Garouste. (Crédit : Bertrand-Huet-Tutti)

Garouste dedicated in two exhibitions in Paris

The cultural return is under the sign of the artist Gérard Garouste. Two Paris exhibitions show his works. A major retrospective is dedicated to one of the most important contemporary French painters at the Center Pompidou, while the “Les Arts Dessinés” gallery is presenting his reinterpretation of Esther’s Meguila in collaboration with Édouard Cohen, who is almost 50 years his junior.

In addition to the artistic pleasure of discovering Garouste’s works, the audience will be surprised by his very personal interpretations of texts from the Jewish tradition. In doing so he makes himself (unknowingly?) the transmitter of the richness of the message from the sources of Judaism.

At a time when threats weigh too heavily on the Jews of France, very often due to a lack of understanding of what differentiates but also unites, the artist’s works convey a message of peace. If we observe the audience, who turned out en masse for the opening, delighted to admire a retrospective dedicated to the artist, we find young underground folk rubbing shoulders with monks in black hats and curly hair. All ages, all target groups. During the opening, the painter is present to greet his audience and graciously accept the congratulations that come from both a former Minister of Culture and a Talmudic friend. This is an exhibition of the magician of colors: a party!

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The artist is the origin of a very identifiable style that makes up his signature and makes him one of the most important international contemporary artists. A follower of uncompromising figuration, the development of his intellectual itinerary led him to infuse his achievements with the study of texts of the Jewish tradition.

Looking at his paintings, one wonders if the real thing is still probable. We investigate, we question, whatever, they fascinate…

Le Golem, 2011. (Source: Private Collection, France© Adagp, Paris, 2022. Source: Templon, Paris-Brussels-New York. Photo Bertrand Huet-Tutti)

With generosity, Garouste loves large paintings, monumental creations before which spectators and visitors feel so small and so humbled. Colors explode, although darker images are worrisome. The representations often seem to stand out in a design logic thought through by the artist, in order to, on the contrary, deconstruct the canvas and lose the viewer.

The public can thus admire his artistic experiences in two locations in the French capital.

Above all, the Museum of Contemporary Art of the City of Paris, i.e. the Center Pompidou, which houses a retrospective of Gérard Garouste’s inventions. In addition to 120 large, often very large-format paintings by the artist, the exhibition provides space for installation, sculptural and graphic works. It allows us to grasp all the richness of the unclassifiable journey of “l’Intranquille”, as he had titled one of his autobiographical books, enriched with an afterword unpublished in this literary season. Because his life was marked by creation, madness and study, from which the enigmatic work is fed in a haunting dialogue.

The exhibition also gives space to installational, sculptural and graphic works.

The Rabbi and the Bird’s Nest, 2013. (Private collection © Adagp, Paris, 2022. Photo credit: Templon, Paris-Brussels-New York. Photo Bertrand Huet-Tutti)

The life of the man, who was born in Paris on March 10, 1946, is interspersed with stages that the exhibition tour recalls. His life and work are identified with him more than any other. Although he showed a talent for drawing from an early age, his childhood was marked by his father’s heavy personality. A father whose eventful past he will discover much later under the occupation. He will never stop repairing. His tikoun is illustrated by the odds of his fate. First he met Elizabeth Rochline in 1964, whom he married four years later and whose influence was to be decisive for the discovery of modern contemporary art, but perhaps also of his own Judaism.

While Garouste decided to convert to Judaism in 2014 and even took the Hebrew first name Abraham, religiously he married Elizabeth. Previously, in the early 1990s, the artist discovered the Talmud and Kabbalah by following the lectures of Rabbi Philippe Haddad and the philosopher and Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin. You can see it on a painting in the exhibition. With his childhood friend, François Rachline, he began taking Hebrew classes with Professor Yakov. His work then reinvents itself in the light of Judaism.

Achievements previously steeped in a myth he invented: “The Classical and the Indian,” which captures the Dionysian duality of Nietzschean thought. At the same time, the first crises related to his bipolar disorders appeared. “Gam Zou le Tova” (Everything is for the good), because this “madness” inhabits his works with happiness because they are pleasing. His recognition quickly became national with numerous commissions and exhibitions, but also internationally.

