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Tableaux Parisiens

Location, location, …dislocation.

This exhibition brings together artwork from and about Paris, France. Most of the artists here call that city home ; a few others live in the US but have been influenced by time spent there. These two groups fill different roles in this show : the non-French are showing work about Paris, but the French are just making their work, without necessarily considering Paris as the background. Together, this adds up to an off-kilter picture of the effect of context on its subject.

Context and subject guide this exhibition in shifting ways. For one thing, “Tableaux Parisiens” gathers artists who are self-consciously distorting the contexts within which their works are formed : Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s video speaks about the strange feeling of trying to make sense of a foreign place, in this case the city of Brasilia, in Brazil. Géraldine Longueville and Mark Geffriaud’s project is based on a cross-country trip through the US in 2007, during which they executed artworks assigned to them by other artists back in France, who were imagining what Mark and Géraldine might encounter on their long drive.

Their project also marks a reversal between context and subject : after all, Longueville and Geffriaud have enlisted other artists as their medium. Their subject, we could say, is the subjectivity of these other people, who have been given the task of imagining a context. Elodie Royer and Yoann Gourmel have performed a similar dislocation, only their project is specifically focused on the destination of Marfa. They asked their six contributors to make the Post-It notes that are placed on the computers in the gallery. The Post-Its are an independent curatorial project inside of “Tableaux Parisiens.”

The exhibition repeatedly exploits the dislocated meanings of the word “subject.” Joianne Bittle’s work in the entryway includes - among other things - materials from the archive of Raphaele Shirley, producing an imbalance in its historiographic layering of references. Shirley herself contributes a text about the same archive, which documents the opening of an art performance space in the early 2000’s. Again, subject displaced into archive, displaced into subject.

Shirley’s performance space transformed an old peep-show building into an avant-garde art center. The profound contextual role that architecture plays is another path through “Tableaux Parisiens.” Gonzalez-Foerster’s video includes Oscar Niemeyer buildings in Brasilia ; a Niemeyer project in Paris, built for the French Communist Headquarters, is depicted in the architectural photography of James Ewing. Nina Safainia, a practicing architect in Paris, contributes a pensée sur l’architecture. And Joianne Bittle’s work in the main gallery pivots off all these facets of the built environment : the painted panels were originally studies for a larger painting completed in Paris in 2010, as part of a project that Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster did for the fashion house Balenciaga, which was inspired by the landscape in Brazil. Dislocation indeed !

Of course, there is no architecture without landscape. But that does not necessarily make the landscape any more “natural” than the buildings it contains. With great economy, Aurélien Mole’s sculptural photograph captures the feedback loop in our relationship to the landscape. Christina Hejtmanek’s nine sunset variations show us that even our encounter with the sublime is subject to careful calibration and manipulation.

From manipulating the landscape to manipulating its bounty : Sébastien Pluot will be cooking a meal in Paris, to be broadcast into the gallery by Skype. This performance brings a visceral edge to the distance between the two locations of Paris and Marfa. Fabien Vallos, a philosopher and culinary historian in Paris, contributes the menu from a recent meal he served, along with a brief historical explanation of its references, creating a deep divide between the text and its referent.

Sarah Butler’s work divides not the text from its referent, but the textual field from itself : after teaching herself to write backwards and left-handed, the curved mirror re-reverses the language back into legibility. The mirror is a prominent device in “Tableaux Parisiens,” for its ability to dislocate and transform its subject. Graham Guerra’s large, mirrored print of Manet’s Olympia is overdrawn with a trifurcating example of a very early fractal. Bittle’s mirrors make reference to both the optical tricks of classical dioramas and the encompassing reflections that surround any visitor to a fashion boutique.

Facing mirrors create infinite reflections, in two directions. Jordan Kantor’s book and video are based on the single direction of a self-consuming series of copies. Kantor xeroxed a photo of a painting by Degas (depicting Manet and his wife (which Manet had cropped, cutting out Mrs. Manet)), then he (Kantor) copied the copy, and then copied that copy, (…), until the image disappeared. The void opens and swallows history. Yann Serandour opens the void from a different angle, enlarging Yves Klein’s blank monochrome field (which first appeared alongside the famous Leap Into the Void) into a work in itself.

The blank field gets a final twist in the work by A Constructed World. The absence their floor mat declares needs no further articulation from this text, especially in the context of a deconsecrated church.

  • Nicholas Knight, 2011

Photographies : ©Nicholas Knight