There’s a strange microclimate in the land once ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy. It’s where you’ll find the impressive tomb of those monarchs of the Middle Ages, but that’s only scratching the surface… Ever since 1977 this town synonymous with mustard has also been home to an art centre known as The Consortium. It’s a place that from the get-go has successfully managed to attract major figures from the avant-garde with remarkable energy and in a spirit of reflection that one can’t help but admire. In the 1990s, if you wanted to see Maurizio Cattelan, the controversial bad boy of the Italian art scene, you had to get down to Dijon, to the Consortium. Then in the 2000s if you wanted to check out that other Italian artist, Francesco Vezzoli, who went on to enjoy meteoric success but who has remained to my mind misunderstood, again you needed to make a trip to Consortium. The current darling of the California contemporary art scene, Alex Israel, first exhibited in 2013 at the Consortium. Wade Guyton, the American artist whose work often addresses themes of reproducibility and who is one of the most prominent figures among the current crop (he was exhibited at the Palazzo Grassi in the collection of the businessman Francois Pinault, among others) recently took a year-and-a-half hiatus from the creative process. Naturally it’s at the Consortium that he’s decided to unveil his newest work later this year, on 24 June.
The Consortium is directed by a panel of six directors with tastes and affinities that are as varied as they are controversial, and who surpass themselves not only by their inexhaustible curiosity but also by the limited financial means with which to exhibit their artists. Yet they manage to do it with panache.
If proof is required, all you need to do is visit the latest exhibition that opened on 20 February. Almanach is a tightly-edited round-up of the current tastes of each of these directors, with 16 artists on display across 16 rooms.
It opens with a series of paintings which are copies of Raphael, not necessarily attractive ones, in allusion to the four Raphael Rooms in the Vatican. As the Consortium director and art history buff Xavier Douroux, who was behind the decision to show this work, remarks, “Contemporary art has exhausted its capacity to innovate.” This leads to a reflection on the idea of the copy in the creative process… Which brings us neatly to Angela Bulloch, the Canadian artist currently living in Berlin (and known for her previous affiliation with the Young British Artists) who has made a series of light installations resembling Brancusi’s Endless Column, but in a rebooted Post Pop style.
Some of the pink columns are dull in places and the light and shade create mysterious zones of volume. “I play with the virtual and the real,” she comments. Elsewhere the Cannes-based ceramicist Georges Pelletier has also created light installations with terracotta. Obvious allusions to the sun or, better still, to monstrances, those vessels used by the Catholic church to display the host like at the centre of a dazzling star. In this work, Pelletier takes aim at the art market by gleefully replicating some of his most successful pieces from the 1960s but whose value has since risen considerably, setting off a sort of slippage of values…
But the most delirious artists in the Almanach collection is without a doubt Ashley Bickerton. He’s a man – in case his first name left you in any doubt – who first tasted success in the 1980s (he was born in 1959) and today can be found living in Bali. His ultra-trashy work (on first sight it’s almost repulsive) includes sculptures and paintings, both of which feed a certain idea of the grotesque. The paintings are a cross between Gauguin and psychedelic art, or tourist hotspots and horror films. He juxtaposes and blends profusely, like those beach stalls selling t-shirts printed with sunsets and lewd jokes on aprons, only it’s much more disgusting. His finest moment is the sculpture – the hyperrealist body of an obese man balanced on the carcass of a brightly coloured moped. A consumerist dolce vita, if you will. Enjoy your trip to Bali!
Ashley Bickerton is a truly thought-provoking rediscovery – the complete opposite of “bon gout”.
After all, art is not about producing work to match your living room sofa.