Sometimes in life you just have to be honest. So here goes, intellectually I left the Fondation Van Gogh’s current exhibition which runs until the end of April, completely confused.
The stated purpose of the Fondation Van Gogh is to showcase the master’s artistic heritage, while also asking questions about the resonance of his work in the world today. And so we have a single Van Gogh painting – the self portrait with pipe and straw hat – set in the middle of an exhibition by two modern artists.
Firstly there is Yan Pei Ming, a Chinese artist who fled to France in the 1980s. The link between Pei Ming and Van Gogh is rather tenuously expressed to be through the use of colour. Pei Ming is an artist who has historically worked in black and white, and in this exhibition entitled the Night of Colour he subtly introduces new shades into his palette, a hint of pink in a painting of the dying Pope, a dash of colour in a shadowy ship peopled with refugees, escaping a police search boat.
Despite the title Night of Colour what strikes about the collection of paintings is their somberness and size. The canvasses are enormous.
Here’s one attempt by the museum to explain the link to Van Gogh:
Just as Arles – from the narrowness of the artist’s bedroom to the infinite breath of the starry night sky – constituted the matrix of an exceptional moment for Vincent Van Gogh, so in the visual narratives by Yan Pei Ming the (hi)story painter, it is the world itself, brought so close by the circulation of information.
Maybe a salient point was lost in the translation.
Onto the second artist on display – Bertrand Lavier, a man who trumpets the ‘Van Gogh touch’ in his works of arts, and who is responsible for the design of the striking gates to the Fondation’s courtyard, embossed with Van Gogh’s enlarged signature. Colour abounds in Lavier’s work, as do artistic jokes such as painting part of a Citreon Picasso, in Yves Klein blue, thus superimposing four artists on the body of a car – Picasso, Klein, the Citreon designer and Lavier himself.
The central work of the exhibition Van Gogh’s self portrait is set next to a blurred reflection of the portrait in a mirror by Lavier.
The museum’s choice of phrase to explain this is revealing:
It is not wrong to say that Van Gogh’s touch is reflected in Lavier’s metatouch, the authentic in the citation, the original in the appropriation.
It might not be wrong but is it right?
And here in lies the Fondation’s problem, its stated purpose, blessed by no less than President Hollande is to make such links, and yet setting a tiny self portrait by Van Gogh in the midst of rooms full of bloated modern art, seems absurd. According to the Fondation the artistic universe is deemed to spiral outwards from this miniature. Its like the Big Bang theory of creation with meta-narratives rather than mathematical equations.
I’m sure it all makes sense to some people, but not me. For an enjoyable but incoherent artistic experience visit the Fondation Van Gogh until 26 April.
For more information on Van Gogh and the Fondation click here
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