Beat Generation

Paris, August 2016

As already mentioned, a weekend in Paris has spawned a new project (still need to curate and coalesce...), but it was also an opportunity to see a few different exhibitions.

Centre Pompidou was first, primarily for the exhibition on the Beat Generation, but also for a couple of others and a general wander through the permanent display too. Now, a problem that I have with many French exhibitions is their approach. I believe they assume you already know quite a bit about the subject before going in, rather than just going there to see what you know, or to fill a few gaps with experience. They don’t feed you information so that you can learn and understand. This was certainly the case with Beat Generation. Maybe if I could truly take the time, read, translate and digest everything, then perhaps yes, I would have walked away knowing. Perhaps even understanding. I knew a little, I recognised the long script from On the Road without having to read the label, I was pretty stoked to see some Robert Frank images from The Americans and was happy to discover Bernard Plossu... I still left feeling disappointed though.

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When I say disappointed, that is in terms of true knowledge gained. Bernard Plossu’s work is something I don’t believe I’d seen before, and it’s lovely! Apparently, he’s on show in Arles this year too, which means there has been in uplift in interest... Is it purely coincident that these things happen like they do? Plossu in Arles, in Paris. Beat Generation featuring Ginsberg, who also cropped up at the Velvet Underground exhibition a few days later, which featured an image or two by Nan Goldin. There was a photograph of Nan with Araki at his exhibition... Anyway, I digress.

Plossu, early colour film. Very grainy, Very nice. I nearly bought his book from the exhibition shop (always exit through the gift shop...), but figured it might be better to buy the English version for the essays... It’s now on my list of things to do - should’ve bought it there (but still not got my book case made properly - long story). Some of his work reminded me of Hido, I say it that way around as I’d seen Hido’s work first. Clearly the influences run the other way...

Robert Frank. Hmmm... I was thrilled to see this work on display, but also slightly bemused by it. Speaking to Dewald and Stephanie, their opinions were very positive. Mine however, I felt somewhat constrained by my experience looking through the book (a recent reprint I might add). For me, the images lacked the “road trip” vibe I can get from the book. I know, I know, there weren’t that many on display (a dozen or so?), but they were cherry picked. They didn’t have the stream of consciousness outpouring... something I would have thought should’ve been curated into such an exhibition, not out of it. They were also much larger, and this didn’t feel right to me. Size isn’t everything, or rather it is. It just doesn’t need to be big. Intimacy of experience is maybe more important to me. No, I shouldn’t have said “maybe”...

Also in Pompidou was Louis Stettner. Some really nice pics, but the blurb was maybe a bit pretentious in places. “I am interested in the quality of the air, of the snow, of the rain...” or “ I always felt I had to see and digest what was in front of me. The subject wasn’t the issue... It had to be real.” Ha, no. I’m probably just reading with a cynic’s eye, in the 21st century. The truth is though that these images are from a bygone age, and we’re still recycling the same old lines, same old clichés, perhaps now with even more of a dose of twaddle from a French PoMo philosopher thrown in. Maybe I’ve just grown disillusioned recently?

What else? Oh yeah, a Picasso here, a Koons there... Perhaps it all became a bit blasé? Seriously though, they have a good collection!

Another day, another gallery or two... The Maison Europeenne de la Photographie (MEP) was showing some stuff from Brazil - a shameless Olympics tie in? I like some of Vik Muniz’ work. There were quite a few on show, some really made me smile, theres less so (as might be expected). Not so keen on the Medusa in spag bog, preferred the Van Gogh stuff... There was also some Marcel Gautherot, Celso Brandao and Joaquim Paiva. Some of the s felt like it was travel photography by the book - a modernists approach. Again, of its time, same old clichés. In terms of quality, sure, they were beautiful objects. I do tire of this sort of thing very quickly though.

Gautherot

Off to Jeu de Paume... Guan Xiao had an intriguing three screen work Weather Forecast. This had me glued for the duration, and if I’d have been on my own would have watched it again (nothing to do with being sat down in a cooler place, I can assure you). Sensory overload of a type also experienced later at the Velvet Underground exhibition...


Guan Xiao - Weather Forecast (preview) from antennaspace on Vimeo.



In some ways, this is like the Internet. Advertising. Home video. News archives... 80s music. Trance. (Art of Noise??) Rock. Jazz (?) Do I also remember some classical music? I can’t remember now. I can’t remember many of the images either, apart from a snake being drawn with a brush... I remember the overload though, the strange compunction to watch. The difficulty in doing so in a way that lets you interpret what you’re seeing... Let it wash over, be forgotten. At least in the terms of specifics. I want to see this again.

Not so the other installation she had, How to disappear could be taken as a bit of a... not so much a cliché. Perhaps a cop out? Not sure. Words scroll along the wall (French and English) describing how the artist was going to make herself disappear. It all goes black. And then “there, I did it.” Hmmm.

Also in the JdP was Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joriege. A number of works, the first of which left me confused. Something to do with hoax e-mails and sculpture. I think I understood where the lines drawn on the walls were coming from, but not really. I thought the stuff they did about the Middle East was far more interesting though. The Lebanese Rocket Society... I very much liked the presentation here, numerous copies of a full length photo of a rocket, folded in such a way that the pieces come together to form a photo of a rocket. Sounds daft, but it makes sense when you see it. Photographs of people faded in the sun, details being drawn back into them, photographs of undeveloped film canisters with descriptions of what’s on them (I liked this one - a sort of Schrodinger’s cat thing - you can believe that there’s something on there, but the only way to prove it is to develop the film. If you do that you will prove the fact but destroy the myth, the fabricated version of the images that I’ve constructed in my mind... Love it on so many levels). Postcards from Beirut...

Josef Sudek was in there too. Very dark images, some taken during the war in the curfew - he developed a very pictorialist style of vision. Dated, yes, but some of the images were so dreamy and provocative. Not something I would want to spend a lot of time with, but well worth seeing.

Shifting Boundaries at the Foundation Calouste Gulbenkian... my least favourite of the exhibitions, worth seeing though if only to ask questions about some the framing choices. No, that’s unfair. There was more to it than that, but it was the end of a long and hot day (being a Lancashire lad, 25C is hot, and it was much hotter than that in Paris), I had blisters forming on my little toe that still haven’t healed and I needed a sit down and have a drink... Oh, and they were closing soon.

Sunday morning was Araki. I’m a HUGE fan of Japanese photography, and whilst Araki isn’t my stand out favourite, this was a highlight in terms of the weekend’s exhibitions. I’ll write something about this and the ~Velvet Underground exhibition in the coming days...
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