2010 SECAC: The Visual Arts in France after 1964?

While France greatly contributed to the development of Modern art, she seems to have hardly left her mark on Contemporary art. With the exception of Jean Dubuffet’s hautes pâtes, Yves Klein’s Anthropometries, Nouveaux Réalistes’ assemblages, International Situationist’s détournements, and Daniel Buren’s institutional critique, the visual arts created in France in the second half of the 20th century have received little attention. It is usually believed that Paris lost its avant-garde edge during the Second World War and that, after Robert Rauschenberg’s victory at the Venice Biennale of 1964, hardly anything worth remembering happened in the French visual arts. But is this true?

Taking on France’s alleged artistic exhaustion, this panel seeks to examine the country’s eventual contribution to contemporary art. This panel considers multiple aspects of the visual arts in France since the 1960s (artist, group, medium, concept and events).


Chairs:  Catherine Dossin, Purdue University and Stéphanie Jeanjean, The Graduate Center, CUNY


Constructing Instability: From Perceptual to Institutional Critique in the “GRAV’s Journée dans les rues”
Lily Woodruff, Northwestern University, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociale

In 1966, the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV) mounted a day-long series of public demonstrations of their interactive Op and kinetic works in the streets of Paris. As part of this Journée dans les rues the artists distributed a questionnaire asking their spectator/participants, “You are perhaps a member of what one calls the greater public. Could you respond to several questions in order to help define the relationship between art and the greater public?” This paper highlights the critical engagement of sociological interdisciplinarity within the GRAV’s otherwise purely visual, phenomenological research to argue for the importance of Op and kinetic art to the history of institutional critique and relational aesthetics.


The Installations of Support(s)-Surface(s): Focal Dispersion in a Collaborative Field
Rosemary O’Neill, Parsons The New School for Design

Support(s)-Surface(s) was a short-lived enterprise between artists located in Paris and Nice. Their work centered on the practice and critical interrogation of painting with the aim of generating knowledge with political, pedagogical, and social potential. The theoretical approaches of the artists were initially outlined in a 1971 manifesto in which they articulated positions against the individualistic conception of art and the fetishization of art as a consumable product. The artists focused on the materials of art making and the collective and environmental effects of their ensemble works. This paper will examine their exhibitions in light of the group’s theoretical positions and the role of key artists such as Claude Viallat.


In the Eye of the Storm: Daniel Buren’s Current Work and the Critical Limits of Institutional Critique
Jeffrey P. Thompson, Sewanee, The University of the South

Recently, when Daniel Buren ventured to situate his work beyond a critique of his institutional sponsors—Eye of the Storm at the Guggenheim and La Coupure at the Musée Picasso—critics reproached him for wishing to comply with culture industry standards and for his refusal to critique the apparatus of domination. They subsequently dismissed the work as frivolous and decorative. Because Buren’s early work was quickly absorbed into the Conceptual art category of institutional critique, it is difficult to read his current work without measuring it against the radical politics and critical values assigned to early Conceptualism. While Buren himself has never denied the aesthetic or decorative dimension of this work—apparent in his long-standing, yet conflicted dialogue with the history of Modernist painting as well as in his exuberant use of color—this aspect of his oeuvre was first ignored and later criticized. Acknowledging the full complexity of Buren’s recent work—in terms of both its critical and aesthetic positions—means breaking with the political and utopian values linked to Conceptual art.


Malaval’s Multiple Personalities: How to Be a French Artist in the 60s
Alexandra M. Cardon, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Throughout his career, Robert Malaval constructed a series of personal myths (abstract easel painter, neurotic sculptor, dandy, punk painter) as a response to the contemporary demand for artists to behave according to the ‘American’ model of the individual artist. I propose to examine how Malaval’s personal myths were not only the cause for his instable career, but also attempts to fulfill demands for the ‘new’ French artist; all of his personas can ultimately be read as a desire to escape from the prescriptive approaches to art in postwar France.


Ariadne’s Threads: Spurensicherung through Clothing in the Work of Christian Boltanski
Till Richter, University of Texas at Austin

This paper uses the metaphor of Ariadne to show how French artist Christian Boltanski employs the method called ‘Ariadne’s thread’ in his works that utilize clothes as mnemonic devices. Boltanski aims to create records, tracks and remembrances often related to the Holocaust through the use of clothes, as in his 2010 Monumenta exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. Boltanski deals with the past humanely and artistically without falling into historicism, where events are de-humanized or even debased by the emphasis on historical context in their explanation. Ariadne’s thread is a logical method for solving a maze, puzzle or ethical dilemma while creating an archive of traces.




Time: 10/22/2011, 9:45 AM—11:45 AM

Location: The Jefferson Hotel, McKinley Meeting Room