Damien Hirst Palazzo Grassi (c) Araso

Damien Hirst knows how to build a brand

With his current exhibition at Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, Damien Hirst positions himself not only as a visual artist whose creativity blossoms in many ramifications but as an expert in story-telling

The concept is rooted in a real legend: the tale of Cif Amotan II, an emancipated slave of the Roman empire. His fortune made, he gathered his wealth amongst which an army of artworks and artefacts and loaded it on his boat the Apistos. The ship wrecked whilst sailing towards a temple where the collector intended to store his treasure. 

Damien Hirst, Demon with Bowl, Palazzo Grassi, Venezia

In the show, it’s incredibly hard to tell the true from he fake : from the Demon with Bowl, an 18-metre high resin sculpture of a giant without a head, supposedly a copy of an original piece found onboard, to the wonderfully detailed documentaries, everything is larger than life.

Damien Hirst, Andromeda and the Sea Monster, Palazzo Grassi, Venezia
Damien Hirst, Andromeda and the Sea Monster, Palazzo Grassi, Venezia

Next to hyper realistic piece, a seashell Mickey amongst other works sets the visitor thinking. Damien Hirst follows the logic endlessly with copies of fakes and fakes of fakes.

Damien Hirst, Mickey, Palazzo Grassi, Venezia
Damien Hirst, Mickey, Palazzo Grassi, Venezia

A stroke of genius, the exhibition attracts growing crowds and has already become viral. DNA, indefinitely declinable codes, an element from the past, a glamorous character and the treasure hunt as a hook : all of the ingredients for success are aboard this ship. 

Contact us for a more detailed analysis.

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, at Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana in Venice, until December 3rd  2017  

Images © Araso and Mathieu Dochtermann

The 4 unmissable Pavilions of the Biennale di Venezia

Germany : Faust

The Biennale has just opened with an endless line outside of the German pavilion. For her Faust, the whole concept of which is a performance, Anne Imhof was awarded the Golden Lion of the 57th contemporary art Biennale di Venezia.

Around the building two young Dobermans, their ears and tails still untouched, quiver behind a several-feet-high wire meshed gate. They yelp while playing with pet toys with enough enthusiasm to scare away the adventurous few or the distracted strollers. They seem harmless but one can never be too cautious. 

It turns out humans are wilder than animals. An army of performers with icy faces on androgynous bodies evolve both in the inside and the outside spaces, climbing up fences, perching.

The pavilion’s brilliant scenography puts the spotlight on voyeurism. Glass is the main component of the premisses including a false floor, podiums and culminating platforms. The performers subtly navigate the space under people’s feet and up in the air across three different rooms. A corridor connects the main room to its two annexes where fire hoses, soap and towels lay on the floor. In a corner a black leather mattress, some knives and harnesses can be found.  


Androgynous icons, part gothic, part SM, part sportswear, actors are elevated to the rank of idols. Each of their single move -often sudden and abrupt, gives rise to a wave of excitement and admiration in the room. The master to slave relationship shows in the hand to hands, a savvy dosage of love and war making. A girl with a deep voice sings to a piano melody. 

The movements of the crowd are as fascinating as the performance itself. The human tide moving up and down becomes the piece.  

It turns out humans are wilder than animals.

Beyond voyeurism, the project questions the objectification of men. The watcher becomes the watched, exposed and photographed. The observer becomes the subject without knowing. Smartphones scrutinize the crowd taking unwelcome shots and videos of stranger faces. Below the see-though floors, the professional photographers taking millions of pictures may or may not be part of the show. The performance erases the notion of the spectator as we know it. One has to be ready to become the subject of a live experiment anywhere anytime. But are we really up for it ?

The audience’s behavior highlights another societal phenomena known as Fear Of Missing Out or FOMO. Ironically in Faust, the best strategy probably is to stay in one spot. The experience is then amplified by enhanced observation and goes way beyond just looking. Through its constant movement, the piece forces the viewer to position themselves. Seeing everything in a click of the mouse or the slide of a thumb is impossible. The visitor with this standpoint will only be frustrated, stressed and ultimately evict themselves. To appreciate is to make choices. 

