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“Double Eye Poke”

47 rue Saint-André des arts
June 27–July 25

View of “Double Eye Poke,” 2015.

Presenting Minimalist and Conceptual works, this exhibition creates a visual discourse between four American contemporaries seldom shown together in France: Lynda Benglis, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, and Bruce Nauman. The exhibition title is adapted from a 1985 work of Nauman’s—a neon piece christened Double Poke in the Eye II, in which two people belligerently prod each other, forefingers flicking in agitation.

“Double Eye Poke” translates thematically into works engaging with a forceful “confrontation of the gaze,” per curator Béatrice Gross. Throughout the gallery’s two spaces, the concept of provocation is broadly interpreted. For Benglis, her amorphous sculptures are somewhat more ambiguous than her pointed video Female Sensibility, 1973, in which she explores lesbian pleasure as a thinly veiled critique of the male gaze. Nauman’s video Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square (Square Dance), 1967–68, depicting a repetitive choreography, and a set of ink-jet prints based upon his own decades-older sketches engage with absurdity and corporeality. LeWitt’s instructions for large-scale wall drawings are included in the works themselves, with orders transcribed above obediently executed stripes (“A yellow broken line, drawn from a point . . .”), thus toying with agency by having his vision perpetuated by another’s hand. Flavin’s luminous structures—including a rainbow of fluorescent Ts,Untitled (to Don Judd, Colorist), 1–5, 1987, and colorful crosshatched tubes Untitled (in Honor of Harold Joachim) 2, 1977—tacitly underscore the social-collective aspect of this show, as LeWitt was inspired by Flavin’s pieces shown at the Green Gallery in New York in 1964. Ultimately, the mélange of visions feels less like an aggressive challenge than an attentive prompting of the senses with sundry colors and modalities.

Sarah Moroz

Bethan Huws

16 rue Charles VII, Nogent-sur Marne
June 4–July 19

Bethan Huws, Perroquets (Parrots), 2008, three bronze casts, 6' x 27 x 27".

For over fifteen years now, Bethan Huws has been carrying out in-depth research on Marcel Duchamp that finds its way into her artworks and exhibitions. Her latest show, “Zone,” explores the influence of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire on Duchamp’s art. Huws’s L.H.O.O.Q.,1919, 2011, for instance, is a wall text that attributes the inspiration for Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., 1919—a reproduction of the Mona Lisa to which he added a mustache and a beard—to the fact that in 1911 Apollinaire spent a week in prison after having been accused of stealing that very painting. Also displayed are the dense Research Notes, 2007–14, intimating further close-knit connections between Duchamp and Apollinaire and questioning the distinction between artistic and scholarly art-historical research.

More than just a compelling investigation into Duchamp’s thought processes, this exhibition also testifies to the influence of both men on Huws’s own practice. Embodying this triangular relationship is the video Zone, 2013, featuring ready-made footage taken from wildlife documentaries set to a spoken performance of Apollinaire’s poem of the same title. Other works are inspired by Duchamp’s fondness for puns and homonyms, such as Perroquets (Parrots), 2008, consisting of three bronze coat stands installed among the trees in the garden of this venue, referencing both the name given to that type of stand in the early 1900s and the species known as the parrot tree. Meanwhile, just as Duchamp elevated ordinary objects to the status of art, Huws’s Boats, 1983–2015—a collection of tiny handmade rush boats on view here—was a response, started when she was an art student, to the question “What is art?”.

Rahma Khazam

Pratchaya Phinthong

18 rue des 4 Fils
May 28–July 18

Pratchaya Phinthong, Who will guard the guards themselves, 2015, light box, Duratrans, steel frame, 63 x 79".

Rice, sun, parking spots, teeth, 7-Eleven—these are the elements that form the matrix of Pratchaya Phinthong’s current exhibition carved from the unstable contours of contemporary Thailand. For instance, Internal rhyme, 2015, is a set of nine drawings of the artist’s teeth, based on the sensory observations of his fingers guided by his tongue. These were made near Paris, outside the final home of political exile Pridi Banomyong, who attempted to overthrow his native country’s monarchy in 1949.

