In April 2019, Fondation CAB invites the emblematic and iconoclastic Swiss artist John Armleder (b. 1948 in Geneve) to conceive a unique exhibition. Armleder brings together pioneers of the Swiss art scene since the sixties, adhering to the epitome of primary abstraction and graphic geometry that originated in Switzerland in the second half of the century, with international artists working in the wake of this tradition, appropriating this heritage in their own, free and eclectic manner.
Rather than presenting these art practices as mere schematic examples of exercising abstraction in painting, Armleder takes us on a swirling journey through perception-gobbling geometrical confusions; 2D and 3D distortions and immersive trompe l’oeil installations in which the surrounding architecture becomes doubled, fragmented or disembodied.
Following the German Bauhaus experiments, Swiss Geometric Abstraction became a major contribution to 20th century art, with its sober and rational aesthetics based on harmony and equilibrium and technical perfection, culminating into distinct “Swiss” formal aesthetics. This tradition resonates throughout the entire exhibition.
Alentour takes shape as a single immersive installation. Like a mosaic of paintings and other wall-based works in which the conversations between the artists are as important as their discrete contributions: their eccentricities delightfully celebrate the pleasures of collaboration and friendship. The works of John Armleder, Stéphane Kropf andJohn Tremblaybear witness to this (Kropf and Tremblay having collaborated several times with Armleder, a great supporter of their work, over the past years), They will take up the central exhibition hall at Fondation CAB.
Since the 1980s, Armleder has been researching abstraction and notions of modernism through methodologies such as appropriation and citation. His “Furniture Sculptures”, in which found objects are mixed with abstract geometric or monochrome painting, stand critical towards the notion of ‘style’, and ironically distance themselves from the academism of traditional abstraction.
John Tremblay (b. 1966, Massachusetts) works with silkscreen and flattened scrap metal to exhibit circular forms, deriving from the straight, hard angles and rectangles that generally adorn Geometric Abstraction. The abstract painting of Stéphane Kropf(b. 1979, Lausanne) however, attracts the attention of the observer by playing with optical vibrations. The colours that make up his work don’t reveal their maximum effect until spectators perceive from up close, surrendering themselves entirely to meditative observation.
This informal meeting of friends and resonating artistic practices is amplified into a significant research thanks to the inclusion of other invited artists in the second part of the exhibition. Somewhat ten other artists hailing from the same tradition of geometric abstraction adorn the walls in an arbitrary, though unique composition.
Like Christian Flocquet(b. 1961, Geneva), whose geometric forms, binary associative colours and diagonal compositions make up monumental canvasses. Or Domenico Battista(b. 1946, Triggiano) who started his practic in Venezuela in the seventies, interpreting Op Art by infusing his paintings with vibrations, rhythm and dynamic energy flows that distort the gaze. Also Philippe Decrauzat (b. 1975, Lausanne) is fascinated by optical forms and researches their capacity. He infuses influences deriving from Op Art to manipulate the relationships between his works; the spaces in which they are situated; as well as the movement and perception of the spectator.
Sylvie Fleury(b. 1961, Geneva) appropriates ready-made desired consumer goods to reflect on the obsessive trail of seduction, temporary satisfaction, and resurgent desires. Provokingly, the tagline “Yes To All’ regularly surfaces in her body of work, which further deploys a slick and attractive visual language to seduce her – by consumerism conditioned – spectators. Echoing this preoccupation, Blair Thurman(b. 1961, New Orleans) issues standardised and simple forms from quotidian life to bridge the notion of optical perception with a reflection on how media is saturating our visual culture. He explores the correlation between representation and abstraction, borrowing from Pop Art and Minimalism and associating them with contemporary elements of entertainment and pop culture. Mai-Thu Perret(b. 1976, Geneva) equally draws on what thrives our contemporary capitalist society, by questioning the position of ritualistic practices within, hinting at the notion of utopia. She incorporates feminist literary references, and looks at Modernism, Arts and Crafts as well as Eastern cultures to construct her visual art practice, which consists of performance, sculpture, installation and applied arts.
In Alentour, John Armleder identifies and unravels many of the major threads that make up our contemporary aesthetic discourse. As a producer of performances, paintings, sculptures, installations and works that radically defy these classifications, he is constantly disrupting and questioning expectations on what art is and how it functions in society. Going through each of his projects, one conveys an honest respect for the energizing role of coincidence and chance in art, as it tends to do in life.
