France: Instant Présent

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from France

France : Instant Présent, Contemporary Artists from France, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
“Il faut être absolument moderne”: these five words that explode unexpectedly at the end of Une saison en enfer by Arthur Rimbaud – we are in 1873 – define and change at the same time the sense of the story of culture, both in France and globally. Modernity vehemently breaks out. It is a word that, as Roberto Calasso writes in La folie Baudelaire, “emerges and rebounds between Gautier and Baudelaire in the space of a little more than 11 years of the Second French Empire between 1852 and 1863. And this was always done with caution, with the awareness of introducing an alien notion into the language.”
Christian Guémy - Chat, Christian Guémy, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Christian Guémy - Chat (2016)

With the young French ferocity that fuels revolutions, the nineteen year-old Rimbaud sets the wheels in motion and opens the doors to modernity and the avant-garde. And perhaps it could only have happened here, in that France which, notes Pierre George, professor of human geography, “owes its rank and its international authority to the accumulation of a valuable historic and cultural heritage.”

Valmont Achalme - Italian wedding, Valmont Achalme, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Valmont Achalme - Italian wedding (2016)

So much so that to describe France’s contribution to the evolution of the history of culture and art over the centuries – in short, its path into modernity – can only understate the large number of French works in literature, painting, scientific, philosophical, political and existential thought, architecture, theatre and film, that have become absolute reference points for world art.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac (2016)

In literature, modernity took great strides forward with the epic humorous work of Rabelais (Gargantua et Pantagruel) and the intimate and philosophical work of Montaigne; with the plays of Molière, Corneille and Racine; with the great historical novel of Hugo and Stendhal, Balzac’s Comédie humaine and the splendid novels of Flaubert, capable of identifying with the characters and people that inspired them. And then, in the early 21th century, Proust’s monumental cycle of novels À la recherche du temps perdu, which marks the final dissolution of the objective reality of space and time in favour of the affirmation of memory, the subconscious and disturbing questions about our identity
and consistency.

Elias Crespin - Cubic inception, Elias Crespin, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Elias Crespin - Cubic inception (2016)

The history of philosophy, moreover, cannot afford to ignore French authors such as René Descartes, whose methodic doubt is a foundation of modern philosophical speculation. Or the rationalism of the Enlightenment, with figures such as Rousseau and Montesquieu, whose political considerations underpin the constitutions of modern liberal and democratic States. Or again, the Enciclopédie devised and directed by Diderot and D’Alembert, which marks the beginning of a secular and egalitarian method of organizing knowledge.

Françoise Spiess - Reinventing light, Françoise Spiess, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Françoise Spiess - Reinventing light (2016)

Boasting such a prestigious cultural tradition, the French have always defended with great zeal their genius loci, in particular, their language. The French are among the most linguistically conservative societies, and their resistance to the pervasiveness of English is legendary, even down to their shop signs. Moreover France also has a prestigious scholastic tradition, with the Sorbonne in Paris, in particular, one of the oldest universities on the old continent.

Mounier Fatmi, Mounier Fatmi, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Mounier Fatmi (2016)

When Édouard Manet’s Olympia was exhibited for the first time – in room M of the Paris Salon, in May 1865 – figurative art made a huge leap forward towards the avant-garde and the future. Manet “caused all Paris to run to see this curious woman, with her magnificent bouquet, her negress and her black cat,” wrote the critic Théophile Thoré. Olympia – naked, a velvet ribbon around her neck, a gold wrist cuff and oriental slippers – appeared lewd, immoral, scandalous in the way she gazed with impunity on her viewers. Provocative and dazzling in the way she looked out at what lay beyond the picture.

Mickaël Doucet - The wind is picking up, Mickaël Doucet, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Mickaël Doucet - The wind is picking up (2016)

One hundred years later, in a somewhat similar fashion, the director François Truffaut writes one of the most intense pages of modern cinema with one of the most beautiful close-up shots in the history of film: the final moments of The 400 Blows (1961), when the desperate gaze of the adolescent Jean-Pierre Léaud, looking directly into the camera, communicates the abandonment of pretence, meeting the viewer’s eyes to invoke a joint responsibility for the human condition.

Rudy Ricciotti - Untitled, Rudy Ricciotti, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Rudy Ricciotti - Untitled (2016)

And it is the whole of France, moreover, that contributes to this culture that strengthens us, to art, to the layers of memory, the dignity and the role of moral leadership to which they are entitled. While Paris is the symbol of French grandeur in the broadest sense, with its monuments, museums that are among the most visited in the world, the frenetic and creative rhythm of the streets that have attracted artists from all over the globe, the country as a whole is home to over thirty UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These range from prehistoric sites such as the notable Lascaux cave paintings caves, to the Roman vestiges of Arles and Orange, from the remarkable system of navigable waterways that is the Canal du Midi, to the fortifications of Carcassonne and Vauban, from the landscape embroidered with vineyards of Burgundy to the place of origin of champagne, both included in the UNESCO list in 2015.

