Critic’s Guide: Paris

For art fair week in the French capital, a round-up of the best shows around town

BY Coline Milliard in Critic's Guides | 17 OCT 17

Camille Henrot, ‘Sunday’, 2017, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. ‘The Pale Fox’, installation view, Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, 2014-15, Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery in partnership with Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; Bétonsalon, Paris and Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster. Courtesy: the artist, kamel mennour, Paris/London; König Galerie, Berlin; Metro Pictures, New York © ADAGP, Paris 2017; photograph: Thorsten Arendt 

Camille Henrot
Palais de Tokyo
18 October – 7 January 2018

This autumn, the Paris-born New Yorker is making a triumphal return to her motherland with a sprawling ‘Carte Blanche’ exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo. She’s enlisted the help of fellow artists David Horvitz, Maria Loboda, Nancy Lupo, Samara Scott and Avery Singer (as well as poet Jacob Bromberg), to dissect the conventional division of time. ‘My carte blanche,’ Henrot writes in her introduction, ‘is a meditation on dependency and freedom’ – how we willingly submit to the order of things, and how it might be subverted by that very submission. ‘Days are Dogs’ gathers key examples of Henrot’s prolific output, including paintings, sculptures, installations and Ikebanas, organized into seven chapters, each named after a day of the week. The show is the perfect occasion to discover or revisit her rich early practice. Among the gems is Henrot’s first film, Deep Inside (2005), a six-minute animation drawn frame by frame on the film stock of a 1970s porno. The artist’s signature naïve figures in turns obscure and underline various coital shots, superimposing romantic sentiment on faded erotica. You’ll find it, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the Friday (night) section.

Olga Balema, ‘None of the beauty of the landscape can reach her pupils anymore’, 2017, installation view, High Art, Paris. Courtesy: the artist and High Art, Paris

Olga Balema
High Art
19 October – 23 November 2017

Olga Balema has taken her soft plastic sculptures to High Art’s gorgeous new gallery in Pigalle, minutes from Paris’ red-light district. Much has been written about the compositional qualities of her work: the drawing-like effect of rusting rods and other semi-recognizable elements she submerges in liquid in her supine plastic pouches. But like all sculpture, Balema’s work is also primarily an intervention in the space in which it exists. Here she’s installed dozens of faux leather panels stretched like bulbous canvases over foam and wood. They pad the gallery’s walls with haptic ‘mock croc’ and moiré textures in hot pinks, lime greens, powder blues and chocolate browns, some of them scarred by blade cuts. The clammy atmosphere of nightclubs (to which Pigalle owes its global fame) comes to mind. Balema sets the stage for an unscripted scene. Lurid PVC strips vaguely redolent of oversized film stock punctuate the show, appearing like the fragile memories of a film that wasn’t shot.

Roman Ondak, 'The Day Before Now', 2017, installation view, gb agency, Paris. Courtesy: the artist and gb agency, Paris; photograph: Aurélien Mole

Roman Ondak
gb agency
14 October – 25 November 2017

For most tourists passing through Paris, the River Seine is one of the city’s photogenic features – an ever-present backdrop to its fetching bridges and second-hand booksellers. But it's also a treacherous stream. Its swelling waters have flooded the capital repeatedly over the centuries, most recently in 2016, when thousands of people were left without power. So when Roman Ondak chose to tackle the aftermaths of a flood for his fourth exhibition at gb agency, he tapped into something deeply ingrained in the Parisian psyche. ‘The Day Before Now’ comprises a sculptural installation and a series of objects – engraved stones and measuring sticks – all addressing flooding as both a physical, material phenomenon and a collective trauma. It is a piece of all-too-plausible fiction, which flies in the face of those who believe that nature is something that can be controlled, and climate change an invention of the liberal media.

Marie Cool Fabio Balducci, ‘Spiaggiamento’, 2017, installation view, Marcelle Alix, Paris. Courtesy: Marcelle Alix, Paris; photograph: Aurélien Mole

Marie Cool Fabio Balducci
Marcelle Alix
14 October – 28 November 2017

Marie Cool Fabio Balducci have titled their second exhibition at Marcelle Alix ‘Spiaggiamento’ or ‘beached’, a reference, explains a text by critic Luciana Rogozinski, to the phenomenon of sea mammals inexplicably landing on the sand to die. Much of the show itself plays on this idea of the inexplicable – on the lack of any obvious meaning or use. The duo is best known for its performative work: slight gestures that animate simple items: a sheet of paper, star-shaped glitter, Sellotape. But these ‘actions’, as they call them, are reserved for institutions. Here, instead, the objects are given centre stage, a way to acknowledge, and perhaps attempt to resist, the commodification inherent to exhibiting in a commercial context. Large desks are dotted around the gallery space, two of which blocking the entrance as if challenging viewers to get in. TV screens lie dumbly on the floor, switched off. In the basement, a white plastic window is propped up against the wall. These readymades offer themselves to contemplation like pieces of geometrical abstraction – or dolphins rotting in front of a gawping crowd.

