The Collection Stripped Bare by its Artists, Even I
Thomas Bayrle, Etienne Chambaud, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Ryan Gander, Rubén Grilo, Anna Molska, Ugo Rondinone, Karin Sander
Curators: Laurent Fiévet & Silvia Guerra
RECONSIDERING THE WORKS OF THE COLLECTION
The Collection Stripped Bare by its Artists, Even is the second exhibition that Lab’Bel has devoted to its collection, bringing together the works of art acquired over the past four years, particularly those not previously shown as part of the Touching the Moon exhibition1 in 2012. With the same spirit of openness as this first public event, loans from both galleries and private collectors complement the works on show from the collection, completing some of the series presented, and allowing the public to better understand the works of the artists on display, shedding light on their artistic approach.
The 2016 exhibition will take place in three different geographical locations within the département of the Jura. The exhibition will open at La Maison de La vache qui rit in Lons-le-Saunier, a venue that has regularly hosted Lab’Bel’s projects and exhibitions since the spring of 2010. Indeed since the creation of the artistic laboratory that is Lab’Bel, La Maison has proved to be a faithful partner in the former’s efforts to support and promote contemporary art. The second installment of the exhibition then takes place at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dole, where the Lab’Bel collection has been on long-term loan and partially displayed since 2013, thanks to the support of the museum’s two successive directors Anne Dary and Amélie Lavin. The third location is the Belvédère Calonne de Sappel in Baume-les-Messieurs, a remarkable garden setting where works from the collection will be presented for the first time, thanks to the owner of the site, Emmanuel Beffy. Each of these venues, due to its specific ambiance, private or public status, and its own unique character, requires a customized layout, allowing Lab’Bel’s collection, in accordance with the reference to Duchamp playfully alluded to in the title of the exhibition, to be revealed to the public in different ways, simultaneously highlighting the rich diversity of the collection, where the majority of the works on display have never been presented outside of the context in which they were originally acquired.
Each of these three rendezvous, open to the public, is therefore very distinct. In their own way, they each raise questions concerning the nature or essence of a work of art and a collection. The exhibition is spread over a number of months, with a variety of activities and performances on offer, allowing the public to discover the works from yet another perspective.
Paradise Lost – art and sensuality
Part I: La Maison de La vache qui rit
Our adventure in the département of the Jura begins at Lons-le-Saunier, where for several months La Maison de La vache qui rit will welcome an ensemble of colourful and playful artworks, sure to please even the most gourmand of visitors. Artists Hans-Peter Feldmann and Thomas Bayrle are well-represented here. In 2014 and 2015, the two artists collaborated with the Bel Group for their special Collector’s Edition Boxes. Their creations have since entered into the collection, just as they were warmly welcomed by the public and adopted by a large number of amateur collectors. Thus, the presence of Feldmann and Bayrle seems only natural in this museum space, dedicated to The Laughing Cow, where in addition to their creations for the Group, their artworks are used to adorn certain architectural elements of the building or as mischievous accessories added to some of the icons of our contemporary culture.
The exhibition Touching the Moon / Toucher La Lune was held at the Galerie 5 at the University of Angers from 12 January – 25 February 2012. With regard to the title of the exhibition, one might argue that there is an inherent contradiction in this dual process of adorning the walls of the venue and the faces of certain icons. However, the act of adorning or clothing here does not necessarily exclude the notion of ‘stripping bare’. In the bluish and fluid movement that is Blaue Kuhtapete / Blue Cow Wallpaper by Thomas Bayrle, which covers part of the hall on the ground floor, the logo of the flagship brand of the Bel Group is essentially reduced to a form of sketch or outline. This simplification reinforces the impact or visual punch of the logo, which is subsequently used as the base motif or starting point—superforms to cite the author—for the creation of other figures for the Collector’s Edition Boxes. This process, which sees a return to a slightly old-fashioned aesthetic—the artist revives the logo used in the sixties, a decade during which Bayrle began to make use of the motif in his work—introduces in its own way a symbolic form of undressing. Indeed, Bayrle’s method may be said to strip the motif of some of its attributes and its primary function, so as to better reveal its essence, which he then appropriates and subverts for other figurative purposes.