Opening reception: Tuesday April 23, 6 – 9PM
Exhibition dates: 24 April – 22 June 2019
Wednesday – Saturday: 12 – 6PM
Extended opening hours during Art Brussels 24 – 27 April
Wednesday – Saturday: 10AM – 6PM
Asides from curating Alentour, John Armleder equally contributes two pieces of his iconic and ongoing Furniture Sculptures series. Emblematic of his iconoclastic attitude, these ensembles combine abstract acrylic paintings with furniture design objects, more notably by Ubald Klug & Ueli Berger, and by Barber Osgerby. The works inherently bridge imposed notions of ‘good taste’, question the trivialization of art objects as interchangeable commodities, and take a closer look at art history through a self-reflexive act of appropriation. Aligning with the entirety of his diverse practice that is deeply rooted in Fluxus*, their ultimate interpretation lies in the eye and imagination of the beholder.
During his residency at Fondation CAB, John Tremblay has produced several works to be part of Alentour. His signature style squircle forms (square x circle) are a fresh derivation from the straight lings, hard angles and rectangles that generally adorn Geometric Abstraction. He works with silkscreen, flattened out scrap metal, as well as paneled wood, and considers his working process like that of drawing: drawing with a jigsaw in panels of wood and finishing it with the simplest paint. His works ooze a certain energy similar to that of microscopic cell formation, infusing the sharp and at times static rationalism of abstraction with vivid rhythm and swirling movement.
Focusing primarly on sight and perception, Stéphane Kropf’s canvasses direct our eyes through elliptical and rectangular patterns, submerge them in diffused and gradient colours, and leave them to rest in subtle blanks and open planes. Kropf mostly works with cyanotype on cotton or interference paint – which simultaneously reflects individual colours as well as their complementary hues, depending on the focal point from which the work is experienced. These optical vibrations and blurred compositions defy hierarchical focalisation within the composition, making photography and documentation extremely challenging, but rather take delight in their firsthand experience.
Mai-Thu Perret creates a multidisciplinary practice, being mostly inspired by feminist literary references, and looking at Modernism, Arts and Crafts as well as Eastern cultures. Much of her artistic output links back to her invented narrative The Crystal Frontier, which tells the story of a group of women who live autonomously according to their own laws to abandon the oppressive capitalist and patriarchal systems, in the remote desert of South-West New Mexico. Her works appear as invented relics produced by her protagonists, such as her ceramic wall reliefs. They hover as artefacts between geometric shapes and figurative forms to attribute to both the quotidian and spiritual realities of her universe. This constantly expanding fiction explores the functioning of personalities and objects in the cultural and social systems they inhabit, the nature of utopia and the decisive power of revolution and ritual.
The artistic practice of Olivier Mosset is inherently complex, despite its seemingly simple recurring ‘signature motif’. Exploring the formal rigor and the physical origins of painting, his art is direct and obvious, and suppresses figuration and subjectivity, as well as narrative and metaphorical references. More poignant is the question on what a painting can do and what we, as viewers, want it to perform. He was a member of the minimalist BMPT collective together with Daniel Buren, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni. Together they installed a practical system for painting, by using neutral and repetitive models that appear archetypical – as if devoid from any historical or geographical framework. For Mosset, this manifested in hundreds of almost identical oil paintings depicting a circle in the center. Consisting out of pure form and colour, the work aligns with conceptual abstraction by inviting for an open physical physical experience of surface, scale and pattern.
Christian Floquet attributes phenomenological qualities to his radical take on abstraction. Working in the wake of various movements that art history has brought about – such as Op Art, Concrete Art, as well as Minimalism – Floquet started his practice in Switzerland in the eighties, with a relentless motivation to create new forms and revisit these traditions with contemporary freshness. The simplicity, but also the obsession for the geometrical figure on its background, and more precisely for the tension field that occurs when these plans are folded with an optical illusionary effect, are constants in his work. Through bold motifs and binary colours on monumentally scaled canvasses, he attempts to fully engage his viewers, urging them to concentrate on the experience of looking in the here and now, and to be sincere with reality as it presents itself momentously.
ELAINE LUSTIG COHEN
Experimentation with abract forms and colour indeed occurred globally in the sixties, and is intrinsically linked with the development of graphic design, as illustrated through the work of American artist Elaine Lustig Cohen (1927-2016). She worked in New York as a graphic designer, but simultaneously maintained an artistic practice which she saw complimentary to this: ‘My life as an artist has been shaped by two passions: for graphic design created in the public sphere, on the one hand, and by the exploration of a related private vision in painting, on the other’.
