Monday, April 3, 2017

FRENCH ART FAIR HIGHLIGHTS CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART

Spring means art in Paris. From the end of March, the city becomes awash with the colours of impressionism, retrospectives of master painters, modern art and contemporary works, as museums launch grandiose exhibitions.

Each spring as well, the Art Paris Art Fair welcomes dozens of galleries to the imposing glass-domed Grand Palais exhibition halls, and this year Africa was the guest of honour, with 139 galleries presenting works by an array of artists with links to the continent.

Artwork by Marion Boehm
The 19th edition of the art fair (March 30 to April 2) featured both monographic exhibitions in the Solo Show section and up-and-coming artists in the section titled Promesses (Promises).

Among the 29 countries represented were galleries from Angola, South Africa, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and other African nations.

The goal, said the organizers, was to “showcase the talented emerging generation of artists from both the African continent itself and from its diaspora”. Around 15 “Western galleries” chose to show the work of their African artists, who included Omar Ba of Senegal, Kendell Geers of South Africa and Chéri Samba from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In all, the participating galleries presented some 100 artists at the fair, with the African focus being under the direction of cultural consultant and independent curator Marie-Ann Yemsi.

Artist Marion Boehm poses with her work.
Some of the works that drew particular attention were created by European-born artists who had lived in Africa - such as Marion Boehm, whose massive paper-and-fabric collages put African subjects at the centre of traditional, Western-style formats.

Boehm said in an interview that she had always been bothered by the “peripheral” placing of African characters in European paintings of the past; so her pieces (which share certain aspects with the work of Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop and that of American painter Kehinde Wiley) depict subjects from colonial eras as principal actors.

The fair also displayed works by Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow, who died last December at the age of 81. His larger-than-life “Mother and Child” sculpture gave a reminder of why his art was so celebrated during his lifetime.

Visitors view Alexis Peskine's "Wolof Cosmic" -
created with nails, moon gold leaf, paint
and varnish on wood panels.
Works by other notable artists were spread around the fair, attracting viewers even though the pleasant weather outside provided stiff competition.

Still, the current act of showcasing these artists shouldn't obscure the fact that “France is backward in terms of its appreciation of contemporary African art”, said curator Yemsi.

“If it would be inexact to say that nothing has changed in France over the last thirty years ..., the history of art as it continues to be taught and disseminated has hardly contributed at all, contrary to other European countries, to the much-needed decolonization of knowledge and imagination,” Yemsi wrote in the fair’s press book. - Tasshon

Ousmane Sow's "Mother and Child", Bronze 2001.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

PARIS FASHION WEEK: INSPIRATION FROM AFRICA, WASHROOMS

Manish Arora design.
Indian designer Manish Arora and several other innovative stylists have been showing why African print is such a potent source of inspiration. The colours and geometric shapes enliven all materials, and when they’re adopted by visionary artists, they take on a “galactic” dimension, as Arora proved with his Fall/Winter 2017 collection titled “Cosmic Love”.

Manish Arora
The aim was to take viewers on a “visual journey”, starting from Africa and spanning into the “outer reaches of the cosmos”, said Arora, as he celebrated his brand’s 10th anniversary during Paris Fashion Week, Feb. 28 to March 7.

Bold colours and “arithmetic” shapes were thus patch-worked onto denim tunics or appliquéd on silk organza dresses, while “African textures of boiled wool patchwork” were used for oversize bombers and waistcoats - all for an original look.

The emerald and gold of peacock feathers was also a trend throughout, as the models strutted down the runway, their faces and arms decorated with beads and “tribal” paint.

The peacock motif stood out in embroidery on evening dresses and gowns that had Arora’s trademark playfulness.

With other garments, the designer employed striking shades of tangerine, royal blue and fuschia, and mixed Aztec prints and Art Deco patterns for in-your-face wrap dresses and trouser suits.

For some, the boldness was a bit too much. “It lacks subtlety,” a Dutch viewer remarked at the end of the show. “It’s too overwhelming.” Still, whatever the reaction, one thing was certain: this was a show to be remembered.

