Art as pretext – three Paris painting shows

Friday, July 24, 2015

I catch the 5:25 am train from the south of France and at a pacy 300 kilometres per hour make it to Paris before 9am. The aim: to see three painting exhibitions. it’s something I do from time to time. Saves having to sort out a hotel room, and besides you can fit a lot into a single day. 

On the agenda is Pierre Bonnard at the Musée d’Orsay followed by Markus Lüpertz and Henry Darger at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

No, I’m not going to write formal exhibition reviews – the idea leaves me feeling exhausted and plenty of critics have already done the job – but I will share some of my photos along with a few thoughts and impressions.

Bonnard is Bonnard and it seems almost everyone loves him. I adore his peek-a-boo visual games and forget how sneaky he is. The surprise here is seeing his so-called ‘decorative’ works – mostly mural sized paintings made to measure for clients’ walls. Sure, some have cutesy painted borders and ‘pretty’ themes, but most are simply XL paintings and calling them decorative is an unneccessary pejorative. They were commissions. 

Below is one of the XL works and some exhibition views.


Markus Lüpertz is the show that troubles me the most and the one I can’t stop thinking about. I hardly knew who he was before the exhibition, but he’s a contemporary of Kiefer, Polke, Richter… Born in Czeckoslovakia in 1941, emigrated to Germany in 1948, and has lived there ever since. He is supposedly known for his excessive personality, and flamboyant taste in vintage cars, sharp suits and walking sticks (he had a car accident and uses a stick topped with a Damien Hirst-style silver skull).

I have a huge respect for Lüpertz’s ambition and confident works, but there’s a level of annoyance that keeps surfacing in me. I can’t get a grip on his paintings (maybe a good thing), feel that he’s somehow hiding behind philosophies and concepts, and that there’s more to him and he’s holding back. Anything I read about his work online is just art-speak. Sure, he was the rector of the Düsseldorf art school for many years, until 2009, so maybe this accounts for the opacity of much of his discourse. 

So these are his supposed ideas and influences: Courbet, Goya, Poussin, Nietsche, German history, Maillol, mythology, Classical sculpture and the ‘Mycenean Smile’ (a Greek sculpture with a slight smile). For me there is something extra that is festering beneath the surface and I am trying to figure out what it is… Maybe the problem is with me, not him.



And here’s a short video that gives you a sense of the person…

The ‘outsider’ artist Henry Darger (1892-1973) is a mythological figure in himself. For years I have admired reproductions of his drawn and painted images so had built up great expectations about seeing them in the flesh. 

Unfortunately there is little extra that offers itself up when seeing the real thing – apart from the larger than expected panoramic scale and a poignant clumsiness of touch. In fact I begin to feel uncomfortably voyeuristic looking at the actual works. Darger seems like such a sad and troubled individual. Everything he produced was in the secrecy of his little apartment and only discovered after his death. He created his private universe in book and picture form which perhaps we are now ‘exploiting’, although I am still happy to have known about his journey. It’s a tough call.

I felt so uncomfortable that I forgot to take any photos of the exhibition.

However if you have the time and would like to know more, here is a feature film/documentary on the life of Darger.






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