Naming an exhibition of young French artists "Dynasty" would seem to suggest a suggest a cynical or sarcastic likening of its content to the children of the 1980s. The current group exhibition in question is held at the Musée d'Art Moderne and neighboring Palais de Tokyo features work by 40 artists who may or may not remember a French-dubbed Alexis and Krystle. Each contributed one piece to each museum: All of them are somewhat French (by birth or country of residence), and under the age of 35. What it has in common with the notorious television series is an interest in the underpinnings of American Empire, and the left-over from its spectacular and ostentatious triumphs.
GUILLAUME BRESSON, UNTITLED, 2008
In preparation for the occasion, Fabrice Hergott of the Musée d'Art Moderne and Marc-Olivier Wahler of the Palais de Tokyo scouted art centers and schools all over the country, and pre-selected 1,000 applicants, who were requested to send over portfolios. These were then boiled down to a final 40.
The sheer quantity of art displayed to the point of saturation makes it difficult to draw narrow conclusions. During the opening (June 10), Hergott insisted the format matched a contemporary condition in which one dominant ideology is impossible, where one should expect "groups and many individuals constituting a fragmented thought."
A few distinctive features: a down-to-earth approach to art and humble materials, strategies culled from pop politics and the social sciences. "There is a certain rigor, a severity, and a use of poor materials," Hergott said, clearly referencing themes from Arte Povera.
"There is a sense of mise-à-distance [putting at a distance] with reality, a desire of putting things into perspective, and a feeling of disenchantment," he continued.
This tendency toward a human-scale relation to art is epitomized by Saint-Denis-based Vincent Ganivet. In each institution, he shows Caténaires (2010), a gigantic arch made of cinderblocks,. The pieces evoke both a building site and the vault of a Roman cathedral.In this work there is a poetic re-direction of physical labor, a resilient functionality to the materials that disrupts, however momentarily, the frequent commensuration of art and social privilege.
Paris-based Guillaume Bresson shows an untitled 2008 series of paintings depicting hyper-realistic scenes of urban violence. In a style cribbed from the picturesque but geometric composition of Nicolas Poussin, or the grisaille of Caravaggio, Bresson's lofty paintings represent fights in parking lots, in, one assumes, French run-down suburbs that might host riots. This disjunct of precious and traditional medium and politicized content, and picturing of serial, coded violence, interrogates the radical class divide between Parisians and the rough, working-class outskirts.
Another Paris-based artist, Farah Attassi, takes on the generational angst and "disenchantment" that Hergott discusses. Her oil paintings depict what she calls "transitional spaces," notably hallways and waiting rooms, to question the emptiness, disillusion, and post-capitalist lives. She begins with an archetypal representation of the modern, Western house, constructing impoverished and abandoned spaces with rigorous, geometric lines, and elongated bricks, doors, windows. The architectural is populated by objects, dying flowers, mirrors, chairs, a leak from the wall, without ever leaving the medium of oil.
Both her Transitional Home (2010) a kitchen scene at the Musée d'Art Moderne, and Tenement 2 (2009), a rendering of a small one-room apartment at the Palais de Tokyo, reflect boredom and emptiness—which is echoed by the bare, rough cement walls of the Palais—and a living tradition of Modernism as stylized, utopian universality.
Dirt—any matter out place—is the longtime enemy of modernism, which privileges progress over maintenance. Paris-based Yushin U Chang riffs on Man Ray's "Dust Breeding" series with two giant dust sculptures, Poussières (2008, pictured left). Made in situ, they pour from the walls of both spaces, like domestic inconveniences, natural disasters, or mysterious and fascinating monsters. In order to fabricate the works, she collected the dirt from Hoovers used to clean both museums for two months. One aspect of the work is curiously sociological: upon closer look, one detects pigeon feathers, and bits of papers.
Hergott concludes, "This generation has totally digested the inheritance of our past. They know everything has already been done... which is good. Now we can really start to work."
DYNASTY IS ON VIEW THROUGH SEPTEMBER 9.