“I am Madame Bovary”. These vague words are attributed to Gustave Flaubert, but they do express a truth of paramount importance in terms of creativity.
The raw material for artists is the artists themselves.
No one is more narcissistic than artists and, more specifically, no one is more narcissistic than good artists. Take the great German Renaissance painter: Albrecht Dürer. His recognition also stems from the affirmation of his status as an artist (as opposed to artisan) through his self-portraits.
But taking this principle even further, today it is the artist’s body, their experiences, their transformations, which all serve to express their preoccupations.
At the sumptuous Punta della Dogana in Venice the director of the Pinault foundation, Martin Béthenod, is curating an exhibition in collaboration with Florent Ebner, former curator at the Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany, that revisits the Pinault collection in dialogue with the Folkwang Museum’s collection (1), by selecting artworks that discuss this very subject.
In other words, when the artist creates using himself. This gives the exhibition its title: “Dancing with Myself”.
“Here the artist’s face and body are used as real tools within their oeuvre,” emphasizes Martin Béthenod.
The 142 artworks are subtly presented. The introduction to the subject is performed literally, by passing through a gigantic curtain of red beads made by the legendary American conceptual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996). This is his blood. For Gonzalez-Torres died of AIDS and he proposed for visitors to cross through what symbolizes his vital fluid.
Lighter in tone (if a little plumper) is the Swiss artist who lives in New York, Urs Fischer (born in 1973), who burns calories and more besides for he has depicted himself in three dimensions in a realist model made of candle wax. The artwork is designed to melt down gently until it disappears altogether. A contemporary vanity of varying proportions.
The Italian artist Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994) made a model of himself shortly before his death from brain cancer. He depicted himself modelled as a life-size metal figure armed with a jet of water with which he endlessly showers his head. This gesture causes vapor to emanate. It is too hot. An elegant allegory for his fatal illness.
Not far from the huge room dedicated to the most famous partnership in contemporary art, Gilbert & George, the troublemaker of Italian art Maurizio Cattelan (born in 1960) has depicted himself as two identical replicas lying together fully clothed on a bed. It is an allusion to a work by the pair in which they assume this same position. A clear confession from Cattelan that he is incapable of loving anyone but himself.
The American artist Cindy Sherman (born in 1954) made her mark on the international art landscape in the 1980s by creating photos in which she features systematically. The now-famous exercise is a great feat of dressing up and staging that describes voyages in time and space, stories that move from one artificial aesthetic to another, from Hollywood stereotypes to those of middle-class New York. One of the most complete displays at the Punta della Dogana. On leaving, we find ourselves wondering if Narcissus had lived in the 21st century rather than in Greek myth whether he would have been taken to be a conceptual artist.
Until 16 December
(1) an exhibition that was similar yet on a smaller scale was displayed at Essen in 2016. Now Florent Ebner is curator at the Centre Pompidou specialised in photography.