Manish Arora

SIRLOIN - THE NEW KIDS IN THE LOO

Sometimes location is everything. Shanghai-based womenswear label Sirloin presented their first Fall/Winter 2017 collection in the public toilets of Paris, with models lounging in doorways or, in one case, sitting atop a commode.

Sirloin
Of course, this wasn’t just any washroom, but the historic lavatories beneath Madeleine Square, on which stands the famed Église (Church) de la Madeleine. Built in the 1930s, the toilets were being opened for the first time again since 2011, and the space was therefore gleaming, with the fancy tiles and doors.

According to Sirloin, which was founded by Japanese-Swedish duo Mao Usami and Alve Lagercrantz, the location was meant to emphasize a “self-ironic point of view” during the brand’s launch at Paris Fashion Week.

The two, both graduates of Central Saint Martins arts and design college, have already won several awards, and they say that their “ultimate vision is to create a full wardrobe ‘literally’ from inside out”. That means that underclothes or pyjamas are the priority - garments that make one comfortable, relaxed and light-hearted.

Their “narrative” of the Fall/Winter season was presented through designs that drew on vintage corduroys and cashmeres, as well as on Chinese sand-washed silk, rough sweatshirts and towel-type fabrics.

The collection finished off with “outdoor” wear that employed “underwear details”, to use their own description. The idea was to create a full wardrobe, in which underclothes are somehow merged with whatever one considers “ready to wear”. – Tasshon

Sirloin

Sunday, January 29, 2017

PARIS COUTURE WEEK: DIFFERENT WAYS OF VIEWING FASHION

It must be a challenge to come up with original ways of staging fashion shows, but Dutch-Vietnamese designer Xuan went all out in this regard during Paris couture week.

Xuan: amid the flowers.
Hers was a fashion show where the models did not move around, but instead had to stand still for long minutes, surrounded by flowers or alongside streams of falling water.

The aim was for the viewers to do the “walking” -through all the “different worlds of Xuan’s universe”, as portrayed in the Spring / Summer 2017 couture collection.

“Rather than watch the spectacle as a seated viewer, we invite guests to traverse three sites representing the sensorial experiences that informed the designs,” visitors were informed at the beginning of the show on Jan. 26, the last day of couture week.

So, when individuals in a tightly packed crowd trudged up the stairs to the upper rooms of the Dutch cultural institute in Paris, they were greeted with the sight of a model in a glass “house”, against a backdrop of multi-coloured flowers. The first thought that might have occurred to many is: “let’s hope she has no allergies!”

The designer at work.
Two other models stood in the "house", trying to remain motionless as viewers circled the structure. Interesting as the concept was, it detracted from the sumptuously made clothing, as awareness of the models took precedence.

“How long do they have to stand like that?” one viewer asked.

“About 30 minutes to an hour,” was the response from a staff assistant.

In another room, a stream of water cascaded from the ceiling, spraying two models as they stood in this section of the “universe”. The idea here was that “water, light and sound interplay to create an atmosphere of refreshing melancholy”.

After the third room, it was hard to say whether this was a “refreshing” way to see fashion, or just a bizarre attempt to stand out from the pack during fashion week. While Xuan certainly drew on the artistic side of showcasing clothing, the show had a discomfiting element.

LIU CHAO
Designer Liu Chao presented his collection without movement as well, but in his case there were no live models. His striking dresses were mounted on mannequins, as in a store window, for a presentation that took place at the gleaming, recently renovated Ritz hotel on the Place Vendôme.

Liu Chao
Here, too, viewers were invited to walk around the display, but they could do so without distractions – no blossoms or waterfalls. The daring was strictly in the designs, with the bold use of colour and jewel-embroidery.

“I can play with all kinds of material,” Chao told a reporter. “If I find interesting materials, I’ll work with it.”

The Chinese-born, Paris-based stylist explained that the embroidery included precious and semi-precious stones that come from “all over” the world.

