figurative painting at the risk of overdose in Montpellier

figurative painting at the risk of overdose in Montpellier

Hell is paved with good intentions. Thus, to demonstrate what he calls “the vitality of young French figurative painting”, Numa Hambursin has brought together no less than 400 works by 122 artists in the two art centers he runs in Montpellier. At MO.CO. are gathered the eldest, born in the 1970s, no less than 90 painters and 250 paintings, while the MO.CO. Panacée presents about thirty artists a decade younger.

A panorama-river, therefore, in which sometimes conflicting sensibilities coexist, not without clashes. “We did not seek to defend “families” of artists close to our tastes and our aesthetic predilections, but rather to tend towards a requirement of exhaustiveness”, defends Numa Hambursin, who claims this approach “generous” with Amélie Adamo, guest curator at MO.CO. A way, in his eyes, to repair “the systemic rejection of painting by institutions” French in the 1990s and 2000s, when figurative artists were still willingly described as reactionaries…

Manet reduced to his cane and his glove

Unfortunately, the demonstration is hardly convincing. From the first rooms of the MO.CO., devoted to self-portraits, somewhat literal representations of the studio mingle with stronger works, such as this self-portrait of Claire Tabouret as a “vampire”, her mouth and cheeks smeared in red blood, both an artist feeding on the lives of others and a foodie hungry for paint…

The section on the confrontation with the old masters seduces more, when Gaël Davrinche sows a Picasso-like confusion in the Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione by Raphaël or when Karine Hoffman strips Lunch on the Grass of Manet, reduced to his luminous landscape where nothing is left but a glove and a cane!

Works with strong pathos

A floor below, alas, the confusion returns in a vast section dedicated to history painting. Works with strong pathos, borrowing from Caravaggio or Mantegna (a triptych by Stéphane Pencreac’h in memory of the attack on Charlie Hebdo) are next to an ironic and quirky battle of girls on ruins in Syria (Nazanin Pouyandeh). Talkative and demonstrative images contrast with the silent restraint of a Youcef Korichi painting a black bag from which two bare feet emerge. And the much too tight hanging only reinforces this cacophony of intentions and styles.

Paintings of flowers and cats

The same defects reappear on the lower levels where the thematic sections – on the landscape, on the vanities – end up dispersing the canvases of the same artist from one end of the route to the other, to the benefit of disparate neighbourhoods. Too bad, there’s no shortage of interesting works (an ossified forest by Jung-Yeon Min, a haunted beach scene by Daniel Clarke, among a few favorites), but they seem drowned out here.

With a tighter selection, including some monographic sets, the hanging of La Panacée is more successful in defending figurative painters. However, with the exception of a few works with political overtones, such as the large altarpiece by Apolonia Sokol or an insolent landscape of ruins by the Syrian Miryam Haddad, the choice of numerous intimate subjects, paintings of cats or flowers leaves one perplexed. Is the younger generation really disconnected at this point from the issues of its time?


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