Archipel, at the Nantes Museum of Art: labyrinth at the heart of 20th and 21st century art

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With the exhibition ArchipelagoThe Musée d'arts de Nantes is continuing the dialogue begun in 2014 with Jean-Jacques Lebel and the works in its endowment fund. From Marcel Duchamp to Gustav Klimt, Paul Éluard and André Breton, the exhibition presents, like an archipelago, groups of 200 works from different periods and origins, offering a journey through the history of 20th century art.
Their presentation reveals the endowment's own polysemy. By putting them in dialogue, they allow us to identify the major themes (madness, eroticism, revolutions, etc.) and to pay tribute to the known, little-known, forgotten or anonymous artists (Antonin Artaud, Carolee Schneemann, Isabelle Waldberg, etc.) of the modern and contemporary world, dear to Jean-Jacques Lebel.

In the collection there are lighthouses, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Antonin Artaud, Victor Hugo draftsman, all represented by major works that are milestones in our art history. But the endowment fund invents its own trajectories and circulations. Rendering all their subversive force to the masterpieces, the exhibition Archipet undermines generally accepted classifications by confronting them with objects of use, objects of affection, or works that are unjustly misunderstood, such as those of Ghérasim Luca or Isabelle Waldberg.
The exhibition reflects the strength of the fund, in which the visible reveals the invisible. Their dialogue offers a vision of the world, a history of looks, revolts and passions.

Archipelago proposes to share and experiment with what the fund holds most dear, to write spatial and mental geographies, new stories of yesterday and today. The exhibition presented in the museum's Patio is structured in such a way as to create dialogues between the works, mixing eras and restoring the polysemy of the Jean-Jacques Lebel Endowment Fund. It is organized around a spatial gesture at the heart of the Patio, responding to its volume and architecture: a scaffolded structure offering a vision under construction, in the making, supporting and confronting works from different eras and different continents.

Echoing this, the side galleries and a room on the first floor offer, through a series of tight spaces, more intimate moments of encounter. The main themes of the collection are to be found there, highlighting writers who were also visual artists such as Victor Hugo and Guillaume Apollinaire, poetic artists such as John Giorno; but also rebellious spirits, from Dada to the Beat Generation, from Fluxus to Polyphonix (Allan Kaprow, Robert Filliou), or artists who experienced borderline states such as Henri Michaux or Antonin Artaud. Archipelago gives pride of place to artists who question political, social and cultural norms, particularly through the representation of desire and sexuality (Otto Dix, George Grosz or Carolee Schneeman). Archipel carries the memory of revolutions and struggles, and pays homage to all those who tried to invent other conditions of existence, who transformed and broadened our view of the world, of things, of art, such as André Breton, Victor Brauner...

The ensemble can be freely traversed, going backwards and forwards through a strict chronology or geography, as one would push open the door of a mysterious labyrinth. The proposed reading, although based on the thread of history, also affirms a transversal reading of the art of the 20th and 21st centuries, with some incursions into the 19th century. In this way, previous influences and geographical exchanges are highlighted, creating steps aside in the face of a chronological progression. Outside the hierarchies, objects of use, belief or rite meet artistic productions and works of artists recognized by history and the art market. There are also works abandoned by the art market and/or relegated to the margins of the museum world. Thus the invisible become visible, the categories are voluntarily erased to make way for a collective whole.

The ensemble, like an archipelago of islets, constitutes an autonomous, nomadic entity, a laboratory for individual and collective arts, a crossroads of friendships, research, disciplines and mediums. It is a coherent whole, without hierarchy, multidisciplinary, open and in the making.

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Both of them. Writer-artists, artists-poets

Esther Ferrer, Europortrait, 2002, Photomontage, 78.5 x 63.5 cm, Jean-Jacques Lebel Endowment Fund © ADAGP, Paris, 2020

The endowment fund brings together a large number of works whose authors are known for their literary writings, even though they were also visual artists. Thus Victor Hugo or Guillaume Apollinaire produced a large number of drawings. The poetry of the material found (posters taken from the street, fragments of newspapers) is expressed as a new way of acting, creating, thinking, in artists such as Raymond Hains, Jacques Villeglé, François Dufrêne or Ghérasim Luca.

