arts and cultures

Joana Vasconcelos: Exaggerating to invent

The art centre of the Var Department dedicates all of its spaces to the internationally renowned artist Joana Vasconcelos. After the Château de Versailles in 2012, the Portuguese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013, the Palazzo Grassi in 2015 and the Guggenheim in Bilbao from 30 June, it is in Toulon that the artist of Portuguese origin has chosen to install her astonishing creations, including a brand new "Valquíria" produced specifically for the exhibition, until 18 November 2018.
Joana Vasconcelos works with everyday objects and Portuguese craft traditions such as tiles, ceramics, fabric, embroidery and crochet, with sumptuous explosions of colours and materials. Starting from ingenious operations of displacement, which may have evoked the ready-made and the practices of the New Realism, the artist offers a complicit, but also critical vision of contemporary society. She evokes, always with distancing, the status of women or national identity.
For several years now, the Hôtel Départemental des Arts, art centre of the Var (HDA Var) has wanted to build an artistic reflection on the changes in contemporary society. Thus, the question of the relationship between modernity and identity has mobilised the attention and action of the art centre in a particular way.
Through the work of the draftsman Moebius, the HDA Var has sought to explore the relationship of modern man with metaphysics; thanks to the photographic collection of Florence and Damien Bachelot he has been able to approach the complexity of the intimacy we maintain with the contemporary city. For his part, Alain Fleischer has confronted us with the profound changes in the status of the image in today's societies.
Joana Vasconcelos plunges us, like few artists today, into the intertwining of modernity and tradition, mythology and materialism, craftsmanship and art. It is an understatement to say that femininity is at the centre of her work. Few works escape her ironic and squeaky-filled gaze on the place of women in the contemporary world.
If the valkyries, which populate his creations, refer us to the mythology of the warrior woman, "Fashion Victims" or "Style for Your Hair" take a more distanced view, far from stereotypes or normative discourse.
Likewise, the intimate dialogue between Portuguese craftsmanship, to which the artist pays a permanent tribute, and art finally seems to offer a fruitful path to the difficult confrontation between these two worlds, so often opposed and here reconciled.
Detail of the new Valkyrie, © jcLett

But under this first approach, the violence of the human condition and the ambiguity of our relationship to animality quickly emerge. At the same time, Joana Vasconcelos questions the vacuity of our attempts to protect ourselves from the violence of which we ourselves are the authors.
Thus, from a baroque and spectacular angle, Joana Vasconcelos offers us a complex approach to man in the contemporary world. She also traces the path of an alternative to smoothing both aesthetics and lifestyles.
By calling on Jean François Chougnet, with whom Joana Vasconcelos has often collaborated, both at the Venice Biennale and at the Château de Versailles, the HDA Var wished to offer the viewpoint of a demanding and complicit curator who is a long term companion.
In addition, in order to present this exceptional work to the young people of the Var, the Var Department and the National Education Department have been making an educational trunk created by Joana Vasconcelos available to the schools for more than a year. This initiative has thus enabled several hundred children to approach the artist's work and thus prepare their visit to the HDA Var. There are few occasions in the life of a museum institution to be able to prepare the reception of an exhibition in such conditions.
This exhibition was thus an exemplary part of both the HDA Var's artistic project and the Department's cultural policy.

"Exaggerate to invent"

The exhibition plunges the visitor into the universe of this immense artist who never ceases to question, not without irony and fantasy, the feminine, in its social and political dimension. The curator explains: "The subtitle "Exaggerating to invent" is a kind of manifesto: it is through the exaggeration of forms that today's art regains its inventiveness. The nature of Joana Vasconcelos' creative process is based on the appropriation, de-contextualization and subversion of pre-existing objects. Her sculptures and installations, revealing a true sense of proportion and colour, defy the weight of everyday life. "
For this new proposal, the artist has chosen to invade the spaces with a new "Valquíria" [Valkyrie], produced by the HDA Var. This new piece is part of the series of Valquirias that Joana Vasconcelos has developed in recent years, which take the form of proliferating textile creatures, such as the one discovered in 2016 at the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum in Denmark.
The exhibition in Toulon will also present more than twenty important works designed by the artist in recent years, including a selection of iconic works such as those made from animal models by the great Portuguese artist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, covered in crochet. Textile creations are also in the spotlight with Big Booby, as well as pieces incorporating azulejos, those Portuguese earthenware tiles that adorn palaces and houses, and tiles from the traditional Viúva Lamego factory.
"Neoblanc", 2004, metal and PVC clothes dryer, electrical system, electrical outlets, night lights, fluorescent lamps. Collection of the artist © Unidade Infinita Projectos - ADAGP, Paris 2018.

The exhibition will return to older pieces that were rarely presented in recent major exhibitions devoted to the artist, such as Bundex Car (2002), Neoblanc (2002), Euro-Visão [Euro-vision] (2005) and Passerelle (2006) with its squeaky irony. A new version of an old piece Fashion Victim will also be produced for the HDA Var.
What they all have in common is that they offer the visitor the possibility of looking at everyday life in a different way and thus transcending it, as each of them invites the visitor to plunge into an alternative world, whether it is disturbing, playful or enchanted.
Joana Vasconcelos, biographical notes 
Joana Vasconcelos (born in Paris in 1971) lives and works in Lisbon. She has been exhibiting regularly since the mid-1990s. Noted for her participation in the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005, with the Noiva (the bride), a large five-metre chandelier made of sanitary tampons, she has since then presented her work internationally. Her first retrospective was held in 2010 at the Museu Coleção Berardo in Lisbon. Recent invitations have included the group exhibition The World Belongs to You at Palazzo Grassi/Fondation François Pinault in Venice (2011) and her project Trafaria Praia for the Portuguese Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013).
In France, she is the first woman invited to imagine an exhibition at the Château de Versailles from June 19 to September 30, 2012, succeeding Jeff Koons, Xavier Veilhan, and Takashi Murakami.
She has had solo exhibitions in institutions such as ARoS in Aarhus, Denmark (2016), Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (2015), Waddesdon Manor - The Rothschild Foundation, Buckinghamshire, UK (2015), Manchester Art Gallery (2014), Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2013), Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, Lisbon (2013). From June 29 to November 11, 2018, she presents a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (I'm your mirror), as well as an exhibition from October 2018 at the Musée d'art moderne et contemporain in Strasbourg (I want to break free).
His work is preserved by numerous public and private collections, including in France the Domaine Pommery, the FRAC Bourgogne, the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation and the Pinault Collection. Works by the artist have been commissioned for the public space, particularly in Nice (Ferber station) and Paris (Porte de Clignancourt), in both cases as part of the extension of the tramway lines, and will be completed in 2018.
Curator: Jean-François Chougnet
Exhibition Joana Vasconcelos at the Hôtel départemental des Arts du Var - 236 Boulevard Maréchal Leclerc - 83000 - Toulon - Until November 18th

Header photo : " Aquarela ", 2014, Azulejos Viùva Lamego, handmade wool crochet, ornaments, polyester, MDF, iron, artist's collection © Unidade Infinita Projectos - ADAGP, Paris 2018.

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