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The American artist said to explore the difference between art and life, mixing commonplace painting and objects with a singular grace. It is necessary to imagine the members of the French institution of the time - we are in 1964, going proudly along the basin of Saint-Marc. Their step is light in spite of the choking heat of June. They go up towards the Gardens, at the end of the island. They speak, they laugh, perhaps they remind certain works exposed in the national houses at the time of the 32th Biennale of Venice and pretend a hypocrite compassion for what appears poor to them. No doubt is then allowed: the Great Price must return to Roger Bissière, excel French painter 80 years old, who will die on December 2 of the same year. But soon the smiles will solidify on the faces: the Bissière brave man receives only one mention of honor because of “the historical and artistic importance of his work”, and the Great Price is decreed with a young 39 years American artist, Robert Rauschenberg.
And what does it expose then, this Texan, to deserve a so great honor? Joinings, assemblies of a whole heap of things: painting, objects various, things rusted and recovered, bottles of soda, photographs, animals empaillés, newspaper cuttings, finally, all that falls to him under the hand. It calls that of “combines paintings”, that it defines thus in a discussion with the critic of art André Parinaud going back to 1961: “They are combined works, combinations. I want to avoid the categories thus. If I had called paintings what I do, it would have been said to me that they was sculptures, and if I had called that sculptures, it would have been said to me that they were low-reliefs or paintings. ”
A category, on the other hand, from which Rauschenberg will not escape, it is that of pop art, movement of which he is indeed the initiator, and who triumphs at the time of this biennial of Venice of 1964. However, today, a retrospective of its work (the last, in 1997, passed by Cologne and Bilbao, but did not come to France) makes it possible to note that its creativity overflows largely of the limits of pop In years 50-70, like a species of Picasso without the drawing, it tries out about all: the monochromic white in 1951, then the monochromic black, on which it sticks folded fabrics which, as Soulages will do it much later, capture or reveal the light, then gold, as Klein will do it, then the boxes reliquaries containing of small objects, then the famous ones “combine” and the transfers of photographs, then the sound with his/her friend John Cage, then scenography with Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown, then it video, then… In short, Rauschenberg is unclassable.
Today exists the word plastics technician, i.e. an artist who uses very diverse techniques. But fifty years ago, protean work left perplexed. About what was it with the Juste? Of a misadventure of dadaism or surrealism? Rauschenberg was undoubtedly released (authorized) by these movements, but he wanted to then go beyond. “I make neither of art for art, said it, nor of art against art. I am for the art which has nothing to do with art. Art has very to see with the life. ” Declaration for which it is necessary to add this other, more explicit, going back to 1959: “Painting is related at the same time on art and the life. Both are impossible to make. I try to work in the interval which separates them. ” Neither God nor Master, therefore, but a man a priori ordinary working with apparently ordinary materials…
Until now, nobody forever successful to define what is this interval. One can have an intuition of it and to place the stuck objects on the side of the life and the trickles of painting which partly cover these objects on the side of art, for example, but that appears rather coarse. If one devotes oneself to a small investigation, one can also take as index a work become famous, Erased De Kooning drawing, carried out in 1953. It is about a drawing of his friend the painter of Dutch extraction Willem De Kooning, already recognized at that time, that Rauschenberg was satisfied to gum. Thus remain only one white sheet on which the traces grisâtres are distinguished from gum, works single that its author will never repeat, thus evacuating any idea of process, but which specifies well that between art and the life the interval, even if it escapes any definition, leaves sourdre quite mysterious tensions.
In one of his texts on Rauschenberg, the American philosopher Arthur Danto writes that the size of the artist “arises owing to the fact that it had innumerable followers [...] but whom it does not have so to speak pars”. It is seen indeed, by the use of the objects, of the newspapers, by the constant reference to the popular culture, the impact that its incipient work could have on the future actors of pop art - Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, etc Certains, lending only to the rich person, allot also the paternity to him of the minimalism - the seven famous white panels of 1951, whereas it hardly has just completed his artistic studies -, and others that of the conceptual art, as if it had been the link missing between the urinal of Marcel Duchamp (1917) and the three chairs of Joseph Kosuth (1965). As for his/her friends closest, who could have been his pars, they are all the pure ones (and the immense ones!) painters: To marble Johns, Cy Twombly and Willem De Kooning.
But force is to note, as the additions Arthur Danto in 1998, that “nowadays the artistic current dominating is strongly marked by Rauschenberg”. Its freedom is at the origin of what one names now the visual arts. Many, today, makes a career from one of its works, as certain singers pass their life on a refrain of Beatles. To install (to combine) seems with the range of each one, but connect it facilitated mask a trap. Because Rauschenberg improvised a long time, assembling the objects randomly, like would have made the surrealist ones, but in a very pragmatic way, without mystical experiment, any idea of transcendence. It thus places a tire of car around the size of empaillée an Ankara goat (Monogram, 1955-1959), or a hen naturalized on a cage covered with photographs cut out in magazines (Odalisque, 1955-1958). Which direction to give to these assemblies? It is, like the famous interval, a mystery, but - and in that its power resides - its art functions like a mystery.
There is a form of grace - this thing which makes that, when someone else puts a tire (or anything of other) around the size of a goat (or any other animal), that becomes often ridiculous. Let us specify that the grace, in art, does not fall from the sky. Rauschenberg studied art; it even came to follow the courses of the Julian Academy, in Paris, in 1948. It can in particular perfectly use photography for what it is, an illustration, a testimony, and not like a substitute of the drawing, as will do it a many its follower. Its works, at least until the Eighties, before they are not repeated, convey a kind of mythology which can seem incomprehensible to us, but which looks at us, and sometimes us fascine.
1964, therefore. This year, the prize list of biennial of Venice creates an enormous scandal. If one compares it with Bissière - with its painting abstracted tenderly poetic, at the school of Paris, if organized, with this modern art with end of breath, Robert Rauschenberg is extraterrestrial. There were others of them before him. The first of them was undoubtedly the Greek painter Piraeicus, who became famous thanks to tables representing of food, the asses, the goats and a whole heap of banal things of the everyday life. It is that its small works, that hated holding them of a solidified tradition, were sold much expensive than the large mythological frescos of the recognized Masters. The Greeks called it the rhyparographe - literally: the painter of sordid, waste, dirtiness.
O l i v i e r   C e n a.

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