The Martial Raysse Retrospective at Le Centre Pompidou, Paris
14 May-22 September
Le Centre Pompidou’s summer retrospective opens with a quote from Raysse, "Today’s art is a rocket in space. Prisunic supermarkets are the museums of modern art", which defines the experience that awaits you. The provocative artist Martial Raysse was born to a family of ceramicists in 1936 and became obsessed with the beauty of plastic as he worked amongst the New Realists of Nice. He then moved to New York City to submerge himself in the Pop Art scene as illustrated by the electrifying explosion of colour in his work.
Le Centre Pompidou brings together 200 paintings, sculptures, films, photographs and drawings, which illustrate the diversity of his work. As you stroll around the exhibition it is immediately obvious that what makes his work so intriguing are the paradoxes. There is a stirring juxtaposition of his neon celebration of consumer society, which could have been found in Warhol’s factory, with a string of innovative works in fluorescent paint. These paintings seek to reflect the lessons of the Old Masters with the illustration of their theories of perspective, allegorical systems and symbolism.
Upon first entry you are confronted with a somewhat disheartening array of sculptures made from trash and the odd cliché neon sign, but when you move through past the ‘beach theatre’ and suddenly recognize the Italian Renaissance artist, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, it is somewhat endearing - even if she looks like she’s tumbled out of a rave. What follows are various anonymous portraits of stereotyped women in bold, block colour, which I don’t doubt that the likes of feminist art historian Griselda Pollock would jump at the chance to dissect. There are also many sober attempts at rather bland figurative drawing and sculpture, which would best be ignored.
However, we were utterly bewitched by Raysse’s somewhat hypnotic and totally bizarre films. One depicted the intriguingly slow process of a well-dressed gentleman decapitating a beautiful flower, before stripping it of leaves and taking a hammer to the flowerpot. The combination of blind destruction and the untainted beauty of nature's bounty is impactful. The possible meanings are endless and there is nothing like a good debate on the highs and lows of feminism to warm an afternoon. In short, I certainly wouldn’t travel to Paris to see Martial Raysse’s retrospective if you’re perfectly satisfied with the likes of Warhol, but it is certainly a fabulous use of an hour if you find yourself at a loss in the City of Lights.
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com