Their integration into his Spring / Summer 2017 couture collection added an old-world charm to modern styles, and Chao's training in professional embroidery was apparent. He definitely seems someone to watch, judging from the imaginative creations. 

HYUN MI NIELSEN
The same may be said of stylist Christine Hyun Mi Nielsen. Visitors to her show were met with a rumpled double bed, on which sat a model dressed in white like the sheet and pillowcases. Later came eerie music and high-stepping movement, as models ambled through rooms full of standing spectators.

Hyun Mi Nielsen
“What’s with the lack of chairs this year?” someone remarked.

“I know, right?” a fellow viewer responded.

Still, this was a show worth standing up for, as Nielsen combined sass with expertise for a range of ensembles that she said were inspired by her own experiences, including sadness at the loss of a job with a major fashion house.

The designs reflected vulnerability as well as a fighting spirit, with the models wearing face paint like warriors, and the earth tones of leather and other materials evoking nature as champion.

“I drew on my own background, and my heritage,” said Nielsen, who has worked as a studio director for Balenciaga and was Alexander McQueen’s Head of Womenwear Design in London. She was presenting under her own brand for the first time in Paris.

Galia Lahav
Other shows with a “difference” included Galia Lahav’s presentation at the glass-domed Grand Palais, where the evening couture collection was inspired by the “Victorian era in England and by its parallel phrase in France, la Belle Epoque”.

The designs included high collars, puffed sleves, long trains and corsets in a mix of rich fabrics and varied colours – ivory, black, gold, purples, scarlet. In-house designers Galia Lahav and Sharon Sever said most of the materials were hand-dyed to “emphasize the depth” of the century.

“We have integrated fabric dyeing techniques ... and embossed silicone, alongside the use of antique, original embroidery, from the 1890’s, made by Lesage,” they told fashion reporters.

Meanwhile, Antonio Ortega stood out for mixing things up in a collection fittingly titled “Hybrid”. Along with oddball evening gowns, he showcased stylish, innovative summer ensembles, such as a wrap-around orange skirt paired with a silky grey top and a shorts "suit" with bright red piping . Ortega, in fact, made couture look cool, and without the use of water.  - Tasshon

Antonio Ortega

Liu Chao

Monday, November 14, 2016

PARIS EXHIBITION: AGNES B. DISCUSSES THE ART OF LIVING

“I love people,” says French fashion designer agnès b. “I want everyone to be happy.”

That philosophy comes across not only in the kind of clothes she produces, but also in the artwork she collects – creations that promote freedom and rights and affirm human resilience. Fans can now see 69 pieces of her immense art collection at the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration in Paris, an institution that focuses on immigration in France.

Designer agnes b. at "Vivre!!"
(Photo: Tasshon)
“I love to discover artists and people,” she told Tasshon in an interview. “Art and design are connected, and I try to support artists who are saying something for the good of the world.”

The exhibition, titled Vivre!!, acts as a kind of dialogue between the agnès b. collection and works from the museum’s own permanent set.

The designer presents iconic black-and-white photographs by Malian photographer Malick Sidibe in “discourse”, for instance, with the huge, vivid colour paintings of Congolese artist Chéri Samba, whose work has been acquired by the museum and whose talent agnès b. says she admires.

The show is divided into different categories, with intriguing headings: World maps, Rebellion, Writing … the Words, Living, Love, Work, Youth, Death, Dance, War and Who Are We.

Image from the video
by Regina Jose Galindo.
In the “Rebellion” section, visitors will find themselves immediately drawn to an arresting video by Regina José Galindo called “Quien puede borrar las huellas” (Who can cover his tracks). It shows a barefooted young woman stepping into a basin of red liquid (blood?) and then walking along the sidewalk in front of a phalanx of armed police officers or guards, leaving red footprints in her wake.

Other works question the notion of identity or deplore the senseless brutality of conflict, such as Damir Radovic’s 2013 work, which bears these words in neon lights: "Who started the war?" This is a reference to the Yugoslav War of the 1990s, with its ethnic cleansing atrocities and crimes against humanity.