For many visual artists, poetry passes through the body and dialogues with forms; it engages rebellious minds, from Dada to the Beat Generation and Fluxus. Following in the footsteps of the Polyphonix festival, founded in 1979 by François Dufrêne, Christian Descamps and Jean-Jacques Lebel, artists such as John Giorno, Esther Ferrer, Bryon Gysin, Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux and Serge Pey, affirm a multidisciplinary mode of expression in which voice, body and performance occupy a central place. Polyphonix affirms the strength of the collective and of diversity.
(Room 25)

The gaze factory. Dada, surrealism, ...

The exhibition pays tribute to all those who have broadened our view of the world, of things, of art, foremost among them the Surrealists (André Breton, Victor Brauner, Max Ernst among others). They transformed found objects or objects created from existing materials into works of art, and brought about unexpected connections that shook up categories. Their eyes were interested in creations brought back from distant geographical areas.

Thus the Eurocentric viewpoint is questioned and the subjectivity of creators and viewers is affirmed in a form of democratization of the means of expression, surprise and wonder. André Breton reveals the great creative freedom at the heart of the compositions of the Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526-1593). The exceptional ensemble of exquisite corpses by Paul Éluard, Nusch Éluard, Valentine Hugo, Greta KnutsonTzara, Tristan Tzara, testifies to the collective dimension of the surrealist adventure, leaving aside the figure of the artist-author to highlight the creative force of the group.
(Patio side galleries)

Dreams, unconscious work, hallucinations, visions...

Henri Michaux, Composition, no date,
oil on cardboard, 27 x 19 cm,
Jean-Jacques Lebel Endowment Fund© ADAGP, Paris, 2020

The exhibition Archipelago devotes an important place to artists who experienced limit states like Henri Michaux, and/or who suffered oppression and "treatment" reserved for madness like Antonin Artaud.
It was thus under the experimental influence of a psychotropic drug, mescaline, that Henri Michaux produced a series of so-called "mescaline" drawings. The series of oil paintings extends the ensemble dedicated to the work of this poet who was also an artist, exploring the emergence of forms by various means of disengaging the will.

This collection also includes paintings and drawings by Augustin Lesage and Scottie Wilson, both self-taught artists. Questioning madness and its limits cannot be done without evoking the medical world, even in a time of prison, of internment. Thus Leonora Carrington (1917- 2011), who was forcibly interned in Spain during the Second World War, expressed through text and drawing the psychic effects of the horror she experienced.
(Patio side galleries)

 

The shocking Artaud  

BALTHUS, Portrait of Antonin Artaud, ca. 1935, print, 38.3 x 27.3 cm, Jean-Jacques Lebel Endowment Fund © Madame Harumi Klossowska de Rola

Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), an actor, essayist, critic, playwright and graphic artist, had an important influence on the artists of his generation as well as on those of his successors.
The exhibition presents a series of portraits which, through painting, collage or photography, mark out the artists' view of the singular journey of a personality with multiple expressions. Numerous photographs bear witness to the diversity of the roles he played on stage or in front of the camera, including the Around the end of the world by Eugene Deslaw, shot in 1930, when he was 34 years old.

During the Second World War, Artaud was interned in the Rodez hospital where he underwent fifty-three electroshock sessions. He was left with the terrible pain of a broken vertebra, untreated. Shortly before his death, he produced two more of the strongest, most provocative, most singular texts of his century, Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu (originally a radio reading) and Van Gogh le suicidé de la société.

Through the ensemble of works gathered within the endowment fund, Jean-Jacques Lebel, who has dedicated numerous projects to Antonin Artaud, including an installation and a series of exhibitions, affirms through his subjective gaze the depth of Artaud's work, in the face of his life and the violence of the psychiatric care inflicted on him.
(Patio side galleries)

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Revolts and revolutions

The exhibition carries the memory of revolutions and struggles. The Polish-born artist Maryan (1927- 1977), who was deported to Auschwitz, asserts a work of strong graphic design and a semi-abstract approach, while George Grosz's drawing expresses in a sharp manner the force imposed by power on the people.
(Patio side galleries)

Eros

Francis Picabia, Standing nude, 1949, ink on paper, 25.5 x 20 cm, Jean-Jacques Lebel endowment © ADAGP, Paris, 2020

Eroticism, the expression of sexuality and desire occupy an important place in the Jean-Jacques Lebel Endowment Fund. The works bear witness to what is at stake in this intimacy at the heart of society and the creative act.