Phinthong knows well how to entangle political exigencies with conceptual precision. In the larger room of the gallery hangs a single photograph of an eerily ambivalent scene—an illuminated, empty 7-Eleven storefront during the curfew of the May 2014 military coup. Titled Who will guard the guards themselves, 2015, and printed on Duratrans in a steel-frame light box, it speaks to a siege on the daily lives of Thai people as well as on a bellwether of globalization. Mounted on the gallery’s office wall is also a live surveillance feed—considered part of Who will guard the guards themselves—of an installation reconstructed in a public square outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre at eight tenths the scale of the large room here that contains the photograph. Inaccessible to the public during the run of this show, with only a few cutouts in its walls for people to peer through, the structure will afterward become a mobile exhibition space for Thai university students. With this nearly empty gallery installation, like much of his work in which the mechanisms of power, perception, and time are rerouted and derailed, Phinthong restages the dead space of curfew time in order to liberate it from power’s intractability.

Jo-ey Tang

“Fiber Futures”

101 bis, quai Branly
May 6–July 11

Fuminori Ono, Feel the Wind, 2010, chemical pulp, walnut-bark dyes, chemical bamboo, polyurethane finish, 8 x 11'.

This group exhibition featuring thirty Japanese artists showcases textiles and fiber art as a phenomenon transcending categorization. With visual splendor, the medium is here interpreted to great and varied effect, whether draped, sculpted, woven, or turned into large-scale installations. Wielding everything from silks to synthetics, linens to metallics, as well as pliable Washi paper, the diversity of fibers used by the artists represents a remarkable spectrum of color, texture, and volume. The recent revival of textile art is framed in relation to Switzerland’s International Biennial of Tapestry Lausanne, which showcased the Nouvelle Tapisserie movement in 1960. The exhibition presents that history in relation to Japan’s own annals of artisanal, traditional methods, notably its dyeing and weaving practices, which are both honored and wholly reinterpreted here.

Displayed in the luminous T-shaped gallery, there are plays on the natural—such as Machiko Agano’s Forest, 2011, a ceiling-suspended composition of photographed plants printed on polyester and paired with mirrored paper that distorts any reflected image. The unnatural is interpreted by Fuminori Ono’s Feel the Wind, 2010, composed of clusters articulated in chemical pulp and dyes with a polyurethane finish, evoking nothing so much as large-scale Cheetos, thanks to the work’s orange fluorescence and oblong shapes. Other pieces play with volume, such as Hitomi Nagai’s white cotton wall hanging, Birth, 2011, whose wriggling rows of pointy fabric are oddly reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan hoods. The volumetric approach also appears in Akio Hamatani’s W-Orbit, 2010, a sweeping indigo-tinged drapery of filaments spanning thirteen feet, which sways faintly with any proximal movement.

Sarah Moroz

Carol Rama

11 avenue du Président Wilson
April 3–July 12

Carol Rama, The Mad Cow, 1997, mixed media and collage on canvas bag, 32 x 27".

For those who would produce art irreducible to simple categorization and the constraints of genre and gender, this exhibition offers an intrepid model. An ambitious retrospective, it argues that Carol Rama’s seven decades of work challenges normative modes of art historiography. While largely unfolding chronologically, additional thematic overlays chart the recursive nature of Rama’s interests in particular motifs and strategies.

Often Rama uses contamination to question rational knowledge, placing contrasting systems of representation in a single pictorial field, such as pulsating mythic figures suspended over architectural plans or glass eyeballs affixed to inky matrices of mathematical and linguistic code. Curiosity is here associated with erotics as a means of discovery, with the earliest works on display depicting figures shitting, masturbating, engaging in ménage à trois, penetrating animals, or having serpents emerge from their orifices. The artist is posited as embodying a “Queer Povera,” especially in works that incorporate rubber bicycle inner tubes and tires that hang detumescent or that are sliced and arranged in welted bands across her canvases, such as in Movement and Immobility of Birnam, 1977. Rama valorizes the visceral, at times to the point of delirium. In the mixed-media panels of The Mad Cow, 1997, she identifies herself with the figure of the diseased creature—undoing the opposition of human and animal.