Philippe Decrauzat mines the field of abstraction with the ambition of pushing perception beyond the bounds of an image to affect a spatial presence in his paintings and videos. This translates into pieces that cast the focus from the physical space in which the spectator stands, onto the work and back again. His multitude of seemingly endless lines run in synchronised movement, overlap or intertwine and appear as waves in motion, an effect heightened by the gradient colours in which they appear. Decrauzat combines the heritage of Conceptual art with the formalist tools of Op Art to manipulate the relationship between his artworks, the spaces in which they are situated, and the movement and perception of the spectator.
His film Solides begins by showing an architectural ornament: the 24-faced polyhedron that decorates André Breton’s tomb. After having been reproduced, a replica of this Stella Octangula is filmed using a 16mm black-white camera, capturing 24 images per second. The edges and planes of this volume structure and decompose the image, while echoing the rhythm of the video. The work adheres to theories and stories of mathematical objects, going from Plato’s solids to Durer’s Melencolia and Giacometti’s Cube.
Sylvie Fleury appropriates ready-made desired consumer goods to reflect on the obsessive trail of seduction, temporary satisfaction, and resurgent desires that make our neo-liberal society go round. Provokingly, the tagline “Yes To All’ regularly surfaces in her body of work, which further deploys a slick and attractive visual language to seduce her spectators. Her series of make-up boxes and other desirables obviously imitate existing forms and aesthetics from major fashion and beauty brands – playing with how her audience is saturated with and conditioned by this iconography of consumerism.
Blair Thurman bridges Alentour’s visual survey into abstraction with a socially engaged reflection on how our culture is saturated by media and representation. Taking a closer look at the art canon, he explores the correlation between representation and abstraction, lending from Pop Art and Minimalism, in a combination with contemporary elements derived from entertainment and pop culture. He specifically revisits the visual imagery that adorned his childhood growing up in the States: cars, American racing culture, slot car tracks, continuously present advertisement and random shapes found in daily life. He translates them into standardised and vaguely recognisable forms, and plays with word-games in his titles. His works render abstract geometries more accessible, by investigating the intersection between our cultural environment and our imagined fantasies. Thurman examines the memory and poetry embedded in the very act of looking.
Poul Gernes was a painter, sculptor and performer. Known for his bold use of colour and geometric forms, he celebrated a return to decorative arts by applying his incredibly graphic style to everyday objects and architecture. His practice portrays a strong belief in a generous form of art, open and accessible for everyone. He experimented extensively with the idea of tricking his viewers into seeing their surrounding realities anew, by producing many of his monumental works in public space. He adorned interiors and exteriors of public buildings with explosive colours planes, permeating quotidian public life with unexpected aesthetic experience.
The work of British artist Ralph Rumney further underlines the societal critique of the Situationist International that runs through some of the works in Alentour. This avant-garde group of artists, activists and intellectuals expanded on Marxists theories together with Guy Debord, to consider accelerating capitalism as a trigger for social dysfunction. SI’s conditions for art-making were : to be political, to engage with one’s environment (through the use of grafitti for example, or even performance). Rumney’s paintings reflect an interest in the process of mark making rather than the production of a finished work of art. Zen Buddhism and the collective unconscious as theorised by Carl Jung were central to his activity which was claimed to be beyond the ego, aimed at fostering a dialogue between the conscious and the subconscious, between the material and the spiritual.
Domenico Battista started his art practice in Venezuela in the wake of its 1970’s Op Art tradition, which distorts the perception of spaces and their usage. His canvases are induced with with vibrations, rhythm and overall dynamic energy. As a Swiss painter from Italian origin; the bright and bold colours so typical of South-American modernism heavily influenced his practice. Battista’s repetitive patterns in chromatic contrasts have a visually transformative effect, overlaying reality with a momentary optical filter.
Fabrice Gygi produces work that reflects on how authorities direct and navigate our movement by imposing spatial elements in public space. He works predominantly with structures composed of tarpaulin, steel and wood. These recreations of fences, tribunes and other kinds of street furniture appear alluring and desirable thanks to their repetitive and abstract forms, but incorporate aggressiveness and threat. Painted with a single stroke in multiple layers, his watercolours composed of horizontal and vertical lines reject the curve and repeat the same formal rules as shown in his sculptures. In a range of six colours, they testify to an extreme rigor of execution and the need for the artist to find an agreement between concentration and tension.