The aim is to look both forward and backward, by taking an approach to Martial Raysse’s (b. 1936, Golfe-Juan) work that is not chronological, but examines it from a contemporary angle, in other words in the light of its most recent developments. In fact, that his latest work changes the way we look at what came before it, and brings greater depth by raising again the question of the place of painting, as well as that of the artist. As Giorgio Agamben has brilliantly put it, “[t]hose who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither truly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands. They are thus in this sense irrelevant. But precisely through this disconnection and this anachronism, they are more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time.”
Martial Raysse is one of the few artists for whom tackling the history of “great” art head on is what really matters, and this has been the case since the outset. Whether by distance, through humor or by trying to copy the masters, in accordance with the principle expressed by Eugenio Garin that “to imitate […] is to become aware of oneself in relation to another.” This is how he served his apprenticeship and throughout his life we can see, as if in the background, not just the history of art and the masterpieces of the Renaissance, but also the most banal aspects of daily life—from the aesthetics of the chain store to the tedium of little things.
Unlike in the Renaissance, when artists had to accept certain constraints, particularly in the treatment of religious subjects and portraits of rulers, Raysse has worked all his life to keep his independence. He proposes a humane kind of utopia and represents the life we all lead in a way that suggests he is trying to restore our hope in our condition. His taste for the representation of women goes beyond sexual attraction or classic beauty; he is fascinated by she who is Unknown.
In his history paintings, he proposes that we take a critical distance from what we may see or believe. He explores mythological subjects, as in L’Enfance de Bacchus [The Childhood of Bacchus] or Le Jour des Roses sur le Toit, and uses them to speak of conspicuous consumption, of his distance from politics (Poisson d’Avril and Ici Plage…) or of his desire to laugh at the foibles of his time (Le Carnaval à Périgueux).
Painter, sculptor, draftsman, but also poet and filmmaker: so many necessarily reductive terms with which to attempt to define this multifaceted and unclassifiable artist whose work spans the second half of the 20th century and continues, even today, to surprise us with its idiosyncrasy.
By creating an ongoing dialogue between the works, the layout of the exhibition offers a new perspective on Martial Raysse’s career while highlighting the artist’s incessant toing and froing within that corpus.