The secret of Inclusions by Bertrand Lavier
About the "Inclusions" exhibition at the Galerie Mennour in Paris until 3 February 2023.
There has always been a distance, often an irony, in the work of visual artist Bertrand Lavier. But this is the first time, with Inclusions, that Catherine Millet, an illustrious professional art critic, has perceived a critical dimension in his works of art. Who would say, for example, that the proliferation of consumer objects blurs the eye?
After studying horticulture at the École nationale de Versailles, whose influence can be felt in his approach, Bertrand Lavier began an artistic career in the early 1970s. In an approach in which the spirit of the 'Duchampian' ready-made blends with the popular imagery of Pop Art and the triviality of elements close to New Realism, the artist blurs the boundaries and transcends the traditional categories between painting and sculpture, showing a clear interest in hybridisation. Five paintings of different genres and periods by the artist, born in Châtillon-sur-Seine in 1949, are on show at the Mennour art gallery in Paris from 1 December 2023 until 3 February 2024. But "can we use the term 'new works by Bertrand Lavier' to describe the Inclusions exhibition? This is the question posed by Catherine Millet in the December issue of the contemporary art magazine Artpress, which she edits.
She herself hesitates to answer, so I'm not going to risk it! Nonetheless, there is room for doubt, "given that the artist continues to subtly apply the gestures we know best (superimposition, covering) and to assert his very own way of recycling". In other words, even if we're looking at a new version of a crashed car, his 'new' works of art for sale don't really seem all that new... And with good reason! Taking the form of objects that have been painted, superimposed, plinth-mounted, enlarged or simply diverted from their original context, Bertrand Lavier's works of art are organised into "building sites" - as he likes to call his series - which he deliberately leaves open so that he can return to them again and again.
Bertrand Lavier appropriates both everyday objects and works of art. In 1985, for example, he used his "Van Gogh touch" to repaint a painting by François Morellet in the same colours as the original (Lavier/Morellet, 1975-1995, Paris, MNAM). The result is an ambiguous perception of painting, whose abstract nature is replaced by an equivocal status, somewhere between figuration and abstraction. This mix of genres, codes and materials, emblematic of his artistic practice, produces works that destabilise perception, creating snapshots with a dazzlingly obvious visual impact.
At the Paris art gallery, it's time for contemplation. Inclusions is a far cry from the classic hanging of paintings on picture rails! A floral composition, a seascape, two lyrical abstractions and a geometric abstraction are all levitating in transparent resin parallelepipeds set on a base. These works of art are part of a series known as "covered paintings". But they are not covered with a new layer of paint, as are Nature morte and Still Life (1977), a re-use of a painting by André Lhote, or Lavier/Morellet, which I mentioned earlier. No, they are covered in polyester resin which, "far from burying their original surface, gives them depth and brilliance", observes Catherine Millet.
"They are just as much pedestal objects, like the Teddy teddy bear (1994) and, above all, the African statuettes cast in nickel-plated bronze (2008). Finally, they echo French Painting (1984), a book covered in a layer of paint that, when placed on a pedestal, became a sculpture. As with a sculpture, we turn around these paintings trapped in their translucent case, whose edges multiply their effects, and we look for a signature that doesn't always exist.
"Bertrand Lavier is fundamentally a conceptual artist whose ideas are only as far-reaching as the concrete realisation he gives them. In other words, his works are successful not when they satisfy aesthetic and emotional expectations, but when, on the contrary, they leave our judgement as suspended as those paintings floating above their pedestal. The clear resin is undoubtedly embellishing, just as it embellished collections of insects or pebbles in decorative objects that were very fashionable in the 1970s, or as, in Arman's work, it enhances the contents of dustbins in every sense of the word," writes Catherine Millet. "We look at the paintings presented in this way as we would never look at them in a junk shop or an exhibition of amateur painters. Now, I'm not convinced that resin is the only reason for this... Given Lavier's standing on the contemporary art market, I think we also look much more closely at any painting as soon as it appears in one of his exhibitions!
"Nevertheless, Lavier's gesture is iconoclastic," continues Catherine Millet. Almost sacrilegious, even. "Admittedly, the surface of these paintings is better respected than that of the Lhote or Morellet, but one could imagine that their authors would not at all agree with the use Bertrand Lavier is making of them, which removes them from the mode of presentation and circulation for which they were intended, and that they would assert their moral rights. Above all, these works balance us on a crest whose discomfort they make us feel: what makes our judgement tip, deciding that a painting is good or bad, or that it is a good painting by a bad painter, or even a bad painting by a good painter? With Lavier/Morellet, there was no hesitation: we were dealing with a good Lavier as well as an approximate Morellet, even if a really good Morellet was hidden underneath. And I'm sure I'm not the only one to have said to myself, on discovering the "lyrical abstractions" in this exhibition and their attractive colours: "Blimey! Bertrand has put some Schneiders in the resin". A second look reveals, among other things, a sluggishness of gesture that is not worthy of Gérard Schneider, but after all, there can be failed Schneiders. In fact, Lavier has turned to a painter who has freely produced these paintings in the same way as the artist who once extended the photographs in the Landscape Painting and Beyond series according to his inspiration.
Article written by Valibri en Roulotte
Illustrations : Exhibition view, Mennour, Paris
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