In ‘Le Rêve d’être artiste’, the exhibition curated by Bruno Giveau, Delphine Rousseau and Regis Contetin at the Palais de Beaux Arts in Lille, allegedly explores the issue of becoming artist when it actually discusses the way art as a career create specific conditions for artistic creation. The show is spatially organised as a semircircular fan with several sections dedicated to different approaches to the topic addressed. At the center of the space and upon arrival there is a disproportionately large screen projecting ‘Everyone is an artist, baby’ by Jay Z with the participation of Marina Abramovic which is inspired in her ‘The Artist is Present’. It is not clear and maybe it shouldn’t be, what the curators tried to do with this. Do they claim, as the title suggests, that anyone could be an artist? Is Jay Z an example of the democratic access to art? A curatorial text links Jay Z’s intention to a subversion of the traditional artistic hierarchies ‘or anyother form of segregation’ which, they hope, are no long accepted. Nothing is suggested about the commodification that comes when supposedly decolonised figures such as the racialised Jay Z become icons of artistic careerism and mainstream entertainment. Something similar but more subtle occurs with the inclusion of Marina Abramovic whose performances displace affect into emotion in an attempt to become a celebrity.
As stated before, the show is structured in chapters. The first one is dedicated to a survey of artists’ signatures ranging from Durer’s monogram to the way Gysebrechts in the Flemish Early Modern period used to hide his signature in different spaces of his illusionistic still lives. Needless to say that the hand of the artist in Durer functioned as a signature in itself while the Flemish needed his signature to be seen since his work was so mimetic that it could not be recognised through style, design or brushwork. In one of his antiquarianists capricci packed with classical ruins, Hubert Robert places his signature at the base of one of the classical scultpures claiming a place in the lineage of the canon of Western art. His signature appropriates the works of others in order to negotiate his own place. A piece by Seurat who didn’t need to be signed because his puntillism was a signature in itself is placed alongside Jusepa de Ribera who signed his painting as a tatoo on the top of the skull held by the depicted hermit saint. It could be said that this first chapter is dedicated to the assertion of identity in the oscillation between signature and style.
The second chapter focusses on those institutions which allowed artists to create a space of autonomy from state patronage. A self portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud testifies of the creation of the Academie Royal in Paris. Paul Delaroche’s preparatory exercises for his hemicycle for the Ecole de Beaux Arts de Paris is an example of the institutionalisation of art as an autonomous discipline although it can hardly be defined as a space for creative autonomy in the midst of the Imperial Just Milieu. Henri Fantin Latour’s ‘Un atelier su Batignolles’ is a group portrait with the big names of the time. The wonderful portrait of legendary art dealer Ambroise Vollard by Pierre Bonnard is first and foremost a great opportunity to see it and is proof of the shift from state patronage to the emergence of a bourgeois art market which seems to be a particularly relevant point for the curators. This, of course ends, with Alfred Coumes’s portrait of Peggy Guggenheim as the glorified patron of the modern age. The inclusion, however, of cubist Marie Laurencin and her group portrait of Apollinaire and his friends refers to the place of the art critic a facilitator of artistic autonomy. The situation has changed however from then and now so the curators decided to include a group of artists-puppets by Philippe Parreno and Rikrit Tiravanija as a critical actualisation of the fossilised optimisms that we can see in Fantin Lantour and in the Delaroche. Something similar happens with Damien Hirst’s portrait of Larry Gagosian as a skull in diamonds. Hirst imposes his own identity-cum-trade mark onto the most succesful commercial gallerist in the world who is hence left unrecognisable.
Chapter three is dedicated to the notion of the lonely ‘genius’ as an ideological construction aimed at confusing art with theological creation. Here Durer’s Melancholia represents the way the artists gets close to the abyss when trying to replace God. Another works in this chapter represent art historical topoi of artistic intimacy with absolute power as with Apelles and Campaspe or Leonardo and Francis I. After that there is a chapter dedicated to artists and wealth -and, of course, poverty- with Thomas Struth’s astonishinly cold and uncomfortable portrait of his friend Gerhard Richter and his family in their heyday.
The artworks included in the show are undoubtedly exquisite and the way the shifting curatorial points of view mirror the fan-shaped floor plan is clear and sophisticated. Having said this, this show is ideologically tricky for it continually confuses ‘artistic autonomy’ with ‘carreerism’ and ‘the capitalist market’. The Jay Z video was, in my opinion, a huge curatorial mistake for it sets the tone for this confusion unless that melancholic reality is what the curators wanted to convey. J A T