Guillaume Leblon, ... Don't Believe in Jesus (detail), 2017, digital print on vinyl, dimensions variable. Courtesy: Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris

Guillaume Leblon
Galerie Jocelyn Wolff
19 October – 23 December 2017

Nutella has banned ‘anal’, ‘cellulite’ and ‘penis,’ among dozens of other words – the chocolate spread maker encourages its aficionados to personalize their jars, but there are limits. And the long list of forbidden terms serves as a title for Guillaume Leblon’s solo show at Galerie Jocelyn Wolff. Any one of them, I’m told, can be used as shorthand for the exhibition itself. Let’s settle on ‘cellulite,’ then, as it gestures towards the artist’s ongoing exploration of the body, and its push-and-pull between attraction and repulsion. A fleshy wallpaper piece gathers depictions of dismembered body parts: legs, lips and breast float on a gigantic ‘back’ background. A smooth glass ear hangs on the wall like an oversized artefact. Elsewhere, a bronze head, the cast of a hat seller, could be mistaken for an archaeological find if it wasn’t for the truncated metal beam on which it stands. Highlighting their affinities with early forms of human representation, Leblon’s enigmatic sculptures are also exhibited alongside Greek, Egyptian and Etruscan pieces in the metal workshop Atelier Grésillon, a stone’s throw from the gallery. This second show, which features the work of duo Prinz Gholam, is realized in collaboration with Basel antiques dealer Jean-David Cahn.

Pierre Paulin, Notes sur l'ambiance, 2015, installation view, Le Plateau, Frac Île-de-France. Courtesy: © Pierre Paulin, Frac Île-de-France, Paris; photograph: Aurélien Mole 

Pierre Paulin
Le Plateau, Frac Île-de-France
21 September – 17 December 2017

Muffled ‘booms’ soundtrack one's visit to Pierre Paulin’s solo show at Le Plateau. It’s the sound of Michael Jordan’s bouncing basketball in his first Nike advert in 1985 – a heady rhythm saturated with aspiration, identification and commodification. Pierre Paulin’s ‘Boom Boom Run Run’ addresses the subtle ways in which sports and fashion brands shape our being in the world and the uncomfortable relationship between personal empowerment and corporate branding. A key date for the show is 1986, the year hip-hop group Run-D.M.C. released their single ‘My Adidas’. They landed a million US dollar endorsement deal from the brand when an executive saw their fans brandishing three-stripes sneakers at a gig. Five outfits tailored after Paulin’s own clothes, hang from rails (or are they ballet barres?), their lining printed with snippets of text. ‘But if we’re in love, there’s so much to hide’ reads one of the shoes’ insoles. These ‘looks’ evoke a poetic body, both protected and constructed by layers of cloth: hoodie, jacket, t-shirt. Cultural histories like the Run-D.M.C anecdote have become an inherent part of their fabric – and, by extension, of our own.

Candice Lin, 'A Hard White Body', 2017, installation view, Bétonsalon - Center for Art and Research, Paris. Produced in collaboration with Portikus, Frankfurt am Main. Courtesy: the artist and Bétonsalon - Center for Art and Research, Paris; photograph: Aurélien Mole

Candice Lin
6 September – 23 December 2017

Candice Lin’s exhibition ‘A Hard White Body’ has a bold premise: interweaving the stories of 20th century African American writer James Baldwin and 19th-century French botanist Jeanne Baret. Aside from their initials, they don’t seem to have much in common – or do they? Baldwin left New York for Paris in the late 1940s establishing a distance with his home country that, he said, shaped his celebrated accounts of the black and queer experience. Baret disguised herself as a man to join Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s around-the-world sailing expedition from 1766–1769, during which time she collected rare botanical specimens. Both lives were conditioned and fulfilled by exile. Lin’s show is a sculptural exploration of signifiers for such concepts as gender fluidity, colonial legacy and the objectification of Otherness. A mist of urine, River Seine water and plant decoctions is regularly sprayed on the raw porcelain sculpture of a dishevelled bed, inspired by Baldwin’s novel of bisexual love Giovanni’s Bedroom (1956). Porcelain – the ‘hard white body’ of the title and a symbol of purity lusted after by European colonizers – progressively crumbles under the liquid assault, collapsing the binarisms Baldwin and Baret so powerfully challenged.

Main image: Camille Henrot, ‘Thursday’, 2017, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Grosse Fatigue (detail), 2013, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Silex Films, kamel mennour, Paris/London, König Galerie, Berlin, Metro Pictures, New York © ADAGP, Paris 2017

Coline Milliard is a writer and editor based in London.