Those of us who missed this year’s Bastille Day fireworks celebration at the Eiffel Tower, had a couple of options: looping Charlez Aznavour songs, watching Alain Delon films or seeing Norton Museum’s French Connections.
Nothing wrong with the first two, but the third option can’t be found on YouTube.
The bite-size exhibit is drawn from the museum’s photography collection and consists mostly of black-and-white photographs depicting deserted Parisian streets, cafés and storefronts. A sleeping man on a park bench, an old lady emerging from a balcony, a street bookseller; all lovely pictures that risk turning an entire show gloomy, nostalgic and, in this case, predictably Parisian.
Which is why it was a relief to find among the 15 displayed works, some by contemporary artists Delphine and Élodie, who are collectively known as the Chevalme Sisters. Their pictures of two young male dancers – titled Santa Lazarus and Arouna – feature a curious embossing consisting of astronauts and monsters. The twins equate these peculiar hand-stenciled impressions to leaving fingerprints on their photographs.
The big prize for breaking the mold, however, goes to a modern portrait that takes on Édouard Manet’s Olympia. Commanding in size and wit, Portrait (Futago) inserts the Asian nude body of its creator, Yasumasa Morimura, as both the lounging courtesan and the black maid offering the gifted bouquet. The title of this 1988 piece makes more sense once we learn “Futago” translates to “twins” in Japanese.
Recreating Manet’s composition involved several self-photographs of Morimura playing each role as well as modeling elements of the original painting in clay. Somewhere between choosing his muse and applying that coat of acrylic paint that gives the work its painterly quality, he decided to take some liberties.
Notice how, unlike Manet’s black cat, this one raises its left paw like Japan’s beckoning cat, maneki-neko. Also, the kimono on which his pale body reclines is much more extravagant and showcases traditional Japanese motifs, such as the crane and sakura. Famous for his appropriations, the Japanese artist enjoys bending the notions of sexuality, race, ownership and gender. His is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the show.
I say Aznavour’s “Camarade” and Delon’s La Piscine can wait
At least until we get around seeing John Reuter Second Impressions: Polaroid Process to Singapore Infrared at the Photographic Centre through August 5. A photographer since the early 1970s, Reuter famously broke the rules when he began manipulating Polaroid film to achieve large-scale image transfers. The process requires the Polaroid negative be removed early and be placed on wet watercolor paper.
Reuter, who joined the Polaroid Corporation in 1978 as a senior photographer and headed the company’s large-format 20X24 studio, joined the ranks of artists pushing the limits of the 20X24 camera and the SX-70 model. His compositions incorporate paint and collage, and are often made up of multiple panels. The result is closer to a fresco painting than an actual photograph.
The guardians and angels on display look like spectrums, ghosts of the past. We can see the softening edges, the pale colors and even the peeling of the paint working toward a goal that we suspect has little to do with delighting the viewer and everything to do with pushing the media.
Some pieces, such as At the Dimming, appear more as a painting than a photograph. The oversized head of a woman emerges like an apparition, eyes closed, above a group of three female figures pointing toward a window where a mysterious shoulder and elbow, presumably male, can barely be spotted. Body parts are seen floating, as in a dream, toward a window. The woman, who bears a striking resemblance to Salvador Dali’s Gala, is left undisturbed.
In Spirits of Père La Chaise VI, from 1989, we find ourselves in the presence of a supreme being, a sort of dormant oracle with the face of a child. The youthfulness conveyed by the rosy cheeks and golden, mane-like hair competes with a sense of decay exuded through the washed-out colors and bare sections stripped of paint. A similar thing happens with Spirits of Père La Chaise, done a year earlier, where the collective effect of painting coming off and new colors coming through is that of a female statue that has taken a serious beating and now awaits, contemplative and all bruised up, for what’s next.
Other of Reuter’s spirits are darker, borderline demonic and, as with In the Window, mechanical. Because the spot peeling happens to land exactly in the right eye of the face shown, it has a robotic quality. This time, the suspended head of a woman stares at us from a square window, as if trapped in some sort of web.
If at one point, it feels like two artists are being shown, that’s because Reuter moved on to a completely different experiment starting in 2009. While on an artist’s residency in Singapore, the photographer began using infrared to capture the country’s landscapes. That brightness in his exotic landscapes, the overly dramatic skies and crisp whiteness of the lush vegetation are all characteristics of the technique that, ironically, captures what the human eye cannot. Infrared light falls outside our visible spectrum range.
Displayed on the outer walls of the gallery floor, the infrared prints featuring botanical gardens, fountains and water lilies, make for an unquestionably beautiful documentary of the country’s flora and fauna. Although they seem to glow at times, they are still not as compelling and enigmatic as Reuter’s transfers.
Here is another fact about the average human eye: It only rests on a work of art for a few seconds. We recommend giving both ongoing exhibits a lot more time.
French Connections: Photography runs through Aug. 13 at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. Admission is free. Call 561-832-5196 for more information or visit norton.org. John Reuter Second Impressions runs through Aug. 5 at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre in West Palm Beach. For more information, please call561.253.2600 or visit www.workshop.org or www.fotofusion.org.