Context counts in the viewing of art. Curators in two Paris venues, the Palais de Tokyo and the Grand Palais have asked us to reconsider a common context for a few practices usually kept apart.
Among the exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo are two shows that connect. One revolves around Raymond Roussel, a séminal figure to the Dada movement and to contemporary artists in the lineage. Another is a survey of the Venezuelan kinetic artist Julio le Parc. These are two very different shows in appearance, le Parc is technical and machined, physically interactive and optically based. The Roussel respondents are visually obtuse and often obscure in a literary way.
From another angle the visual experience of le Parc is a deeply romantic psychedelia with hypnotic effect, while the best of Roussel’s correspondents carry their master’s logical clarity into a puzzling but deductive visual experience.
Roussel’s major piece of writing: New Impressions of Africa, took fifteen years to finish. He began it as a soldier in 1917, it’s strange to think that he might have been writing while waiting in the northern European trenches such lines as: Though the sun had passed its zenith, the heat remained stifling in that region of equatorial Africa, and we all sweltered in the sultry atmosphere that no breeze came to relieve (translation Mark Ford). It’s illustrated in the style of a fantasy Jules Verne but statements are wrapped and extended by brackets to create densely packed meanings in need of cryptographic reading.
Le Parc is an important figure in op and kinetic art, for the most part he has worked in France, Paris curators seem bent on bringing the lineage of this movement back to France by including within it a more complex aesthetic heritage than is normally associated with it. He is also a featured artist in a huge survey of art concerned with light and space at the Grand Palais.
Dynamo takes as it’s departure point forms of environmental expansion that modern art developed from 1913 onwards to explode the pictorial into the space of the viewer.
I usually think of kinetic art as a last gasp of utopian psychedelia, but here the generalized, neutral forms of modernism such as the cloud, the circle, stripes, and the grid are proposed as forms with underlying emotional or metaphysical impact, the physical swarm of a cloud of marks for example is associated with the abyss in the curatorial theme of this show.
I was particularly interested in the inclusion of Spring Cool from 1962 a major work by Kenneth Noland, an important artist often sidelined these days along with other American Colour Field painters.
His circle paintings in particular create a complex bridge between a machined and an organic, improvised logic. This painting has an emotional impact insofar as it is a kind of mechanically fixed memory of an atmospheric space where colour is the primary form of allusion.
It was striking to see such an array of mechanical and geometric work stemming from early modernist interest in the fourth dimension, machines working towards a transcendent emotional impact.
For the most part the kinetic and more purely optical work presents spectacles that the viewer can take or leave depending on the level of fatigue induced by the scale of the show. However with works that offer a distillation of optics, scale and aesthetic complexity one is locked into a coexistence in which visual depth results from a two way interaction.