In addition to Radovic, the exhibition features another artist from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Antoinette Ohannessian, who shows how blasé humans can be about violent conflict.

agnes b. (photo: K. Ohishi)
“Agnès b is a collector that’s really engaged with what’s happening in the world,” says Sam Stourdzé, the show’s curator. “The artists aren’t chosen for their rank in the marketplace but for their relationship with humanity. She supports artists and art, as a designer speaking to others who are creative.”

For agnès b, there are parallels between visual arts and the art of couture, and it was barely a decade after starting her own brand in 1973 that she opened an art gallery - la galerie du jour. Since then, she has been involved in numerous artistic and humanitarian projects and has won several awards. 

“I don’t do fashion, I do clothes,” she told Tasshon at the exhibition. “I try to make things that can be worn forever. I want people to be happy when they wear my clothes.”

And perhaps when they see her art collection as well.

Vivre!! runs until Jan. 8, 2017 at the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration, Paris.

Friday, October 21, 2016

FIAC CONTEMPORARY ART FAIR BRINGS BACK THE SUN, AND FUN

The Fisheries, by artist Mark Dion, displayed at FIAC.

A great way to escape the autumn greyness in Paris is to surround oneself with the colour and gaiety (some would say absurdity) of the annual International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC), and this year, there is enough brightness to last for weeks.

Running from Oct. 20 to 23 in the French capital, the fair has brought together 186 galleries from 27 countries for its 43rd edition, and it has expanded from its historical venue – the Grand Palais – to the twin building across the street, the Petit Palais, with a series of sculptures and installations.

Colored Vases by Ai Weiwei.
Both buildings were constructed for the 1900 Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) and designed by the same architect, Charles Girault, so FIAC’s expansion is reviving “the historical unity” of these two landmarks, says the fair’s director Jennifer Flay. 

The On Site part of FIAC at the Petit Palais makes the most of the building’s gallery, pavilion, garden and esplanade to present playful and memorable artwork, “entering into conversation with the permanent collection”, Flay adds.

In the Grand Palais meanwhile, exuberance fills the vast space, as the various galleries show their most striking and off-beat works. The Fisheries by American artist Mark Dion drew visitors to the Nagel Draxler Gallery stand on opening night, many taking photos of the multi-hued “fish” hanging from a horizontal pole.

Viewing Piangiamore's artwork.
But nearly every gallery at the fair has presented a talking point, whether from renowned or upcoming artists. Eye-catching vases by Chinese master Ai Weiwei are on display at Lisson Gallery, while around the corner, Rome’s Magazzino Gallery exhibits the weighty works of the Italian Alessandro Piangiamore.

Piangiamore collects all kinds of flowers, arranges them on a background and then covers them with plaster and bits of iron, not knowing what the result will be.

Viewers of the artwork can see the outline of the flowers and their colours, trying to break free from the plaster. The lightness of the blooms get weighed down by the other materials, and each piece requires quite a bit of muscle to lift it.

“No, no, they’re not heavy,” said a gallery representative on opening night, raising one a few centimetres from the floor. But they are, for the average art-lover – heavy and intriguing.

Schifano's Giallo.
“Lightness” at the gallery comes in the form of the bright-yellow, monochromatic painting of Mario Schifano. He creates textures by first putting broad swathes of paper on canvas, and then painting over them. So, it’s not just a square of yellow that one is looking at, even if the work is titled simply Giallo.

At several other galleries, monochromes are also a feature, with red and orange being the colours of choice. The effect is that when one leaves the fair, it’s as if one takes the sun outside to the drizzly fall weather. - Text and photos by Tasshon


A sunny welcome at FIAC 2016?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

PARIS PRESENTS A SWEEPING EXHIBITION OF MEXICO'S ARTISTS

It's apparently been at least 50 years since the public was treated to such a feast of Mexican art, but many will agree that the new show at the Grand Palais in Paris has been worth the wait.