It is through drawing and painting, essentially, that political brutality and, paradoxically, the silence of the world are expressed in an impulsive relationship to life and art. Thus George Grosz is better known for his political drawings than for his erotic works, made after his immigration to the United States, and which are rarely exhibited together.
The Eros section presents, among others, works by Hans Bellmer, Rudolf Schlichter, Roland Topor, Danielle Schirman.

Fluxus, Happenings, actions and performances

Mobilized by a dynamic asserting total freedom of thought and expression, Fluxus artists carried out numerous actions in the 1960s. With derision, humour and poetry, in a generous, democratic and uncomplicated sharing, they carried art everywhere, in everyday gestures as well as in current commercial exchanges. They blurred the tracks of what makes work, in a commercial relationship made accessible through the creation of multiples, as Robert Filliou did.

Thus Optimistic Box n°1, made in 1968, consists of a box containing a granite paving stone. Numerous happenings were organized in the United States and then in Europe by Yoko Ono and Allan Kaprow, to whom we owe this term.

In an unprecedented way, Archipelago presents for the first time a work by American artist Joe Jones, who joins the Jean-Jacques Lebel Endowment Fund in 2020: through a tinkered mechanism, a musical instrument plays autonomously, revealing a modest melody, full of poetry.
(Patio side galleries)

 

"Isabelle sculpts, auscultates, cares and exults" (Marcel Duchamp) Isabelle Waldberg  

Isabelle Waldberg, Construction, 1944-1948, sculpture in iron rods on a blackened rectangular wooden base, 54.4 x 34 x 37 cm, Jean-Jacques Lebel endowment © ADAGP, Paris, 2020

Against these groups, the exhibition shows works that are little known and neglected by the art market. Thus the remarkable work of Isabelle Waldberg, who in the 1930s took part in Georges Bataille's Acéphale group, followed Marcel Mauss' anthropology courses and then left France for New York, where she was part of the Surrealist group in exile, alongside André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Roberto Matta.

Supported, among others, by Duchamp and Hans Arp, Isabelle Waldberg has developed an essentially sculptural work. The exhibition brings together in an original way the ten or so works belonging to the Jean-Jacques Lebel Endowment Fund, including one of the rare sculptures made of fragile boxwood stems that have withstood the test of time.
(Patio side galleries)

 

Marcel Duchamp, unique and multiple

Marcel Duchamp, Bottle carrier (bottle dryer or hedgehog), circa 1921, galvanized iron, 50.5 cm x 32.5 cm, Jean-Jacques Lebel endowment © ADAGP, Paris, 2020

Marcel Duchamp occupies a special place in the Jean Jacques Lebel Endowment Fund with the presence of Bottle Holder of 1921 (to be distinguished from the replicas created by the gallery owner Arturo Schwarz in 1964) considered to be the oldest "ready- made" known.

The notion of ready-made challenges the notion of the work and its originality, placing the choice, and not just the artist's gesture, at the centre of the concept.

On the occasion ofArchipelagoJean-Jacques Lebel has created an original installation alongside the work of his friend Marcel Duchamp, whom he knew in New York, in exile with his parents during the Second World War, and whom he frequented until his death in Neuilly in 1968. By adding to the Bottle Rack, sacred to art history, a set of today's ready-mades, Lebel is re-examining the question of true and false, the unique and the multiple.

Exhibition Archipelago from 20 March to 31 May 2020 at the Nantes Museum of Art

General Commission : Sophie Lévy, Director and Curator of the Nantes Museum of Art.
Scientific Commission : Cécile Bargues, art historian and curator Katell Jaffrès, in charge of contemporary art at the Nantes Museum of Art
Scenography : Studio de création 47NORD, Olwen Gaucher & Régine Gaucher-Loaëc, members of the Milleplateaux collective, and Vincent Vernet designer scenographer associateé

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