As if taking an overcrowded train back from the airport on a muggy day wasn’t scary enough, my first art-stop back in Paris was a ride on Sturtevant’s House of Horrors (2010): a minute-long ghost train-slash-artwork installed in the Musée d’Art Moderne. Though it opened in May, the work merits a mention: in a pink grim reaper carriage, accompanied by eerie organ music, you’re taken through tunnels of nightmarish scenes, from a Paul McCarthy-esque puppet maiming his own hand, to a freakish Poodle Lady with a scat fetish. Veering around sharp corners, cyan-tinted lights flash to reveal hidden figures in the dark – skeletons, cobwebs, Frankenstein: cheap thrills for the easily spooked. Perhaps it was the gauzy heat outside, or my sense of foreignness after some time abroad, but it felt like an ominous (and fun) grounding for a new season of exhibitions and events in the city.
Yet, as the first Saturday of September drew closer, the heat shifted into an unnatural cold. At Marian Goodman Gallery, Dan Graham’s untitled exhibition marked a shift in tone from the house of horrors. His ‘tunnel of love’, or Passage Intime (2015), is a tight corridor comprising two curved screens made of stainless steel and two-way mirrors. Reflecting a ghostly mirage of the self passing through space, the mirrors exuded a sense of the spectral that persisted as you walked downstairs into a screening of Graham’s rock-opera, Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty (2004). In it, the US is taken over by a 20-something rockstar puppet, whose first act in power is to throw the aged into a concentration camp, while warning: ‘Thirty’s death, baby. Pure death.’
With this in mind, I darted towards Galerie Éric Hussenot to see ‘Want Position // Red’ by Mira Dancy, a new-yorkaise new to the Paris scene. Alongside a series of bright canvases, an eponymous wall-painting, rendered in watery strokes of grey-scaled ink, depicted a nude woman falling into a wavy sea – an evocation of a Jacques-Louis David painting, in which Psyche incarnate, abandoned by Cupid, resigns to a degenerative grief embellished by her environment. In an adjacent painting, a purplish-red, jagged, reclining nude is ominously overlooked by a group of heavy, matte-black trees. She gazes back at them disapprovingly, one eyebrow raised and hand-on-hip. This droll, licentious interaction between the body and the landscape recalls a genre of 17th- and 18th-century British erotic fiction known as the Merryland books, in which the female body is explored through metaphorical topography – as landscapes that are (ahem) ploughed, stripped and claimed. In Dancy’s paintings, the woman is landscaped by the irrepressible touch of male-dominated art history, frivolously borrowing from the likes of Henri Matisse, Willem de Kooning and Wassily Kandinsky. They read as lewd and pulpy pleasures for the art-historical eye, not spooked by the male gaze, but summoning its presence.
In the project space of Galerie Valentin, out-of-body experience reverberated in a small but abundant exhibition of surrealist works curated by Galerie 1900–2000. Efficiently entitled ‘DF 1900–2000’ (‘DF’ signifying David Fleiss, the gallery owner), the show comprised a century’s worth of drawings and photographs by Hans Bellmer, Victor Brauner, Man Ray and Francis Picabia, amongst others. Fleiss requested that the installation be modelled after an art fair booth, an approach that highlighted the ambiguous relations between selected works. Through a ghostliness moving between media, seen together they conjured a sense of otherworldliness, of timeless relevance. One of the most striking images was a photomontage by Pierre Molinier, Introit (1967). Exploring his transsexuality through violent fetishisms, the artist poses in fishnet stockings, high stilettos and sharp leather gloves, clawing at his body from aberrant angles. Taken a decade prior to his suicide, the tessellated tangle of limbs evokes mutable apparitions of the self – theatrical, fixated, sexualized, possessed.
Still musing over ghostly artifice, I wandered over to Air de Paris, where Jef Geys, Ingrid Luche and Aaron Flint Jamison were exhibiting. The mix of cosmic folds imagined as garments (Luche), erotic engravings framed beside botanical specimens (Geys) and a mysterious computer working hard at hashing continuous yet evasive content (Jamison), provoked reflection on the strange slippages of content and constructions of coincidence and spaces of ambiguity.
This was the kind of space that I discovered at castillo/corrales, in the Belgian artist Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven’s show, ‘Love Shack’. Curated by Yale Union, the 50 drawings displayed are part witchy, part AD magazine, combining boldly coloured collage with simple line drawing and softly pornographic postures with mutable drafts of interior space. Elsewhere, small watercolours of what look like votive figurines are offered up to the imagination. Kerckhoven draws the viewer into the haunted realm of the psyche, where interior space and an almost schizoid (or surrealist) language of advertising eclipses linear thought.
Finally, at High Art, reality hit hard with a Becher-esque video, What’s New? (2015) by Nina Könnemann, which focuses on a silent procession of advertisements pasted to a single, nondescript billboard over time. It’s a sullen reminder that the most wraithlike qualities of art are often embedded in the insignificant details of everyday life. Meaning here is conjured not in production, but observation; in show, not tell. What materializes is unclear, but foregrounded is a familiar sense of otherness that looms over metropolitan life – a permanent haunting, perhaps, by the sociopolitical, historical or economic realities that persuade us to attempt contact with other entities in the first place. Perhaps they’re all artifice, but these apparitions prod and probe in ways that keep even the most unbelieving of us on our toes.
First published in Issue 175