BY Ben Eastham in Critic's Guides | 13 JUL 16

Critic's Guide: Paris

Marguerite Humeau, Mono-ha and multiple worlds: a guide to the best current shows in the capital

BY Ben Eastham in Critic's Guides | 13 JUL 16

Marguerite Humeau, 'FOXP2', ​2016, exhibition view, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: André Morin

Marguerite Humeau, FOXP2
Palais de Tokyo
23 June 11 September

Curated by Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, Marguerite Humeau’s exhibition at Palais de Tokyo showcases the 28-year-old artist’s interest in scientific research, speculative fictions, and a ‘high-definition’ aesthetic. The show takes its cue from ‘FOXP2’, the gene that made the development of speech and language possible due to a single, random mutation around 10,000 years ago. In what feels like a steeply accelerated journey along the evolutionary timeline, the visitor enters through a dark corridor which echoes with a synthesized, almost orchestral approximation of the preverbal language of early homo sapiens – the howls, babbles and whoops – before passing into a bright, strip-lit showroom occupied by a small herd of what reveal themselves to be highly evolved elephants. Humeau’s research-heavy, collaborative practice – for which she consults linguists, anthropologists, explorers, and anyone else who might shed light on how things might otherwise have been – takes us down a different leg of what Terry Pratchett called ‘the Trousers of Time’, a tour through a parallel universe.

Robert Filliou, The, A Novel, Robert Filliou, c.1976, two cardboard boxes, wire and pastel, 66 x 40 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. Photograph: Rebecca Fanuele

Pure Fiction
Marian Goodman Gallery
10 June 22 July

The construction of alternative realities is further explored in ‘Pure Fiction’, a group show at Marian Goodman Gallery curated by Julie Boukobza. Works by artists including Ed Atkins, Marcel Broodthaers, Michael Dean, Henri Michaux and Lili Reynaud-Dewar are enlisted to demonstrate the productive overlap of literature with visual art, illustrating the loose principle that ‘pure fictions do not necessarily derive from words or stories, but strike with the power of the visual language instead’. A highlight is The, A Novel, Robert Filliou (c.1976), a cardboard box repurposed as painting and book cover and a witty twist on what the novel and the art object signify. This renewed love affair between artists (or at least curators) and writers – a feature of recent years – continues at Palais de Tokyo, with an exhibition of photographs and other mundane miscellany by the ageing enfant terrible of French letters, Michel Houellebecq.

'Un autre monde // dans notre monde', 2016, exhibition view; left: Yoan Beliard, Objet Reminescent 012, 2013; Série Smoke, 2010/13; right: Abdelkader Benchamma, The Battle of Los Angeles, 2016. Courtesy: galerie du jour agnès b.; photograph: Rebecca Fanuele

Un autre monde // dans notre monde
galerie du jour agnès b.
2 June 16 July

The existence of other worlds – those that coexist with our own, hidden in plain sight – is the subject of an entertaining group show at agnes b.’s galerie du jour, tucked away behind the Centre Pompidou. The exhibition’s several rooms, which extend into a crumbling stone basement, bring to mind the mental furniture of a conspiracy theorist, albeit one with a counterintuitively clean, minimalist aesthetic. An antiquated printer emits reams of apparently meaningless code; a television set flickers and judders; the walls are covered in esoteric images and quasi-religious symbols; archaic speakers exchange messages across the space. That it is wildly unfocused (the literature promises, with laudable ambition, to ‘blur the boundaries between materialism and spiritualism, the intersections of art and technology, alchemy and anthropology, esotericism and quantum physics, the empirical and the imaginary’) is to its credit, befitting the prevailing suspicion towards received wisdoms or convenient conceptual frameworks. Works by Moebius and Jim Shaw mark the show out as a paranoiac’s equivalent to the ‘eccentrically taxonomized highbrow junk shop’ exhibition format recently explored by artists including Mark Leckey (‘UniAddDumThis’, now at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Rome) and Camille Henrot (‘The Pale Fox’, Chisenhale, London, 2014).

Lee Ufan, Dialogue, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 2.2 x 2.9 m. Courtesy: the artist and Kamel Mennour, Paris © ADAGP Lee Ufan; photograph: Fabrice Seixas/archives Kamel Mennour

Lee Ufan
Kamel Mennour
22 June 23 July

The Mono-ha (‘School of Things’) movement, which emerged in Japan in the late 1960s, has recently been the subject of significant critical and commercial reappraisal. Kamel Mennour presents the work of one of its key practitioners, the Korean painter, sculptor and writer Lee Ufan. This exhibition of paintings and watercolours, split across the gallery’s two venues (28 avenue Matignon and 6 rue du Pont de Lodi), presents a practice premised upon the tension between raw material – whether canvas, found object, or space – and the artist’s respectful intervention into it. These simple, silent constellations of colour and form serve as objects for contemplation rather than representations to be interpreted or decoded. That they are not didactic does not mean that these works are apolitical (Mono-ha first emerged amidst Japanese protests against American imperialism, both military and cultural), and this show offers a reminder of the many ways in which art can practice resistance against prevailing systems.

Sturtevant, Warhol Flowers, Lichtenstein's Pointed Hand, 1965, silkscreen ink and pencil on paper, 55 x 35 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris / Salzburg; photograph: Charles Duprat

Sturtevant, Drawings (1964-94)
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac
16 April 30 July

Sturtevant offers an entirely different critique of the western preoccupation with representation and the reproduction in this exhibition of three decades worth of her drawings. For those familiar with the artist’s perfect copies of works by canonical twentieth-century artists, these drawings (first exhibited as part of ‘Drawing Double Reversal’, a travelling retrospective) will provoke, if not surprise, then at least a reevaluation of the scope of her project. They are pocket-sized renderings of instantly recognizable works by the postwar paragons – Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns – but the fact of their having been sketched lends them an unexpectedly free, handmade quality that emphasizes their distance from the factory-made aesthetic of their subjects. In the early ‘Composite drawings’ such as Warhol Flowers, Lichtenstein's Pointed Hand (1965), we can see evidence of the playful, rebellious mindset that would eventually contribute so much to contemporary debates over authorship, authenticity and the individual.

Mika Rottenberg, K14, 2016, graphite, acrylic paint and colour pencil on paper, 46 x 61 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris

Mika Rottenberg
Galerie Laurent Godin
23 June 30 July

Organized to coincide with a retrospective of Mika Rottenberg’s installation and video work at Palais de Tokyo, this exhibition at Galerie Laurent Godin focuses on the Argentinian-born artist’s drawings and sculptures. Taken in isolation, these works on paper and the sculptures that Rottenberg calls ‘textures’ initially seem playful, even celebratory in their expression of the body. Yet viewers familiar with her video work will find themselves cast back to the claustrophobic absurdism captured in Nonoseknows (2015) and Squeeze (2010) – which feature an array of women developing squirm-inducing means of commoditizing their bodily functions – by a mechanical ponytail swinging on the wall. If the hair suggests a girl trapped behind the partition, then its flirtatious motion suggests that she might be trying to seduce the visitor (buyer?) into freeing her. Here is another, more uncomfortable reading of the relations underpinning the production and exhibition of art. 

Ben Eastham is editor-in-chief of art-agenda and author of The Imaginary Museum (TLS Books, 2020).