The announcement card image to John Armleder’s and Jean Carzou’s exhibition at Galerie Richard in Chelsea offers an entry into one way of thinking about Armleder’s first appearance in a local commercial gallery in many years. In the photograph, Armleder stands alone, arms folded in a cluttered space I assume to be at the gallery’s Paris address. He is surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of a vanishing style of doing business in the form of books, magazines, catalogues, portfolios and other back office art ephemera. Historic memory visualized is a melancholic place to be; relegated to a purgatorial halfway point between the treasured collectable and the dumpster we behold, in print, the deservedly forgotten, neglected,provincial, or momentary. Here the lavish coffee-table book of a once major continental art star shares the table with obscure publications financed by the advertising of long closed galleries with their rosters of mysterious last names. This archive represents a graveyard for one-hit wonder careers and those whose mention in an article, or even a review, was as good as it ever got.
Curated by Cecile Cale, Armleder’s recent abstract paintings are paired and grouped with a selection of gouaches and pastels of Jean Carzou who is also represented by the gallery. Carzou is unknown here, but in 1955 was considered one the ‘ten most important artists of his generation’ according to ‘Connaissance des Arts’ magazine. He designed sets for the ParisOpera and Comedie Francais and while his reputation never crossed the Atlantic (or channel)he did not starve. The pictures chosen to share the wall with Armleder are silhouetted formations in the art deco style on black background in black mattes with wide black frames, all immediately decadent. Armleder’s paintings are largish studio procedurals made by manipulating thick puddles of centrally poured paint while including a few personal flourishes along with the artist’s ‘signature’ glitter. A blister of paint opens and ‘bleeds’ down the front of ‘Palpuogna’ (2012) and little skulls embedded into the parched surface add to this desert drama. The handmade incident adds a queasy level of sincerity to these otherwise tactical confections. Personal touches differentiate them from the carnivalesque spin-art of Damien Hirst and references 70’s “transavantgarde”-Enzo Cucchi type mysticism. These mashups of Ab-Ex splatter, Otto Piene,and Clement Greenberg’s last hope, the painting by-the-acre Jules Olitski are more engaging in the gallery than they are visited online. ‘Truly bad art is always sincere’ noted the rarely quoted conservative critic Robert Hughes. Sincere or not, any of Armleder’s works would melt into the background at the appropriate booth at Basel or look equally at home at a fledging art district’s earnest ‘open studio’ tour. The ambient rhyming and correspondence between things,Armleder’s desired effect, is superficial but apparent throughout the installation. The application of cosmic glitter and some distinct floral passages echo the half moon slivers or translucent petals of Carzou’s delicate renderings. Also included is an intricate model of Carzou’s proposal for the RTL Radio Station which was rejected in favor for Victor Vasarely’s project. It is ornate and fantastic in a 60’s ‘left bank’ way and can be found in the background of the invite photo. Other stylistic relationships exist between these two seemingly unrelated artists in the form of Armleder’s early constructivist pen and ink drawings shown at Pat Hearn’s chic East Village gallery. Both artists are/were skilled decorators, one for the stage, the other for the gallery.
Armleder’s Duchampian indifference to taste and his professed celebration of ‘minor’ artists resonates less than other more anxious undercurrents made explicit in the invite image.Is Armleder (or Cale) advantageously resurrecting Carzou in the curatorial manner Robert Gober did Charles Burchfield in 2009? I don’t think so. I choose to read the show as a comparative demonstration of the historic fluidity of style and the fragile balance of the ‘career’ with the random judgement of the encounter. As an orchestrator of readymades Armleder understands that art context’s sharpens the aura and shifts the monetary value of whatever content is introduced into it. In even mid-level commercial settings the art on display is submitted to the scrutiny of a uniformed public in ‘full on’ appraisal/connoisseurship mode.Directly linked by style to the 1930’s Carzou’s pictures appear more of their time and in this more ‘successful’ than Armleder’s intentional pastiches that drift above several non-representational movements; Greenberg’s ‘post-painterly abstraction’ moment was brief while the Italian ‘transavantgarde’ contributed to the hype that defined the 80’s and today’s art market. Galerie Richard serves the project as a mercantile framework containing the art;relatively new to Chelsea, its program states a preference towards art in some relation to technology or science, a tough sell in a manic, speculative climate where people don’t want to think about anything beyond who else is buying. Armleder’s bracketing of his own paintings with Carzou’s once fashionable pictures expands beyond the wall back into the gallery’s past (as illustrated by the invite) and unforeseeable future. I appreciate the chance being taken here, as if Armleder, the notable global artist, and Carzou, a figure known only by scholars andFrancophiles, could exchange places in some parallel art world dimension and never are able to return to their respective positions in this or any history. The wall or lobby of the high end ‘glassbox’ residence beckons most contemporary art these days. Whose art out of this show will be chosen for internment here and whose would go back into the back room archive?
Tim Maul 06/12/14