Greece: Laboratory of Dilemmas

With a classic yet efficient plan, video artist George Rivas turns the Greek pavilion into a smart allegory of today’s scientific, geopolitic and demographic issues with a clear allusion to migratory flows. 

Buried in a dark yet extremely circumscribed environment, the visitor encounters retro video tapes and audio recordings. The premise of the installation, a well-known technique, is that a series of documents related to a secret research on hepatitis cells dating back to some unspecified long time ago is finally uncovered and introduced to the public. Starting from the paradigm of the king’s dilemma in Aeschylus’ play Iketides (the Suppliant Women), the piece is asking whether one should save the natives or welcome the newcomers.

The Laboratory of Dilemmas relies on a double deck maze of screens and recordings punctuating each angle. On the first floors, films, on the ground floor, sounds, in the exiting room: THE film. The public follows the peregrinations of the research team like a mini TV show. Upon discovering the molecule that should eradicate all forms of hepatitis forever, the scientists realize that the new cells, the product of their experiment, can only survive if they cannibalize the stem cells. From then on they are faced with a cornelian choice: extract the new cells and breed them separately with nearly no chance of success, or let them kill the stem cells, thus throwing away years of research. 

In the corridor one can hear the advocates of pros and cons debating. « If we kill the original cells, we just throw away all those years of research » then « we should give this new form of life a chance! ». Can the old and the new live together? Do the tradition, the familiar and the known have to make way for progress and its compulsory share of uncertainty? 

When faced with change, one gets carried away by two opposite streams: the Ancient has to go causing some incompressible pain whilst the New asserts itself bearing the promise of something better. The hardship of giving up customary comfort adds to the mourning of past accomplishments. In Laboratory of Dilemma the scientist in charge of the experiment is torn and desperate. « I cannot personally make this decision! »

The hardship of giving up our customary comfort adds to the mourning of past accomplishments.

The last room is a short film about the last executive committee’s meeting. Gathered around a rectangular wooden table presided by Charlotte Rampling, the stakeholders argue about the experiment’s outcome. Whilst the finance guy standing for the capital insists on showing the investors reassuring figures, the president shifts the debate down to the individual:  « Our objective when we started this experiment was very specific and cannot be altered. (…) You cannot personally make the decision to change the world ».

Counterbalance: The Stone and The Mountain

The Korean pavilion is hard to miss with its huge neon billboard Venetian Rhapsody, a combination of American motels, Las Vegas and contemporary urban Korean landscape inspiration. Its claim: « Pole Dance, Free Video TV, Free Narcissistic People Disorder, Free Peep Show, Major Credit Cards, Free Orgasm ». What a heavy schedule. 

Brilliantly designed by artist Cody Choi the place is a burlesque mausoleum echoing the Korean war in which 200 000 soldiers died. Packed with postcards, small altars, prayers, objects such as a pair of latex slippers that used to belong to a 100 year old lady, medallions, identity pictures and family portraits, press covers of president Kim’s death, the walls call for intimacy. 

The place is undoubtedly a tribute to the dead of Korean’s no man’s land viewed though the lens of today’s contemporary culture. Cody Choi, known for his acid-kitsch pop aesthetics, furnished it with toilet paper sculptures, embedded nude photographs and a lonely pole dance in a red light looking as though it’d just been dug out in an archeological search, just like its nearby companions, an old couple of TV monitors on top of each other. 

Welcome, Pole Dance, Free Video TV, Free Narcissistic People Disorder, Free Peep Show, Major Credit Cards, Free Orgasm

This half museum half curiosity lab contrasts with the proposition made by Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho two years ago, all in futuristic immersive video installations. It lacks neither intelligence nor humour nor depth. 

Japan: Turned Upside Down, It’s a Forest

Plastic artist Takahiro Iwasaki showcases an abstract of Japanese culture in line with his work on the way we look at objects and symbolism. Turned Upside Down, It’s a forest is an ode to wood and obsession to detail. His temples hanging up in the air reveal their hidden half, as if their reflection on water was made tangible. It looks as though a fairytale had unveiled its psychology with some extra care for miniaturist things and particularities. 


