, collages, gouaches that Daniel and Florence Gerlain have recently donated to the Centre Pompidou. But what makes the Guerlain donation of “drawings” stand out is the collectors’ voracious appetite for works beyond personal and peculiar taste. The collection, or at least, that part of it currently on display at the Pompidou Centre is not only vast, but varied, international and fascinating.

Eduardo Arroya, Coiffeur, 1993
This said, I do find these kinds of exhibitions difficult to approach. Because the Guerlain’s seem to acquire such a range of contemporary drawings, there’s not a consistent or thematic logic to the collection. And because only one work, or at best, one series, by each artist is exhibited here, it’s difficult to give context to the works as we wander through. Which is to say, the collection itself is not focused enough to create internal logical that would, in turn, offer context. So my comments here are more general and more impressionistic than I would like them to be.

If there is one quality that binds all the works on display here is their intimacy. As Daniel Guerlain says in the accompanying text, what makes  “drawings” so special is their immediacy. They reveal the most direct image of the artists brain, without reworking, without the temporal narrative of rethinking. In the delicate, sometimes barely perceptible flourishes of the pencil, pen, brush or charcoal, we see thinking in motion.
Javier Perez, Metamorfosis, 2004
There’s also an immense sensuousness to many of the works displayed. At times, the paper and its undulations, knots and flaws become a part of the work itself. And at other times the ink, watercolours, the media of representation are always uneven and in motion that we can feel them, smell them in a way that we cannot when standing before the very polished images of old masters, in completion. When the paint buckles the paper, and again, when the watercolour becomes transparent on the end of a brushstroke, the materials almost become erotic they are so physical, tactile.

All of the works are also ephemeral. It’s not just the media of representation, but the supports are almost verging on the disposable, the replaceable as each work has a sense of transience, of motion. When I see a delicate Gerhard Richter sketch, an image I have never seen before, I imagine this could easily be a picture that he painted when he was filling in time, like other people read their telephones or smoke a cigarette. And then it might have found its way into a drawer, or to the bottom of a pile of sketches, forgotten. There’s no heavy baggage attached to these images, no lofty ideas. They are as spontaneous as they are transient, here today, gone tomorrow, a thought blown in the wind, even when the works are intricately executed.
Tomasz Kowalski, Untitled, 2012
There were so many pieces on display in the collection, some by artists who no one will know, others by big names such as Gerhard Richter, Richard Longo, Albert Oehlen. They are all arranged next to each other, no preference given to the big names. Much of the new work is extremely impressive, and so it deserves to sit with that of well-known artists. Two of my newly discovered favorites among the works were the exquisite watercolours of Silvia Bächli and Thomas Müller. Both were simple, as in uncluttered, sparse, but confident depictions.

On my way out of the Pompidou Centre, I had a quick look around the Surrealism and its Objects exhibition upstairs. It’s interesting to see the Pompidou Centre indulging so unashamedly in the blockbuster approach to art. And it is ultimately not such a satisfying playground of Surrealist objects, as the title suggests. My advice? Stay downstairs in the Guerlain donation and discover your own favourite new artists. 

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