While some of the works in the exhibition “Grand Trouble” (“Big Trouble”) at the Halle Saint Pierre are indeed troubling (I am thinking, for example, of Olivier Estoppey’s frightening concrete sculptures of baying wolves or Marc Prudent’s heartrending photos of people sleeping in the street), many of them are uplifting and quite a few even elicit a smile or a laugh.
The show is an outgrowth of the gatherings of an informal group of artists who got together to eat, drink, talk and visit each other’s studios. A movement was born, and other artists as well as musicians, philosophers, scientists and filmmakers were invited to join in and participate in the creation of this exhibition.
While the works of the nearly 50 talented artists shown here have little in common – they work in different styles and techniques, and are from different countries and generations (and, refreshingly for this type of group show, about a third are women; let’s go for half!) – the resulting show is surprisingly coherent, with the works effectively and subtly echoing and interacting each other, even though the theme suggested by the title is never explained.
The exhibition gets off to a strong start with the pen and ink drawings of the late Philippe Becquelin, who worked under the name Mix & Remix, better known perhaps as a political cartoonist (a number of his amusing cartoons are displayed in the entry hall). I loved his simple drawings, which suggest so much with so few lines. Nearby are the more complex drawings of Joël Person, including a beautiful monumental portrait of a woman, “Frédérique” (2015, shown above).
For something less traditional, take the time to watch the fascinating, hilarious and mildly disturbing film of artist chantalpetit at work. In whiteface for the occasion, she wears what looks like a ceramic cap and an artist’s smock as she picks up lumps of clay and tortures them into various shapes by throwing them violently at a table or the wall and sometimes filling hollow forms with newspaper and setting them on fire. Next to the screen are the results of what must be a highly cathartic working process: strange shapes with shiny glazes.
Other affecting works are Jean-Michel Fauquet’s handsome silver halide prints of people whose faces are unseen, covered with a paper bag, for example, or hidden under cloth. Frédéric Pajak’s pen-and-ink drawings of people in ambiguous situations exude an aura of dark mystery.
The show continues upstairs in this wonderful glass building with a steel structure (and a café and bookstore). The works in the darkened ground-floor exhibition space are more or less monochrome, but up here in the light of day, color makes an appearance, notably in the paintings of Katharina Ziemke, who uses watercolor in an unusual way (no pretty, impressionistic landscapes here) to make detailed, intensely colored, realistic representations of people, one of them a wonderful depiction of a couple in vintage clothing jubilantly dancing.
Also notable are the hyperrealist paintings of Émilienne Farny, which give off a decided feeling of loneliness even when there is more than one person in the image, and Sylvie Fajfrowska’s eerie, strangely cropped images of women in flat planes of pastel colors. I also enjoyed Alexandra Roussopoulos’s mysterious paintings of architectural forms floating in landscapes.
There is much more to discover here. Don’t miss it, and don’t be afraid of being troubled – shouldn’t all great art be troubling in one way or another?