BY Sophie Berrebi in Reviews | 05 MAY 02
Featured in
Issue 67

J'en ai pris des coups mais j'en ai donne aussi

Galerie Chez Valentin, Paris, France

BY Sophie Berrebi in Reviews | 05 MAY 02

Marcel Duchamp's expression 'bête comme un peintre' ('dumb as a painter') still resonates in France whenever painting is fashionable or hits the headlines. Coinciding with the 'Urgent Painting' exhibition - 32 artists selected by 18 curators - 'J'en ai pris des coups mais j'en ai donné aussi' ('I've had many blows but I've given some too') aimed for a subjective, personal viewpoint of the medium. The combination of works was both weird and illuminating, with works ranging from the sensual to the Conceptual.

The exhibition space was dominated by Bertrand Lavier's Orange by Tollens and Corona (2002), a mural painted in two different orange hues, each of which represented one of the brand names in the title and occupied half of the wall. The clash between the two colours, one of them brighter and denser than the other, set the tone for the exhibition and pointed to an interest in the nature of visual perception as a connecting theme. A similar effect was created by a stripy Bridget Riley, Blue Return (1984), which was hung near by. The juxtaposition of these two works was a reminder of how, despite the limitations of surface, some paintings have the ability to radiate their presence - something which neither the printed fabrics made from Riley's paintings in the 1960s nor Lavier's huge expanse of orange could do.

Facing the Riley was an almost monochrome picture, its purplish-blue surface animated by thick brushstrokes illuminated by gold glitter to produce a cross between a spattered Yves Klein and a punk T-shirt. Fond bleu, balayage (Blue Ground, Sweeping, 1980) was one of the last works by the now obscure French artist Robert Malaval, whose work lay somewhere between a strange post-Surrealist Art Brut and proto graffiti. As opaque as the Riley was translucent, Fond bleu, balayage absorbed and overpowered everything around it.

Also in dialogue with Lavier were a pair of objects by another yet-to be-rediscovered artist from the 1960s, Jean-Michel Sanejouand. The collective title of these found object sculptures, Charges Objets, is derived from a French term for caricature. Like some of Lavier's sculptures, Fulmen (1964) and Fauteuil et carré de toile rouge (Armchair and square of red canvas, 1966) juxtaposed two unrelated objects that none the less seemed to share an unspoken, often ironic relationship. But whereas Lavier's approach seems to be more systematic, with no conceptual or formal loose ends, there's an openness and incisiveness in Sanejouand's work.

Near Dolla's resin-moulded pictures encrusted with sweets and biscuits were John Armleder's purulent canvases, which seemed to share Dolla's gimmicky approach. Armleder's white surfaces, with bulging lights flashing on and off in slow motion, were as resonant as the other works on show, but also illuminated the viewer's own process of looking up, down and across the surface of a painting.

That the works were all dated between 1960 and 2002 gave a strange feeling of atemporality that actually strengthened the links between the works on show. One piece - significantly a work in progress, by Franck David - seemed representative of the exhibition as a whole. Entitled La Collection (undated), this assembly of old mottled mirrors placed on the floor against a wall was reminiscent of the stacked canvases at the back of one of Claude Poussin's best-known self-portraits. Like the Poussin, La Collection mused on the fact that art needs to be embodied in some sort of physical form while being able somehow to transcend the limitations of that form. The fact that it was a work in progress, and the use of mirrors, also hinted at questions about the nature of time and of perception, issues raised throughout the exhibition by the cunning juxtapositions of materials, colours and forms.