One walks in like in a sacred place, disturbed by the pile of clothing shaping a well to the floor below. The visitor is invited to glance at the installation from under, with their eyes at feet level casting an astounded glance behind the scenes.

Somewhere in an angle, an oil slick awaits to be wiped out by the neighbouring detergent and broom.

Opposite is an altar where books pile up, a summary of Japanese culture through litterature from spiritual to erotic to manga.

This vernacular immersion is less spectacular, maybe less poetic than Chiaru Shiota’s odyssey two years ago, whereby hundreds of old keys were tied to hanging red fishing nets, but it is not less noticeable.

La Biennale di Venezia, Giardini, until Novembre 26th 2017, Venice, Italy. 

Images © Araso & Mathieu Dochtermann

Bertrand Lavier is the voice of contemporary art

In 800 Signs

It’s growing increasingly difficult to discuss contemporary art without mentioning Bertrand Lavier at one point or another. A little bit like the coats rack that Marcel Duchamp kept stumbling upon to the point he finally decided to nail it to the floor. The afore mentioned object, Trébuchet (Trap) is currently exhibited at La Monnaie in Paris where only a few months ago Bertrand Lavier’s solo show Merci Raymond took place (read on in French).

Why some keep on denying him France’s representation at the Venice Biennale remains to this day an unravelled mystery. Let’s move on to the meagre consolation that the artist will only be more available to fully explore other creative leads.

More Signs

There are several ways to explore his show, A cappella, at Almine Rech’s Gallery in Paris until April 15th.

Let’s opt for a first tour of the premises, rough and ready, devoid of any codes. It consists in wandering randomly through the works, driven by chance within the limits of our own intuition. Here, the coarsely shaped plaster statue, a corpulent silhouette in-between a Niki de Saint Phalle and a golem. There, two 170cm high stone columns, rather common except for two majors details both anachronic and antinomic: are those incrusted car lights?!

The following room is home to the first two copies of a strange series made of sinusoidal lines. We find out it’s Walt Disney Productions, a lineage started in 2017. Facing a triplet of monochromes (a heresy? a rupture in style?) signal panels announcing nearby points of interest : Paysages Aixois (landscapes of Aix) and Sombernon. If one can wonder whether in real life (meaning outside of MuCEM) they are likely to bump into a real signal for a paysage aixois, they get even more puzzled that a town with such an obscure name might exists except for a failed pun (“Sombre” meaning “dark” and “nom” meaning “name” in French). But still…

Let’s dare to take another look: the plate available from the gallery’s reception desk turns out to be a precious tool. Indeed, the Holy Graal reveals the titles of the exhibited works, an essential component of Bertrand Lavier’s art. And then we hear it: our own laughter reverberating on the white immaculate walls of the gallery.

The third walk-through takes us to the next level –if it were still necessary. The one where the passenger can fully enjoy the ride.

The statue of the lady with questionable proportions is la Venus d’Amiens, which Palais de Tokyo had already showcased in 2016 seizing the opportunity to interview the artist about the genesis of the piece. The original Venus, found in Amiens’ Rénancourt neighbourhood, is 24000 years old. It was found in 19 pieces. The fact called out to Lavier : « I could have stepped on it without noticing there was a sculpture ». Compelled by the photograph of this statue on the verge of becoming « a small heap of pebbles », he sets his mind on conducting an experiment and confront the archeological discovery with sculpture. He made it bigger and amplified selected details. To get it done, Lavier first contemplated a very contemporary material, something that would be very 21th century. Seeing a sculpture by Courbet whilst he was visiting Ornans’s museum made Lavier change his mind: his Venus would be made of plaster. All of a sudden it seemed like stating the obvious; plaster was the sole material that would make his Venus a model just like classics such as Milo’s Venus, whilst making it unarguably contemporary. The selected material enables a «compression in time of 24000 years» Lavier says. «It’s an upside-down world. Great sculptures end up in plaster, the Venus of Amiens starts in plaster».

