I bumped into this mini-installation by Rene Magritte at the surrealist exhibition at Centre Pompidou a few days ago.
I knew Magritte loved to play with meanings and visuals.
I’ve been using Magritte’s “This is not a pipe” for ages to harass friends (and an ocassional foe) with the question, “What is wrong here?” The answer, in the majority of cases, was “the text is wrong”.
This is a fast proof that the visual channel is the boss for most of us.
Thinking about letters and meanings kicks in later, after the brain has already registered and catalogued the image as a “pipe”. So when the rational brain finally catches up, it decides that there’s something wrong with the letters. The rational meaning of the inscription comes to the peace conference well after the perfect image of a pipe has climbed up the stage and set out its own agenda.
But in the Cheese installation, Magritte runs a different game.
This is “A la main du diable” (Devil’s Hand) by Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, a French artist who farms popular culture with the plough of surrealism. In simple kitchen terms, he is a blender of anything pop and everything surreal.
Given the density of crowds this work was drawing at a recent surrealist exhibition in Paris, it might be seen as the ultimate recipe for a successful show. I spent some time in front of it as well. It is impactful, at least when you see it for the first time. A huge red hand, hanging in the darkened air of a gallery can hardly leave anyone indifferent.
So, get your bowls and knives out on the kitchen table: we’ll be cooking some art now!
Four easy steps to fix a tasty successful show:
Step 1. Choose your foundation: find something (a myth, story, or film) that intellectuals believe is an important part of your country’s cultural heritage (doesn’t matter if it is good or bad heritage) to build your own story on
Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux seems to have taken the eponymous French movie of 1942, that featured the left hand of the devil as the talisman that was bringing luck to the main character (until its owner showed up, of course). The movie’s aesthetics was built around huge shadows, dramatised hand symbols, etc. I don’t know why it is the right hand both in the poster and the exhibit.
Step 2. Choose your main ingredients: three or more images from popular culture in such a way that…
one of them is provocatively sexy
one of them is about violence (sex-related, preferably)
Vincent Sellaer (c 1500 – 1589) Judith with the Head of Holofernes
one of them is about evil that lurks behind a cheerful mask (or good that is hidden behind grisly appearance)
Step 3. Throw to the pot a good measure of surrealism (eggs, tails, animal parts growing on human bodies, enlarged organs, etc.).
It is great to bake together something unashamedly pop, semi-intellectual pop, and a bit of really hardcore intellectualism. And do not forget the titties!
You may want to know how to recognise if something is “intellectual”. When it comes to people we instinctively know who is an intellectual and who’s not (intellectuals use multi-syllable words at least once per sentence, and know that Ed Ruscha is pronounced as “roo-shay”). The problem is that besides doing or loving intellectual stuff intellectual people also do a lot of down-to-earth things. How do you tell then if something is intellectual?!
Easy. It is usually something that intellectual people find more interesting doing than having sex.
Step 4. Once you’ve secured a prominent place for the titties, start moralizing!
Add a spoonful of something religious, pious, or considered 100% moral by the society. Piling up symbols together helps to create baffling complexity (highly valued by Dali admirers) that many spectators take for cleverness. This trick is also used by some Swiss watchmakers, who sell you a transparent watch with a zillion moving parts to make you feel an idiot in mechanics each time you look at your own wrist. The only thing these watches are not good at, is actually telling time. It is more efficient to check it on the phone, rather than searching for the minute and hour hands amidst the chaos of moving parts. Dali was often doing the same, by the way, for identical marketing purposes.
The work of art is almost complete. You might want to leave a few open-ends, like introducing the figure of a cowboy, or referencing de Chirico’s mannequins. This can help create some room for spectators’ individual interpretation. Art-house movie directors are called geniuses for doing it (they call it loose ends of the plot).
The last, but not least. Make it larger than life. The larger, the better.
Center Pompidou believes this is art worthy of being shown together with Picasso, Miro, Max Ernst, Duchamp, and Giacometti.
What do YOU think? I am seriously interested. If you have no time to write a comment, just VOTE!
*) on the toilet issue: it is a shame for the gallery, and a disaster for its visitors. I wrote about it here.
He’s been called the last dadaist, the new surrealist, a penis-obsessed maniac and the most scary artist whose art may give spectators nightmares for years after seeing his shows.
He is 30, French, extraordinarily talented and – what I find most important about him – he is not morbidly serious about himself.
Even when he creates surreal death (Desperanzo project) he stays playful:
Well, maybe not there. But here the playfulness is obvious:
Yesterday, as I was walking through a surrealist exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, I was NOT surprised to see a lot of his works (and many of the ticket-selling penis-related projects) almost immediately after the first two halls with works by the founding fathers of surrealism.
Here they are, all of them crazy guys, greeting exhibition’s visitors at the entrance. I wonder if you can put names to their faces, or rather their names to these faces. Most people – and a lot of people from the art world – can’t. And this is not about not knowing names. It is about not connecting rational knowledge of names and works under those names to real people. To remember someone’s face (unless it is very unusual) we need to connect emotionally, don’t we?
Which is further proven by the exceptions: Picasso and Dali. They are resonating with people’s feelings, not just talking to them at the rational level.
The exhibition is packed with surrealist exhibits of sex and violence.
Cindy Sheman (above) is not the worst.
And of course healthy people get crowded around works with lighthearted take on sexuality: the space in front of Theo’s works is always packed. He is not simply attaching penises to everything that comes across his way.
There is a subtle message behind most of his genitalia endowed ceramics. I am not going to spoil the fun now. Just have a smile while looking at it.
This gallery can help you get a bit closer to some of the items:
Enjoying the cocktail:
The happy couple:
I encourage all my readers to visit his website, and enjoy his talent.
Make sure you remember his face:
He was not born just to be wild. He may become the new headmaster of surrealism.
Not that I am wishing his head to start off a new row in the exhibit gracing at the entrance. I mean, I wish the guy a long life full of new projects.
P.S. Oh, and one thing I believe is important. The manager of Centre Georges Pompidou shall be fired. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a toilet / restroom/ WC in such a horrendous state as in this building. Half of cabins are barricaded by cleaning buckets because they’re out of order. The other half is overflowing with sewage because of clogging. The smell! The hygiene! It should be a national disgrace for France that one of its finest museums has been brought to this state of despair. The theatre begins at the cloackroom.