I have a confession to make. I disliked Anne Imhof’s German pavilion in 2017, called “Faust”, which won the Golden Lion that year displaying a slick showcase of beautiful and disillusioned youths, striking poses to express their nihilism (See here the report about the 2017 Venice Biennale).
Maybe I was wrong at the time for not making enough of a link between the date of the pavilion itself, 1937, and the fascism associated with that date in that country.
But on visiting the “carte blanche” exhibition that Anna Imhof has been given by the new “boss” at the Palais de Tokyo, Emma Lavigne, I emerged dumbfounded and blown away primarily by her sense of space but also by the coherence of her artistic choices.
Like in Berlin
The atmosphere is very reminiscent of Berlin with huge, curved and monumental spaces, punctuated by outsized artworks, playing with transparency, mysterious sounds created by her partner, the artist Eliza Douglas…
Lacaton & Vassal
Anne Imhof’s dark presence is particularly soft and articulate. Here she is orchestrating not only an unexpected exhibition of artworks, but she is also masterfully revealing some of the spaces in the Palais that further highlight the work of the architects Lacaton & Vassal from 2002 (they have just been awarded the Pritzker Prize and we will be reporting on them soon).
Trapped like a rat
Imhof has installed openings that look out onto perspectives which until now have been largely overlooked in the labyrinthine building featuring art deco elements. She has conceived, for example, a huge metal sculpture that echoes the architectural curve. For its structure, which diminishes, she refers simultaneously to the slave’s cage and the sculptures of Bruce Nauman which give you the impression of being trapped like a rat (See here the report about the Nauman retrospective in Basel).
But above all you must see this exhibition entitled “Nature Morte” (Still Life), which seems to take these words literally, because exhibited here like never before is a series of nine works by the great artist Sigmar Polke. This German painter was once consumed by an obsession with alchemy and the transformation of colours. The Tate in London and Moma in New York have displayed his paintings in a giant accumulation. Here the nine translucid panels covered in mysterious forms enter into a masterful dialogue with the building’s chilly basement. They were formerly exhibited at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. (See here the report about the Polke exhibition in Venice).
In this industrial pre-apocalyptic context Anne Imhof fits within the direct lineage of the history of German romanticism, but she claims she doesn’t really like the idea. She says: “Polke was very important to me. His doubts, his relationship with his Germanness at the time, are expressed in his work.”
Géricault and Hesse
There are other gems in the exhibition, such as a luminous canvas by Joan Mitchell, whose link with graffiti can be seen more clearly in this context, a study of a horse’s hoof by Théodore Géricault and also a skull in gouache by the legendary German artist who died before her time, Eva Hesse (1936-1970).
Anne Imhof reveals that she shares with Kafka the confused impression of getting nowhere. A lyrical melancholy presides over the visit to this exhibition, which perfectly matches the spirit of 2021.
Until 24 October. www.palaisdetokyo.com.
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