Bertrand Lavier, La Venus d'Amiens, 2016
Bertrand Lavier, La Venus d’Amiens, 2016

Here is the visitor faced with the columns again: Colonne Lancia and Colonne Ford. Inspired by ready-made and archeology excavations, they stand for a response to the whilst establishing a dialog with hypothetical extraterrestrials looking for tokens of life on Earth. The two totemic figures recall pagan cults as much as the brand mythology phenomena. Once again, this compressed notion of time tackles the issue of the rise of religions, the articulation of their symbols and their rooting into collective consciousness.

Bertrand Lavier, Colonne Lancia et Colonne Ford, 2017
Bertrand Lavier, Colonne Lancia et Colonne Ford, 2017

Here come the monochromes : Bleu de Cobalt Foncé, Jaune de Cadmium, Vert de Cobalt. The complete series is a 2017 production. From a distance, they are just monochromes in thick layers of paint, a typical Lavier pattern except that the underlying object is missing. Take a closer look and there is no such thing. Underneath the paint applied in coarse layers, there are, ab initio, the customary painted objects. Bertrand Lavier has indeed painted over the  original photography of the painted object, in the very exact tone of its ascendance, thus creating the ultimate trompe l’œil, self-produced by the magic of the synecdoche effect -or through a Russian doll phenomena, according to individual taste.

Bertrand Lavier, Bleu de Cobalt foncé, 2017
Bertrand Lavier, Bleu de Cobalt foncé, 2017

Echoing back to them are the painted-over signal panels sweetly titled Paysages aixois (2014) et Sombernon (2016). The latter town does really exist and is a small bucolic and picturesque municipality of the French Côte d’Or, an area slightly bigger than 13 km2 where a bit less than 1000 living souls reside. By giving it a front-row seat, Bertrand Lavier questions once again our capacity to see as much the details as the big picture. He managed to create an iconography whereby the detail is extended so much that it leaves no room to the indifferent or jaded eye. Each of his works establishes a little deeper the accuracy of his outlook on the world and his great indecency to explore what falls through the cracks of more and more vulgar news headlines and the sanction of raised thumbs on the web.

Bertrand Lavier, Sombernon, 2016
Bertrand Lavier, Sombernon, 2016

Bertrand Lavier’s work stands for what brings contemporary art closer and farther away from the public altogether. Greatly profound, its depth is declined in an infinity of readability levels and puts the neophyte off but has an irresistible ingredient to retain the hesitating yet curious character and turn him into an addict: humour. It is empirically proven that Bertrand Lavier’s art makes people happy. Betraying a perfect command of the history of art, a great technical confidence and a sharp intelligence, the work is merely the reflection of its creator: humble, generous and beaming with contagious joy.

Bertrand Lavier, A capella, at the Almine Rech Gallery in Paris until April 15th 2017

Visuals courtesy Galerie Almine Rech

Vivre par Jochen Gerz (c) Araso

When sculpture goes horizontal

In 800 Signs

There has been an official release claiming that to celebrate Pompidou Centre’s 40 years anniversary, some «major» sculptures from the museum’s collection would be exhibited «on the floor» at La Monnaie de Paris. A thorough overhaul, a kind of editorial on how sculpture has evolved and what it stands for now. And the journey is definitely worthwhile.

James Lee Byars’s installation Red Angels of Marseille, a spectacular piece displaying a striking resemblance to the work of Jean-Michel Othoniel, covers the deliciously checkered floors with a maze of red pearls spirals. Thereafter wandering through the gorgeous 18th century salons, one is struck by a string of emotions ranging from ice-cutting intimacy to joyful laughter.

Its is both amazing and invigorating to (re)discover that sculpture is also about flats, smells, light, vivid colours and a vibrant dramatic tension. 

