This group exhibition 'Regarde-moi' (Look at Me) plunges us into a contemporary portrait gallery featuring around forty works.
"The portrait – a classic among the classics of representational art – is a timeless practice. It is a memorial narrative, destined, today as yesterday, to speak of intimacy and absence, to exalt the mystery of faces and bodies, and to lose itself in an interiority or a history, whose sources can never be openly avowed." — Jill Gasparina
At the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, one can admire the Portrait of Paquius Proculus and his Wife. Like the Fayum mummy portraits, this ancient work attests to the longevity of the art of portraiture, a practice that has endured across time and cultures, constantly adapting to the technical inventions that changed the art of human representation and to an accelerating globalization. From this poignant fresco fragment detached from its wall to the contemporary practice of the selfie, the history of this artform and its methods continues to be written, century after century, creating an imaginary museum of known and unknown faces, of celebrities and anonymous people, of deceased friends.
This exhibition plunges us into a kind of contemporary portrait gallery, with many defining features of our time. First of all, celebrity pop culture, reflected in Charles Hascoët’s small portrait of Marco Verrati, Italian soccer player for PSG, as well as Gregor Hildebrandt’s portrait of Italian actress Virna Lisi. We also see the effects of digital image technologies in the fluid, almost surrealist style of Song Kun’s Closer. Or in Xavier Veilhan’s Violeta (assise-manteau), a blurred sculpture intended for the outdoors, which owes as much to classical statuary as it does to the rejuvenating filters of Instagram and the photoshopped images that now constitute our visual environment.
Les modèles au repos by painter, architect, and writer Romeo Mivekannin raises questions about the place of black people in Western art history and iconography. In this Félix Vallotton-inspired piece (which also evokes Manet’s famous Olympia), the artist depicts himself as a black model fully reclaiming the space of the painting: he is looking at us, thereby overturning the principles of orientalism. The decisive issue is to create a form of visibility in which the object is no longer only contemplated, seen, and portrayed by Western male eyes. Here, the portrait becomes an eminently political space.
This is also true for Chen Ke’s three works, which revisit the figure of Marianne Brandt, a Bauhaus-trained artist and designer whose photography has been largely ignored by official history. Her Marianne is a powerful androgynous icon reminding us that the place of women in the art world remains a contested issue. There is a similar subtext in Danielle Orchard’s paintings, post-Cubist fantasies in which female subjects, now endowed with agency, revisit scenes from 1920s art.
Many of these portraits also contain a decorative impulse. Whether it is the collage of a gilded ornamental background with the marble pattern of a tablecloth in Chen Fei’s Breakfast, the minute details and colorful backgrounds of Zéh Palito’s works, Trevon Latin’s brilliant patchworks, or Kathia St. Hilaire’s weavings, their representational codes break with a Western modernity defined by its refusal of ornament. They also sharply contrast with the digital realism of selfies and instant photo portraits, so pervasive on our digital screens, and of which Sophie Calle’s miniature portrait of her father serves as a reminder. Today, as during the democratization of photography in the mid-19th century when “[men] for the first time held their externalized faces with their fingertips”, painting and sculpture still have their say.
The exhibition also features a set of ceramics, a demanding, slow material, the exact opposite of the photographic snapshot, reminding us that the realistic image is never wholly exhaustive. Klara Kristalova’s forlorn characters, inspired by Nordic myths, and Johan Creten’s tormented faces exude an unsettling energy. In a more farcical but no less strange vein, Gelitin shows a group portrait of grimacing and simplified faces, reminiscent of certain stylized forms in web culture.
While the exhibition illustrates the radical topicality of postcolonial, feminist, and gender issues and the ability of contemporary portraiture to express them, it also presents the portrait – a classic among the classics of representational art – as a timeless practice: as immutable as Apollo’s head (Daniel Arsham). It is a memorial narrative, destined, today as yesterday, to speak of intimacy and absence, to exalt the mystery of faces and bodies, and to lose itself in an interiority or a history, whose sources can never be openly avowed. In Christiane Pooley’s work, they disappear, leaving behind only ghostly bodies. In Jiang Cheng’s work, they are lost in the anonymity of the titles and the hallucinatory nature of representation. In Jens Fänge’s pieces, the decomposition of the surface through collage seems to suggest a hypothetical dissolution of the subjects.
In the first room, the visitors are welcomed by Izumi Kato’s enigmatic figures, before passing through a forest of mostly unknown facessymbols, some of which look at them while others ignore them. Yang Yinzhen, a Chinese woman portrayed by JR, closes her eyes as if to withdraw into an inner world. Jean-Philippe Delhomme’s Shelim points towards the outside of the painting by means of a sideways glance. In Laurent Grasso’s Studies into the Past the face is reduced to its simplest form– a pair of eyes looking right past us. “Look at me” the exhibition title pleads. But who is speaking? And who wants to be seen, the works or the spectators? It all boils down to a game of glances. Is there a stranger experience than being ignored by a painting?
As a tribute to Claude Rutault - who passed away on May 27, 2022 at the age of 80 - we present the “de-finition/method painting-tomb” according to the protocol written by the artist. Perrotin represents Claude Rutault since 2010.