– Toyen the surrealist or Charles Ray the exhibitionist?
The capital gives way to little-seen artists. If the Czech Toyen is a revelation, doubt can emerge in front of the American sculptor.
I guess you still get it. We are in the year of women. Not a museum that doesn’t want to have its women’s exhibition in 2022. All the famous names have been summoned. Just look at the Swiss map. Bern and Zurich are particularly strong. At the Zentrum Paul Klee, the English Bridget Riley will succeed the German Gabriele Münter. At the Kunsthaus the French-American Niki de Saint Phalle will take her place after the Japanese Yoko Ono. In the meantime you can still see Manon at the Fotostiftung in Winterthur, Louise Bourgeois & Jenny Holzer at the Kunstmuseum in Basel (beware, you only have one week here!) Or Angelika Kaufmann in Chur. Not to forget, however, in Geneva, the vitaminized Mamco trio formed by the Zurich resident Verena Loewensberg and the Americans Jo Baer and Jackie Winsor.
Discovering the past
However! Having been “fired”, “minorized”, “marginalized” and therefore “invisible”, women do not offer institutions as many well-known names as that. For contemporary art, no problem! The Kunsthallen can promote as many as they want. When it comes to ancient and modern arts, however, we need to dig a little deeper. Exercise often proves less difficult than it might seem. Women have been painting since the 16th century. It cannot be said that Giorgio Vasari, the first art historian I was talking about the other day, was sexist towards them. In his famous “Lives” of artists, published in 1550, then in 1568, he mentions several women, believing he can do as much as a man (1). The fact remains that it is necessary to find and identify the production of many of them, little highlighted since …
In modern art, things turn out to be easier. Just look behind the stars, with a little help from AWARE (Archives of Female Artists, Research and Exhibitions), which Nathalie Rigal has just taken over. Take for example the Surrealists, who adored women without esteeming them. There is a lot of people! Died at 104, Leonora Carrington as Dorothea Tanning are in the shadow of this runner from Max Ernst. And you have to consider Toyen, which I will tell you about today. The Czech from Paris is enjoying a retrospective at the city’s Museum of Modern Art. And this is very positive even if, as often, the last few years are weaker or even smaller.
A permanent rebellion
Toyen was born in Prague in 1902. This is obviously not her real name. The woman, who has been an integral part of all social struggles, will choose this pseudonym as an abbreviation for “citizen”. Marie Čerminová leaves the family home at the age of 16. She the teenager is a rebel. She hates society and its conventions. Better for her the anarchist and communist circles that flourish in the young republic born from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Marie certainly goes to the fine arts school. But few. Too academic. The truth lies elsewhere, even if the future Toyen will never want to be a painter, in the professional sense of the term. The young woman leaves for Croatia, where she meets Jindřich Štyrský. Her soulmate (or brother), with whom she settled in Paris from 1925 to 1929. Both were then in the suburbs of surrealism with their “artificialism”, blind affiliation to a movement that still rejected them.
In 1930 he returned to Prague. The real resurfaces in Toyen’s work, but is used as a kind of raw material. The couple finally joined the Czech branch of surrealism in 1934. The relations were above all friendly. The woman will remain personally linked to Breton, Eluard or Tanguy. This is the creative highlight for Toyen, who has long since abandoned the deceptively naive art of her early days. Her style clings to the fear of rising fascism, of which she believes Stalinism is a part, and then of war. This did not prevent Toyen and Jindřich Štyrský from finding themselves stranded in 1939. Then they had to go underground, where Toyen produced extraordinary drawings and publications distributed under the cloak. The soon destroyed couple (Štyrský died of a heart attack in 1942) welcomes and hides the poet Jindřich Heisler, a Jew threatened with death.
Return to Paris
This horrible period is soon followed by another. The Communists gradually conquered Czechoslovakia in 1946. It was the flight again, but this time Toyen knew the people in Paris. There is only Eluard with whom he no longer wants to speak due to his loyalty to Stalin. Even a fascist! The Surrealists were a bit of a family to her until the final dissolution of the group in 1969. It was thus that around 1965 she met Annie Le Brun, then a poetess, who at the age of 80 became the curator of the great (too old, perhaps) Toyen exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris.