James Lee Byars, Red Angels of Marseille, visual © Araso
James Lee Byars, Red Angels of Marseille, visual © Araso

More Signs

In the antechamber, right beside Pipilotti Rist’s welcoming star-spangled floor (his video installation Under the sky is mesmerizing), a look at Colombian visual artist Ana Mendieta’s photographs of the artist digging her own grave, shaped after her body (Tumba #5) and her bloody prints will catch one wiping a tear at the corner of an eye.

Fortunately Marcel Duchamp’s Trébuchet (Trap) is just a few steps away. As he kept stumbling on this coat rack, the artist ended up nailing it to the floor. Late Jean-Luc Vilmouth, the French artist passed away in 2015, whose baseline work was about interactions, imagined an Interaction with Hammer and Nails that just makes one want to rush to the nearest hardware store and start building a cabin.

Claudio Parmiggiani, Pittura Pura Luce, visual © Araso
Claudio Parmiggiani, Pittura Pura Luce, visual © Araso

Far from frozen, sculpture is alive, develops through human contact and is sometimes of evanescent nature. What a delight to find ourselves facing Claudio Parmiggiani’s Pure Light Paint, which lives up to expectations in an orgy of smells and colors. Meanwhile, Jochen Gerz’s disturbingly poetic installation invites us to take a walk on the word «live» written endlessly in chalk on La Monnaie’s sumptuous floors. The words vanish as the visitor follows the artist’s guidelines, making the piece’s self-destruction the only possible outcome of this celebration of life.

Floor naments at la Monnaie de Paris until July 9th 2017

peter campus: video ergo sum

By Camille Bardin

Your image is immediately projected and then the reflection of it appears and starts following you. This three-second gap makes you aware that time is passing. The installation «Anamnesis» (1973) problematizes the construction of our identity, putting forward a present and former self through with two distinct but dependent projections.

Each closed-circuit video installation of Peter Campus is therefore a new existential and perceptual experience for the visitor. By multiplying temporalities and bodily representations in space, he deconstructs our image.

Peter Campus in Anamnesis
Peter Campus in Anamnesis

Ana-chronically, his work is an abyss of our hyper-connected period. Unlike the 1970’s, we are confronted on a daily basis with our image and we have the means to control it but it’s impossible here to do the same. The video ergo sum exhibition is a reflection on the impossibility of being simultaneously the subject, and the product of the subject who thinks, the object.

Peter Campus, video ergo sum
Until May 28th 2017
Musée du Jeu de Paume

Words by Camille Bardin
Photo Nathan Rabin, courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery © Peter Campus 2017

Eli Lotar the Visionary

Of picturesque Greece which appeals to the artistic and intellectual class in Paris Eli Lotar photographs an urchin in the palm of sculptor Tombros’s hand. The detail says it all: it smells of iodine, hot sand, fig trees. By looking at it one can hear the cicadas. The shadows of Roger Vitrac and Jean-Bernard Brunius filming avant-garde documentary Voyage aux Cyclades are not far. This is 1931, before the invasion of the Greek islands by mass tourism.

Eli Lotar, Sans Titre, 1931
Eli Lotar, Sans Titre, 1931

Eli Lotar’s vivid and quirky shots (1905 – 1969) tell their time through the artist’s meticulous choice of fragments. His surrealistic collages give a unique perspective on Antonin Artaud’s Alfred Harry theatre. Lotar captures the creative intimacy of Giacometti at work in the very tiny space of his room at Hôtel de Genève. Giacometti sculpts Lotar’s chest, which the latter shoots in series, almost compulsively, resulting in a sublime contact sheet that seems to have fallen off the creator’s diary.

Eli Lotar, Atelier Giacometti, 1965 © Araso
Eli Lotar, Atelier Giacometti, 1965 © Araso

A beautiful tribute to the anti-pomposity of Eli Lotar’s « New Vision ».

Eli Lotar (1905 – 1969) is an exhibition of the 40th anniversary of Centre Pompidou, coproduced by Centre Pompidou and Jeu de Paume.

At the Musée du Jeu de Paume – Jeu de Paume Museum until May 28th 2017.

Cover image © Araso

Sans titre, Untitled, 1931 © Eli Lotar