The poster for the exhibition.
 Courtesy of Rmn-Grand Palais
Titled Mexique 1900 - 1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Orozco and the avant-garde, the exhibition gives a wide-ranging view of Mexico’s best known artists as well as numerous others, placing them in a historical overview.

According to curator Agustin Arteaga Dominguez, the exhibition (which started earlier this month) offers a “fresh new look” at the “limitless Mexican art scene” of the first half of the 20th century.

More than 200 works fill two floors of the Grand Palais, tracing “a vast panorama across modern Mexico, from the first stirrings of the Revolution to the middle of the 20th century, complemented by a number of works from contemporary artists”.

This is a period particularly known for the Mexican School of Painting and its most prominent movement, Muralism. The French and Mexican co-organizers have thus given pride of place to the imposing works of “los Tres Grandes” (the Three Greats), as the most influential muralists were called: José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo's The Two Fridas, 1939,
Collection Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico
Their work defined the era following the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, and many of the paintings have become iconic. 

But the show spotlights other major artists, with a section, for instance, on “strong women” – where Frieda Kahlo is naturally the star. Her paintings here include the captivating “Self Portrait with Cropped Hair” and “The Two Fridas”, presented in a kind of conversation with the works of fellow artists such as Nahui Olin and Rosa Rolanda.

Overall, the exhibition is so impressively ambitious in scope that it’s hard to take in everything. Still, even if viewers see only a couple of murals by Rivera and Orozco, and one or two paintings by Kahlo, the trip will have been worth it. - Tasshon

"Mexique 1900 - 1950: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Orozco and the avant-garde" is on at the Grand Palais in Paris until Jan. 23, 2017. It's co-organized by France’s Réunion des  musées nationaux-Grand Palais and Mexico’s Secretaría de Cultura, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Museo Nacional de Arte. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

FASHION WEEK: EMERGING DESIGNERS PUSH STYLE FORWARD

Apart from the high-profile armed robbery that everyone has now heard about, the latest Paris Fashion Week mostly escaped the circus-like ambiance of former seasons.

This quieter atmosphere enabled a greater spotlight on notable showroom events, such as Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD), a Middle Eastern platform that made its debut in Paris this year, running from Sept. 30 to Oct 5 and attracting fashion buyers and prospective fans.

Design by Zena Presley (photo: Coste)
Held in the popular Marais district, the presentation showcased a “carefully curated selection” of apparel and accessory designers who included Amira Haroon, Bedouin, Bil Arabi, Hâshé, Kage, Madiso, Maram, NS By Noof, Orkalia, Rula Galayini, Salta and Zena Presley.

Their designs comprised clothing, jewelry, handbags and other accessories, most of which stood out for the exceptional fabrics and other materials used.

Syrian-born, Dubai-based designer Presley, for instance, displayed delicate dresses with tailored cuts for her spring / summer 2017 collection.

Meanwhile, Bil Arabi's Nadine Kanso – who was born in Lebanon and is also based in Dubai – showed her unique rings, earrings and bracelets, which she said are based on her handwriting. This was her second show in Paris.

Ava Hashemi, the creative director of Hâshé, said that the region has a new generation of designers who are forging new directions in fashion, drawing upon their multi-cultural heritage for their singular creations.

Originally from Iran, Hashem was raised in the United Arab Emirates, and her work is “fueled by Middle Eastern culture, architecture, art and environment,” according to the company. Her ready-to-wear line blends a modern flair with traditional elegance.

Jewelry from  Bil Arabi (photo: Coste)
The FFWD, launched three years ago, has now showcased seven events, twice per year, gaining recognition in the style world. It will enter its eighth season on Oct. 20 in Dubai, presenting ready-to-wear, couture and accessory designers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region over four days.

Endorsed by the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) and supported by strategic partner Dubai Design District (d3), the platform in August 2016 launched an empowerment program called EPIC (Empowerment Program through Industry Collaboration).

This is sponsored by the company Samsung Electronics Mena, and it aims to provide business development opportunities to regional fashion talent through a series of initiatives, a spokesperson stated. - Tasshon