Gerard Garouste in his studio. (DR)

Garouste will write in his autobiography The Restless “I’m the son of a bastard who loved me. My father was a furniture dealer who collected the belongings of deported Jews. Word by word I had to dismantle this delusion that was my upbringing. At twenty-eight I had my first bout of delirium, then others. Childhood and madness are on my heels. For a long time I was just a sum of questions. Today I’m sixty-three, I’m not a sage, I’m not healed, I’m a painter. And I think I can pass on what I’ve understood. »

Guys, Garouste loves them. We see it in his way of greeting the audience warmly and sincerely during the opening. He takes the time that others would not give. His friendships are also numerous and sometimes represent them in his paintings, such as François Rachline, Jean-Michel Ribes and so many others. With the latter he even began an uncompromising collaboration with the world of theater or nightlife, which continues with other projects. The stage designs for the 1978 Théâtre de la Ville by J.-M. Ribe’s given play “Jacky Paradis”, the decoration of the famous Le Palace nightclub, the frescoes on the ceiling and walls of Danielle Mitterrand’s bedroom at the Elysée Palace, even the commission for the stage curtain at the Châtelet (etc.) help with this , to capture another facet of her productions in her pictures: the theatricality! Garouste’s works play out a story. The miracle is here!

The interest of the Center Pompidou retrospective is to approach all its facets. And in particular his interpretation of his relationship to the study of the sacred texts of Judaism (which may also be those of Christianity). As we have already said, Gérard Garouste became interested in the Jewish exegetical tradition and learned Hebrew from the 1990s through the study of the Talmud and the Midrash. His painting now reflects this. There, the figure becomes the letter: it emerges from the never-unambiguous stories of these sacred texts, for which the artist champions more and more. Several rooms along the exhibition route allow us to discover it. For example, it gives a special place to Esther’s megillah. God does not appear there by name, while the narrative depicts the last thing that can stand the test of time. So many topics he tackles.

Garouste exhibition at the Center Pompidou. (Image credit: Audrey Laurans)

Garouste therefore enjoys reinventing the polysemy of Hebrew in images. So he dedicates a series to the biblical episode of Judah and Tamar in Kezive, which means “lies”. In this city, young Tamar devises a plan to bring offspring to the family of Judas. One of the twins she bears is the ancestor of King David.

But there are also Jewish personalities from the spiritual world that Garouste forgives. The writer Franz Kafka, the philosophers Emmanuel Levinas or Éliane Amado Lévy-Valensi, the fascinating Chouchani (whose drawing he also signed on the cover of the book published this year on this brilliant celestial tramp) … and they are sometimes associated with a bestiary bring whose symbolism takes shape from his imagination and his readings.

At the same time, the Children’s Gallery is honoring the work of the La Source association founded in 1991 by Elizabeth and Gérard Garouste on the occasion of the exhibition. Its goal is to help children in difficulty to flourish through artistic practices. Designed in the spirit of the workshops practiced at La Source for young audiences, this installation is built around a theme dear to the artist: mythology.

Children set out to discover strange and fantastical characters and face a wondrous and changing universe. They can paint on a giant picture bar made of magic paper, transform themselves into monsters or heroes with digital devices, or compose a “Symphony of Nature” by manipulating natural elements such as sponges, bark or sand.

The young explorers stroll through this unique journey, in a forest of distorting mirrors, to play endlessly with their reflections: huge or twisted, thin or wavy, they take shape, guided by their image, creating unique postures. Finally, discover new short films produced especially for the exhibition workshop by artists from La Source or from the Center Pompidou collection.

Garouste exhibition at the Center Pompidou. (Image credit: Audrey Laurans)

And then there is the second Paris exhibition presented at Les Arts Dessins gallery. It is the result of a collaboration with the young artist Edouard Cohen (born 1987), admirer and neighbor in Normandy of Garouste. Here mainly works by four hands are presented, even if only paintings by Garouste or Cohen are installed.

The idea of ​​this fruitful collaboration was to reinterpret the Megilla Esther together. The young artist reinvents writing, while Gérard Garouste expresses his visions of biblical history through painting and drawing. If Megillah means both ‘roll’ and ‘reveal’ and Esther ‘hidden’, this is the revelation of a mystery, a story in which God does not exist: an adventure that allows two artists many readings, liberties and representations. An association that seals an interesting complementarity to the detail, reflecting the work presented at the Center Pompidou. Just a few steps apart, the two exhibitions can be visited on the same day.

Gérard Garouste at the Center Pompidou from September 7, 2022 to January 2, 2023.

Cohen and Garouste, “La Méguila d’Esther”, at the Chapon Gallery (19 rue Chapon, 75003 Paris) from 9 September to 1 October 2022.


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