You won’t escape Van Gogh in Arles.
While he has indeed been buried since 1890 in Auvers-sur-Oise, he has never been so present in the Camargue city where he stayed for little over a year.
Never mind the sunflowers growing in the surrounding fields, as though designed to drive tourists wild with pleasure as they charge down the roads.
Never mind the Van Gogh foundation exhibiting seven of his paintings in the company of various artworks, which are certainly beautiful but are themed not altogether convincingly on the subject of the sun, now there’s the unmissable retrospective from British artists Gilbert & George (86 works, many of them large scale) organized by the Luma Foundation. (The curators are Hans Ulrich Obrist and Daniel Birnbaum).
Gilbert & George themselves have failed to escape the clutches of the Dutch artist and confess to feeling bound to the fate of Van Gogh, who found success in the end: “he was wrong all along but he won in the end. We want to win, too.”
In their characteristically stylised photos, fragmented like stained-glass windows, they systematically address provocative subjects: sex, religion, scatology, racism…They always aim to hit where it hurts: society’s taboos, without providing any kind of moral lesson or solution.
The young Lily Gavin (22 years old) has taken black and white photos on the set of the upcoming Julian Schnabel film about none other than… Van Gogh. They suggest that Willem Dafoe is indeed playing Van Gogh and that all the images documenting his life in the South of France have just been rediscovered.
But this year in the capital of the Camargue region, the guest of honour at Les rencontres de la photographie show is America. In a particularly coherent program comprising 36 exhibitions, the highlights are all made in the USA. The general title of the event is “America great again!”, a tribute from the director of the Rencontres, Sam Stourdzé, to this international group of photographers who have taken the United States as their subject.
The Swiss born photographer Robert Frank (born in 1924) created a portrait that would become legendary with “The Americans”, his book published in 1958 full of subtleties and allusions, of a complex America.
The French photographer Raymond Depardon (born in 1942) demonstrates a skill for evoking the clichés that bring this country to life.
And the (French) curator of Moma in San Francisco, Clément Chéroux, displays three different perspectives on the subject of the train that transported the body of Robert F Kennedy, who had just been assassinated, from New York to Washington in 1968.
Paul Fusco (born in 1930) was appointed to immortalize the public emotion at the time from aboard the funeral train.
Between 2014 and 2018 the Dutch artist Rein Jelle Terpstra (born in 1960) collected amateur photos and documents from eyewitnesses as the train passed by.
Lastly the French artist Philippe Parreno (born in 1960) recreated the journey “from the perspective of the dead” according to the artist himself.
The assassinations that took place in the heart of the “great America” have always produced fascination.
Les Rencontres d’Arles. Until 23 September. www.rencontres-arles.com.