Annie Le Brun serves her model while using her. Readers of the great specialist Sade (2) will recognize her current anxieties and obsessions. We know from his latest publications (“This is priceless”, “This will kill that one”…) his terror for the commodification of art and his desperation in the face of a galloping technology that alienates and reifies man. There’s the one in “Toyen, The Absolute Gap”. Annie also finds a way to connect the painter to Sade under the sign of “the infinity of desire”. But I reassure you immediately! She does not, however, replace the artist, with whom she confronted until her death in November 1980. Toyen then took over (an unmistakable sign) the former studio of André Breton, rue Fontaine. The woman still produced little, after the particularly intense 60s. But her heart was gone, unless she had already said it all in the 1920s and 1950s.
Classic in its presentation, the exhibition has all the space it needs to unfold. Even closing a few spaces like here, the arch drawn from the ground floor of the Museum of Modern Art seems infinite. Especially if the works remain small in size. Or Toyen is not a large-sized woman, a sign of affirmation but also of authoritarianism. Her paintings are generally wide and less than a meter tall. These are, as for her friend Yves Tanguy, paintings that the viewer must get close to in order to enter. There are some amazing pieces here. Beautiful. Toyen doesn’t have to go back to the cellar. You need great museums. But I don’t remember seeing anything of her on the Beaubourg picture tracks. But maybe I’m wrong, her appearance then remained very discreet …
(1) “Women have achieved excellence in every art they engage in”. The phrase is taken from the life of Sophonisba Anguissola by Giorgio Vasari. (2) Annie Le Brun curated “Sade, Attacking the Sun” at the Musée d’Orsay in 2014.
“Toyen, The Absolute Gap”, Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. 11, avenue du president-Wilson, until 24 July. Tel. 00331 53 67 40 00, website www.man.paris.fr Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00, Thursdays until 21:30. Reservations are recommended.
A private museum and another state join forces to introduce Californian sculptor Charles Ray to Paris.
Sometimes there are things I don’t understand. I don’t mean by this that I don’t admit them in any way. They slide off my head like water from a duck’s feathers. I don’t see the point of work or experience.
This is how it goes for me with the sculptures (and some photographs) of Charles Ray, who obviously should not be confused with the “blues” singer Ray Charles, who passed away in 2004. Driven by the art market, the press is certainly trying to convince us that the American, now 69, is “one of the most important artists of our time”. History to make one of the most expensive at the same time, no doubt. But this is a simple dogma. The man has long been the foal of François Pinault, who dedicated a tribute to him in Venice in 2013. The “Boy with the frog” then sat enthroned at the extreme point of what already forms the Punta della Dogana. It should be noted that the inhabitants of the Serenissima had asked for his withdrawal … The official idea is that it was the boy’s too apparent sex that upset him. I think the Venetians, who also have better things to put under their nets, judged that the whitish statue (“white as a milkman’s shit,” one would have said in my childhood) had remained weak alongside their legacy.
Exhibited in 2014 at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, which took the opportunity to purchase one of the 123 works listed in 2022 by Charles Ray, the Californian has now returned to Paris. As if the young Pinault Foundation were not enough, the Center Pompidou had to get involved. The artist is therefore entitled to half of the sixth floor, transformed into a huge plateau. To give the impression of extreme preciousness and a thought so powerful that it risks shaking the walls, there is very little here. Few visitors too, for the rest. The suite is to be discovered suddenly under the dome of the former Bourse du Commerce and in some of its rooms on the ground or first floor. This would, it seems, be an intellectual summary of all Western sculpture since the Renaissance. One thing that allows Ray to have some work done by the masters at times. We can imagine a swarm of practitioners cutting marble or molding paper. The visitor never knows how much one of the pieces weighs before discovering the number of kilos on the sign. It’s a bit like Charles Ray sold by weight …
Between Christ in a “light” paper version from a Baroque predecessor and a reconstituted truck weighing several tons, I must admit that I completed the journey with an incredulous eye. However, like many contemporary artists, Charles Ray takes a leap of faith. Suffice it to say that without the latter all that remains is to seek the exit as quickly as possible …
“Charles Ray”, Center Pompidou, place Georges Pompidou, Paris, until 20 June. Such. 00331 44 78 12 33, website www.centrepompidou.fr Open every day, except Tuesdays, from 11am to 9pm. Pinault Foundation, 2, rue de Viarmes, Paris, until 6 June. Such. 00331 55 04 60 60, website www.pinaultcollection.com Open every day, except Tuesdays, from 11am to 7pm, Friday until 9pm.
Born in 1948, Etienne Dumont he studied in Geneva which were of little use to him. Latin, Greek, right. Failed lawyer, he devoted himself to journalism. Very often in the cultural sections, he worked from March 1974 to May 2013 at the “Tribune de Genève”, starting with talking about cinema. Then came the fine arts and books. Other than that, as you can see, nothing to report.
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