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Art and Life: One and the Same - Soulèvements and Deadline

Lebel4 Text by Kay Roberts

Two exhibitions, one in the east of Paris, one in the west, both focusing on the life of the artist. At La Maison Rouge 'Soulèvements'; a survey of Jean-Jacques Lebel's life, showing not only his works and archive but also his vast collection of works by other artists used to demonstrate his concerns and aesthetics. At Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris 'Deadline'; the works of twelve artists who died in the last twenty years are shown together, because they are works made in the shadow of predicted death. Two sides of the coin.

"Soulèvements" can be translated as 'Uprising', in the excellent English version of the explanatory brochure for the exhibition it is 'Insurrections'.  Either way it gives a clue to the attitude of the artist, Jean-Jacques Lebel (born in 1936) is one the major figures of political and social action since the 1955. Here it is possible to trace his actions through photographs, works and collection of works by artists who became his friends and artistic allies; too many to name, including, Bréton, Duchamp, Picabia, Burroughs, Corso, Ginsberg, Deleuze. Helped by Jean de Loisy, who curated the exhibition, "Lebel's labyrynth" is an intense roller coaster through different cultures, art movements and political times. It spans civilisations, statues from Burkina Faso, Tanzania-Mozambique; art movements, Surrealism, Dada, Fluxus, Visual Poetry; political actions in Paris, Algeria, Sao Paulo, through photographs; sexuality in the photographs of Happenings and in the vast 'Jardin d'Eros'; all intersperced with J-J Lebel's art works. Three major installations 'Monument à Felix Guattari', 'Les Avatars de Venus' and 'The Theatre and Its Double' are recreated in the exhibition. The twentieth version of  'Avatars of Venus' is,  at La Maison Rouge, a four screen video where 'venus's' from different cultures and perceptions of female beauty morph into each other, a powerful conclusion to this checker board, cornucopia of a show.

From the celebration of a life to the, if not celebration of death, then then the contemplation of mortality in 'Deadline' at Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. These artists had what amounts to a death sentence, giving a certain poignancy to the works shown. The exhibition commences with the last paintings of Martin Kippenberger, who died of liver failure at age 44 - identifying with the fate of those condemned to die on 'The Raft of the Medusa' he used self portraits in an interpretation of the painting. Several of the artists are the early victims of AIDS/HIV, cutting short the lives of Robert Mapplethorpe, Felix Gonzalez- Torres and Absolon. The black and white last photographs of Mapplethorpe are calm, not overtly sexual, dwelling more on the perfection of classic beauty and his own frailty, close ups of a marble statue of Hermes and the famous self portrait with skull walking stick. Untimely young deaths, Chen Zhen at 45, Hannah Villiger at 46, both examining their bodies with an objective point of view. One piece by Zhen is an exquisitely beautiful glass representation of internal body organs. Villiger's large scale polaroids of fabric wrapped round her ailing body are equally stunning.

In fact perhaps what this show displays is the desire of these artists to produce the best of their work as one final act, the James Lee Byars piece recreated for the exhibition is an extreme example. Knowing he was to die from cancer, in 1990 he lined a space in a gallery with gold leaf, lay on a raised sarcophagus for a time,  then marked his body with five diamonds, what he hoped for was his death as the perfect art work. Ironically he died in Egypt searching for gold blowers for another project.The other artists in this exhibition: Joan Mitchell (at 67), Gilles Aillard (at 76), Hans Hartung (at 85), and Jorg Immendorf (at 62), although not dying young, (and 60+ is no longer old) were still at the height of their powers when told they would die. Perhaps the exception to the rule is Willem de Kooning (at 93) who did not paint during the last seven years of his life. Most touching are the paintings and sculptures of Immendorf, slowly losing his powers of movement, continuing to teach and directing others to execute his vision. So, sombre but not depressing, this is a thoughtful and thought provoking show.

La Maison Rouge
10 Boulevard de la Bastille Paris 12
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 7pm, Thursdays until 9pm

Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
11 avenue du Président Wilson Paris 16
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 6pm, Thursdays until 10pm

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