Paris. July. Big sun. What big? Huge sun. More than 35 degrees. Decided to leave the pool and work on my general culture
After a failed attempt at Fondation Cartier - given the queue, I did my usual trick of wanting to become a mecene, and entering with the card. Unfortunately there was no one to take donations and the guard at the entrance sounded as if he could hardly understand why a French man in shorts would come on a sunny Saturday afternoon to the middle of Denfert-Rochereau to give a cheque to a foundation and not even want to see the exhibition. Was he so wrong after all?
So I decide to head to La Maison Rouge. Recurring readers would already know all the good I think of La Maison Rouge. This is one of the top 3 contemporary art places in Paris for me. And they are always so innovative - and so nice. 4 exhibitions a year, this one is the summer one. My Joburg. And it is about Johannesburg. This belongs to the cycle of unusual artistic cities, the first of which was last year's My Winnipeg - OK, they could have been more original with the title. I still have not convinced the team there to do a whole show on Kluj, Hungary. But I am resilient, watch out for the Hungarian scene in....2020
Back to Jozi. I only know three artists from there: Goldblatt, William Kentridge (which I missed at the Comedie Francaise last week but saw in Rio a few months ago) and Robin Rhode. All photographers, at least partially. All of whom I stopped short of buying a couple of years ago. Should probably have. Inside the exhibition, one is greeted by a gigantic collection of photos by Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse (no, the other Waterhouse...) - a systematic photo of each window and door of Ponte City, flagship Joburg building. Reminds me straightaway of the beautiful Goldblatt photos that Marian Goodman showed 2-3 years ago in Paris. Intimacy through a window. A recurring SouthAf theme?
Am a bit skeptical on the opening installation by Malcomess and Kreutzfeld (a curious name association I have to say): apart from their index map which is vaguely reminiscent of some of the work Gilles Barbier does on words, this looks like some has opened Amelie Poulain's box and pinned all the contents on a grey wall in a pretty disorderly fashion. Next
Next are films and photos on Joburg as a city, including some of the great David Goldblatt, even though I prefer those taken inside and looking at the city through windows, with multiple layers of images. These would be amongst his most recent work, post 2010. Sue Williamson's video box, walking the passer-by through the difficulties of the immigrants to South Africa post Mandela elections, is incredibly reminiscent of the work Gillian Wearing did on her family, not least because you see a film of the two witnesses in front of you, they speak and yet they do not move the lips. But they move still, it is not a photo. Unfortunately what they are saying is the common lot of most immigrants to anywhere
I like Sabelo Mlangeni's series on female street cleaners, "the invisible women". Don't know why but it reminds me of some of the scenes of the excellent Reunification des Deux Corees by Pommerat last year
First quasi-revelation of this exhibition, Europa by Nandipha Mntambo, representing her with a buffalo head. Interesting to walk inside Nitegeka series of Obstacle - you feel oppressed straightaway. What is striking in Kudzanai Chiurai (also represented by Marian Goodman) painting is that at first glance, the black characters do not show up; one sees a nice Mickey Mouse. But second glance: plenty of black figures with worrying faces - why are they smiling? Are they playing tricks? - so one's look goes back to the reassuring Mickey Mouse. But here again, wrong impression: Mickey seems to have huge teeth, be part of the whole plot and not really well-meaning. So interesting! I also love his portraits of imaginary SouthAf government - very close to Kehinde Wiley portraits... Telling
Gerhard Marx' Scion is the black version of Penone's Respirare l'ombra. Two opposite and not categorised forms of land art
Willen Boshoff's Nice Guys has attracted my curiosity: from the far, the most disgusting collection of ties. Come nearer, each tie is associated with the name of "nice guy" - ranging from Charles Manson to Saddam Hussein and George W Bush... No comment - and a number, the number of deaths they are supposed to be responsible for...
The next room includes a lot of findings. The textile pieces "à messages" by Lawrence Lemaoana, an old rugbyman born in 1982; the wooden characters carved by Johannes Segogela; or the "deroutés" prints by Brett Murray, using the old apartheid boards to denounce present corruption and clientelism. History repeating... This exhibition is definitely getting increasingly better. The two Cindy Shearman wannabes in the next room are also interesting, as, although they use the same means as Shearman - ie use their own body to impersonate characters or situations - they both choose a different angle of attack. My favorite one: Rose's Mami, 2001
Going through these two series of lesbian portraits by Zanele Muholi is quite impressive: you feel judged immediately, as though they knew what you are thinking. In the next room, the mega-installation by Jane Alexander (pictured), with double "barbeles" and 1000 "machettes" is also scary and although one cannot get inside, it definitely creates a feeling of unease. Are we not experiencing art, justement?
The end of the exhibition is a fireworks, that culminates in the work of the four female artists downstairs. No limit in what they represent and how they say it, although young, they use their hidden nemesis to convey the history of their forefathers
A big thank you to the Maison Rouge team to make us discover, once more, an original artistic scene, that few of us would have otherwise seen
La Maison Rouge, Fondation Antoine de Galbert
10 boulevard de la Bastille, Paris 12e
Until 22 September 2013