He’s an arch-narcissist, his teeth are falling out, he’s unattractive, provocative, intelligent, cynical, disabused and expresses himself spiritedly with his lapidary pronouncements.
Michel Houellebecq, the runaway success of the French publishing world, a writer who is exported across the world, is the subject of an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo that is the talk of Paris this summer.
Houellebecq, you see, has a keen interest in contemporary art, and he is also a photographer.
There’s a saying that you should only lend money to the rich, and this new show is a good illustration of this in several respects.
The acclaimed author did not grant us an interview but he did respond positively to our Anglo-Saxon counterparts, The Financial Times, for he told them, ‘I’d like to meet the rich. Maybe this article will help.’
It is to be regretted, however, that he underestimates France’s wealthy readers (I have written a column for Les Echos, France’s financial newspaper, for the past 24 years).
Nevertheless, 2,000m2 of the Palais de Tokyo have been set aside for him until 11 September under the title ‘Staying Alive’. In his novels Houellebecq describes a terrifying and decadent society and it’s this same universe we discover in his photos. Let’s be clear, the majority of the exhibition is tremendously ugly. The former agronomist creates photomontages of details from nature taken during his travels that offer little of interest, and benefit from the fact that the majority of the rooms are plunged into darkness.
The end of the exhibition, however, is delectable.
Houellebecq perfectly retranscribes mass tourism in an installation based around, among other thing, table mats which extol the virtues of different destinations.
Houellebecq loves women and his selection of erotic photos do not lack flavour. The same goes for his 25-minute film on the same theme, placed in kitsch surroundings which are as charming as the girls, who are of the calendar variety so prized by lorry drivers.
But Houellebecq saves most of his love for his dog (Clément, the late dog, haha!) and has created a mouthwatering mausoleum to him fitted out like a Swiss chalet. It includes Clément’s toys, drawings of the pooch by his ex-wife, slides of photos with poetry recited by the singer Iggy Pop for a backdrop…
Houellebecq, well known for having written about Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, also has the good judgement to invite two lesser-known artists to participate in the show.
Robert Combas, a successful commercial painter from the ’80s and ’90s, has created excellent paintings that illustrate the poems by the star of the Palais de Tokyo.
Renaud Marchand, a former artist turned property investor in Vietnam, has created erudite machines which converse about DNA and artificial reproduction like his novels.
Jean de Loisy, the head of the Palais de Tokyo concludes: ‘No, I have not staged a media stunt . Michel is a global artist. A poet who creates in all mediums.’
If there’s an art in which Houellebecq excels, it is his humour. But does it deserve an exhibition?