Rama risks being an insider’s outsider, concurrent with the lately renewed interest in creators operating apart from the so-called art world. Likewise, there’s a tendency to pathologize this work when her predilection for the irrational or transgressive is a deliberate strategy with important precedents. It’s necessary to remember that Rama’s previous invisibility was the result of exclusion and occlusion—not withdrawal or ignorance.

Phil Taylor

“Yves Saint Laurent 1971: The Scandal Collection”

5 avenue Marceau
March 19–July 19

View of “Yves Saint Laurent 1971: The Scandal Collection,” 2015.

Not all survivals are happy, and not all citations are affirmations: Yves Saint Laurent’s spring–summer 1971 collection retrieved the austere women’s dress of the Vichy era that Dior’s New Look hoped to annihilate some twenty years earlier. Inspired by the styles of the wartime years, the presentation provoked a rancorous response among the press, which deemed the collection “bitchy,” “hideous,” “deplorable,” and “insulting” to fashion. Drawing from and designing for the street, Saint Laurent brought couture and prêt-à-porter uncomfortably close, while evoking a period many would have preferred to consign to oblivion.

He reportedly could not forget the trauma of seeing the garishly attired prostitutes of Rue Saint-Denis in Paris as a child immediately after the war. The collection’s eveningwear appears as the deferred action of this primal scene. Fox fur boleros are layered over crepe dresses with plunging necklines, worn by models whose rouged lips matched their scarlet nails. Designs for daytime recall the deprivation of the German occupation but eroticize the pantsuits and uniforms they cite. The final looks offer a series of pleated dresses featuring prints inspired by Etruscan vases, including a bridal gown emblazoned with explicit scenes; one commentator associated the motifs with Nazi virility.

The chasm between the critics’ censure and the works’ widespread influence announced the crossing of a historical threshold. Explaining his collection’s significance to Vogue, Saint Laurent said, “Young people, they don’t have any memories.” His clothes were made for contemporary women propelling social transformations and who held very different attitudes toward work and sex than previous generations. These pieces came to be known as the Liberation collection, invoking feminism and the end of another era of oppression. This exhibition’s wall text argues that the bridal gown was apotropaic and that the brash designs made a battlefield of the runway. It’s a bracing reminder that fashion’s working over of history might register already simmering discontent.

Phil Taylor

Günter Umberg and Bernard Frize

2 Rue du Ballon
May 16–October 3

View of “Günter Umberg and Bernard Frize,” 2015.

This exhibition brings together works by two artists who each developed their own radical way of painting: Günter Umberg and Bernard Frize. What’s interesting about this pairing is that their works initially do not look very similar. For decades Umberg has made dark paintings wherein color appears through and within layers of black, while Frize uses as many colors as possible to avoid choosing between them. Umberg’s paintings are usually monochrome fields, and some of them are grouped into so-called “territories.” In Frize’s serial works, the brushstroke, and its dynamic gestures, is a principal actor. Common ground between these artists can be found in the 1970s, when both became stuck in their respective practices before finding new attitudes. Umberg started to work with dry pigment mixed with Dammar binding material, applying it in many thin layers. Meanwhile, Frize sought to withdraw into an abstract vocabulary where the content and the technique of painting coincided.

The show opens with a display of several series by Frize, such as “Solitaire,” 1999, which are occasionally interrupted by one of Umberg’s monochromes, while in the second half of the exhibition, the main focus is on Umberg’s work. In the center of the gallery is a room with two early works by Frize, both Untitled, 1977, facing Umberg’s six and a half-feet high Untitled, 1976. Here, the dialogue between these two artists is most sharp with defining works from each other’s output looking at each other. For the viewer, it becomes clear that both artists turned to the essentials of the medium to redefine their practices.

Jurriaan Benschop