Dear Shaded Viewers,
The unassuming entrance to La Maison Rouge is mirrored by the entrance to the exhibition Le mur. A gentle walk becomes a cacophonous visual assault… but in a way you didn’t know you always wanted. The soundtrack drifting sweetly through the space (the Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody) set the immediate tone for the continuous juxtapositions to be encountered. Lyrical moaning of longing sharply contrasted against the first photograph to catch my eye: a bovine carcass cut open and carefully splayed on a carpeted hotel room floor.
Such is Le mur, a collection of works that flow seamlessly from one to the next in what can only be described as the sublime. Terror and beauty inextricably linked with an overall tone of delicate melancholy in a normally “white cube” space that has been revamped into less of a cabinet of curiosities, and more a collection of humanity’s demise. Or for the more optimist-minded, a retrospective of the inevitable carnal elements of existence.
Themes are sociologically centered, love, sex, death, identity… all the heavy-hitters but in such a dense amalgamation that you “get it” without much effort. It allows for both kudos and criticism of the curatorial method applied to the selection of works from the collection of the space's founder, Antoine de Galbert. The works are well placed, albeit not necessarily visible, neither suffocating nor suffocated, but there are a lot. This is an unapologetically maximalist accrochage that can have the numbing effect of oversaturation, but there are moments to breathe. As you traverse the initial narrow hall towards larger rooms, then the fluorescent-lit cellar, the biggest palette cleanser is provided by a bright yellow wall. It is jarring, but a necessary wake up before you continue an otherwise somber journey in a particularly naturally well-lit space.
But just because the smaller details are not noticed does not mean they wash away. The exhibition possesses a nightmare to suit everyone’s needs… it is just a matter of what jumps out at you. Mechanized deer taxidermy (literal space invasion) to semi-mirrored sculptural paintings (drawing you in) to art brut paintings to bring you back to your literal beginnings. There are even some more graphic, text-based works that seem to have nothing to do with anything, just to throw you to the left. It is a bizarre reverie but on mute… as though you walk through a lucid dream where recognition is visceral but feeling is skin-deep.
Familiarity is toyed with on several levels; the lack of plaques indicating the who and what of each oeuvre tests your art historical eye and your visual memory. Is that a Dubuffet? Is that work stylistically like Basquiat or am I frontal to one? Haven’t I seen this artist before in Mumbai (another wall hung sculpture of slums) or London (a technically “primitive” painting with Bosch-esque imagery)? Yes, no, possibly? Le mur forces you to stop being passive in a space that invites you to be and to engage in appreciation of technical integrity of form and intense subjected imagery instead of agreeing that yes, this is valuable because it is by so-and-so.
Traumatic lullaby it may be, but one that begs less the question of the horrors seen, but the lingering sweetness that remains.
See it until the 21st of September
More info Le mur at La Maison Rouge