Past: March 21 → May 24, 2014
Agnès Thurnauer has long been interested in working in a variety of medium notably large scale paintings which often have an iconic and intuitive combination of image and text. This exhibition, Sleepwalking, takes its title from the large work that presents the back torso of a woman sandwiched between a field of words used to describe aspects of painting, some readable others in reverse and an ambiguous abstract space constructed as an architectural drawing leading the eye into deep space. Like many of Thurnauer’s recent paintings Sleepwalking seizes the moment between a temporal and imaginary perception; the artist stands in this middle distance, are we sure it is the artist, or any woman, or any artist regardless of the gender, arms palms touching the outside of the thighs, legs slightly apart, hair flowing softly to one side, the shadows as painted against the back suggest a window just over our shoulders, is it day light or night that causes the contours , the figure is lost to us, standing still, and we read from the top of the painting to the bottom in a sans serif typography, painted in green on a taupe ground from the upper left, the song or the trope begins and our eyes read and we see each word as a piece of a landscape that is the inner world of an artist. It begins with the letter a, we think it is alphabetical, we read : abstraction, academy, acrylic, allegory, annunciation, artifice, construction, concept, cotton, color, crayon.. the words sing to us like a siren’s song and then in the middle the letters are reversed and we wonder if there must be a mirror in this room, is it a room, is it a state of mind, is it a dream, are we sleepwalking with the artist, or are we both of us awake.
These words fill the entire surface of the painting like a veil or a screen; is she in this way veiled, given her modesty as if she were in a burkah with this fabric of language. Do we see her or not. And what is she staring at, another space far beyond, the delineation of a room, the interior of the mind ? The studio ? A flattened deep space where she is trapped between being awake and asleep .She is caught here, and we are likewise caught at a safe distance where we can neither reach her nor disturb her in this trap, like a rabbit whose feet are stuck in the teeth of a trap. Here she is, silent, motionless. Lost to us.
Across the gallery on a shelf running the length of the wall will be the foil to this condition, because here will be Matrice, an ongoing sculptural project now, begun as a way of looking at the singular components of words, each letter, as something physical with its own properties, each vowel and consonant has its own form, some in pieces other in whole. Thurnhauer constructs molds and casts in resin or plaster each letter and then as elements of a rambling thought, or a language that has not yet been learned we view a spillage of letters like dominoes across a surface, begging to be put into some kind of logical order but objects in their own right, like musical notes, but here, they seem to have lept from the words on the painting as if to remind us of the weight each element in a word possesses, and in artistic terms, this weight, or gravitas is there whether we are aware of it or not, and this makes us think back to the power of names, and terminologies, and words, Thurnauer has been well known for the portraits she has made in the last decade as large wall sized buttons in shiny candy colors where she has taken the names of women artists and made them masculine, and taken the male names and made them feminine, in this way the shift of letters reconstructs another landscape in our minds as we read the familiar and see it otherwise.
In the lower gallery we will see two oversized drawings on canvas, here the female figures are brazen and bare, their larger than life Rubensian aspects — the roundness of a belly and hips, the weighted fullness of the breast, the articulate nipples surprise if not astonish us, as did the hips of late Degas’s nudes stepping out of the bath, his pastel gestures showing us a moment that is rarely made public, just an every day image and yet it is the formality we recognize as well as the monumentality, and we see these heroic figures (self portraits of the artist or not) as archaic mythic creatures. And their awkward power, their sensuous in-your-face-gutsy lack of non-chalance makes us breathless; we are meant to see the female body in this way.
We read it in what way then ? Are these too part of a dream sequence, the blonde in black over-the-elbow gloves is preparing her left fist to follow her right into the surface of a painting on the wall, a figure throwing her punches into abstraction, a sexy nude blonde taking her force and throwing her body into the Twombly-esque surface of a liberally drawn scrawling cacophony of lines. Her compatriot is upside down taking off or putting on a red top, her breasts laying in wait for us as something we need to see and feel and smell, these are the heroines like the nineteenth century figures who ride off the roof of the Grande Palais. Thurnhauer is taking us on exactly this type of timeless journey through her mind, and the history of art and semiotic theory along with it. And it is new work that is asking more questions of us, so we wake and wonder where we have been, as if we are all Sleepwalking.
A retrospective exhibition is at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes until May 11th, curated by Blandine Chavanne and Catherine Grenier.