A few steps from there can be seen the naked bodies of Feldmann’s David and Eve, placed in a prominent position amongst the red noses that illustrate the principle of appropriation used by the artist for the first edition of the Collector’s Boxes. The noses, like the naked sculptures, call for a certain degree of complicity on behalf of the viewer.
Both sculptures may be said to evoke a reinterpreted or reworked version of the Garden of Eden, also suggested by the lush vegetation covering one of the inner walls of La Maison. By endowing nudity with biblical connotations—although this is disrupted somewhat by the substitution of Adam by David—they may be said to echo, albeit indirectly some of the other pieces of the collection. For example, the erotically armoured body of the figure in Anna Molska’s Hecatomb, thrashing about, whip in hand, in its foam environment, may be read as a theatrical and offbeat revival of creation or origin myths. All the while playing with the representation of a kind of earthly paradise, confined to a greenhouse space imbued with a lost innocence, here the environment seems to presage the consequences of man’s fall from grace—a vision that is particularly pertinent to today’s environmental concerns.
The trompe-l’oeil egg sculpture by Ugo Rondinone, still.life. (one egg), on display at the centre of the temporary exhibition space, seems to suggest an opening towards the unknown, in any and every form. The circular platform on which the egg is placed, restricting proximity, makes it as tempting as the apple that Eve offers David with her right hand. It is interesting to note that the apple is another trompe-l’oeil model included by Rondinone in his still.life. series. Although the egg sculpture is not ordinarily presented on this circular platform, here it serves to accentuate the egg’s symbolic dimension, highlighting the promises, lessons or the dangers it might contain despite its nude fragility and false mask of normality.
Further on in the exhibition space, food dyes transform banal pigeons into an unknown species. Just as Hans-Peter Feldmann clothes his sculptures in colour, here the dyes provide the made-over birds with a new sensuality, saddled by their author with the enigmatic title of Naked Parrots. The title chosen by Etienne Chambaud evokes yet another form of exposure or stripping bare. Should we interpret it as the discovery of a filiation with a related but now extinct species? Or should we instead read it as the revelation of the consequences of a mysterious genetic mutation which, echoing the parable recounted in Anna Molska’s video work, may be said to translate the excesses of consumer society? Unless of course the nudity here, in all its plastic dimensions, is nothing more than another means of attracting attention, particularly for the more protean amongst us. In short, a seduction strategy to ensure the survival of the species.
All of these bodies and exposed objects, whether revealed through color or accentuated by the lights of Ryan Gander’s lamps, arranged side by side a little further away in the exhibition space of La Maison, seem to offer various forms of sensory temptation to the visitor. The moulds of Rubén Grilo’s chocolate bars, in various pastel shades, provide the visitor with a visual and veritable sense of gourmandise. The complex and extremely precise scientific titles of his paintings/installations keep an account of the bite marks already received. We imagine that this is likely to whet the appetite of the visitor even further.
The visitor’s gaze undresses the artworks on display. The tantalizing, shimmering colors encourage a form of denuding, a return to our origins in a sense, insidiously shifting our perception of the works of art towards an edible and seductive dimension. Appetizing, the bodies offer themselves up in an environment that is both round and smooth, which, like the candy universe within which the story of Hansel and Gretel unfolds, contains no less of a threat to anyone who dares to venture there. By marrying a harmless children’s toy to a sharp axe in A Lamp made by the artist For His wife (9th Attempt), Ryan Gander pays particular attention to this mixture of seduction and danger, and literally puts in the spotlight the possibility of a sharp reversal. This work highlights how the visitor’s gaze may seesaw violently at any moment; at the risk of falling into an unexpected abyss, thereby recalling certain images of Anna Molska’s film. Indeed, this risk is inherent to the sensitive and ambivalent work of art when one seeks, a little too closely, to reveal it.