Sam Baron - Vois-tu ?, Sam Baron, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Sam Baron - Vois-tu ? (2016)

And in 2012, to take another example, the Louvre opened a regional branch in Lens, the heart of the mining area in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region that inspired Emile Zola’s Germinal, a cultural antidote to the industrial decline of the zone, giving art a new social vocation.

Jean-Paul Donadini - Halted white brush, Jean-Paul Donadini, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Jean-Paul Donadini - Halted white brush (2016)

Moreover we only need to take a stroll through the streets of a small midi city, Aix-en-Provence, to see first hand how everything, boulevards, fountains, monuments, landscapes, still reference Paul Cézanne and his work, including Mont Sainte-Victoire, which Cézanne painted obsessively, (44 oils and 43 watercolours), making it one of the symbols of modern art: “For a long time, I remained helpless, unable to paint the Sainte-Victoire, simply because I pictured it having a concave shadow. Whereas look for yourselves, it clearly has a concave shadow that elopes from its centre. Rather than shrinking, it evaporates, it fluidises. It contributes its blue tones to the colours of the breeze.”

Isa Barbier - Untitled, Isa Barbier, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Isa Barbier - Untitled (2016)

French modernity at times also becomes a critic of modernity. As in the case of the French Pavilion at the 2014 Architecture Biennale in Venice, dedicated to the theme Modernity: promise or menace?, in response to the theme Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014, assigned to the national pavilions. There, the curator Jean-Louis Cohen questioned the false illusions of a modernity made exclusively of growth, affluence and approval, by returning us to a more complex and not always linear reality. Presenting, in particular, under the title Jaques Tati et la Villa Arpel : objet de désir ou machine ridicule?, the model of the house of the hero in the film Mon Oncle, designed by the painter Jacques Lagrange as an ironic portrait of a hyper- technological modernity. And creating a short circuit between the desire for a futuristic wellbeing and a mechanical and technological oppression that enslaves.

Caroline Sury - Frog girl, Caroline Sury, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Caroline Sury - Frog girl (2016)

“I would be curious to know – said the French writer Patrick Modiano in his acceptance speech of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm – how the next generations, born with the internet, mobile phones, emails and tweets, will express through literature this world in which everyone is permanently connected and where social networks are eating into that part of intimacy and secrecy that was still our own domain until quite recently – the secrecy that gave depth to individuals and could become a major theme in a novel.”

Martine Bedin - Fable, Martine Bedin, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Martine Bedin - Fable (2016)

It is an open and contradictory aspect of the new modernity, current and urgent like that of the state of art today, which Marc Fumaroli, historian and essayist, member of the Académie française, sharply criticized, especially with reference to public intervention, in the volume L’État culturel : une religion moderne [The cultural state. Essay on a modern religion, 1993].

Didier Faustino - Less and no More, Didier Faustino, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Didier Faustino - Less and no More (2016)

“In the noble name of cultural democratization – he controversially wrote in the pages of Le Monde in 2010 – the State, not content with monitoring the national heritage, for which it is responsible, already considered itself an avant-garde patron. And it felt the need to subsidize and host rock, rap, tags and more, borrowed from American mass culture, avant-garde by definition.” Adding that “if money has neither smell nor homeland, poetry, the arts and memories do. Today it is more necessary than ever to remember this fact. It is no longer, as before, a question of deepening the spontaneous sense of national identity through poetry, the arts and memory, but of letting it be born and grow among the newcomers in the national community.” And in France today, wounded by Islamic terrorism, poised between fear and the populism of ignorance, the role of art appears all the more vivid and necessary.

Charlotte L’Harmeroult - Three kisses for a cut, Charlotte L’Harmeroult, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Charlotte L’Harmeroult - Three kisses for a cut (2016)

“A movement of the imaginary, a choral work free of cacophony, France: Instant Present – writes the curator Isabelle Valembras Dahirel in her introduction to this catalogue – is a tile in the global mosaic of Imago Mundi.” In these pages, the artistic expression of contemporary France responds with 210 11x12 cm works, full of inspiration, talent, colour, transfiguration, anxieties, energies, cries (and collective civic participation), to this complex chapter for the Republic and, in general terms, to the aggressions and intricate challenges of our times.

Bruno Peinado - Love without numbers, hommage à Giorgio Griffa, 2016, Bruno Peinado, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Bruno Peinado - Love without numbers, hommage à Giorgio Griffa (2016)

Ich&Kar - Pokerface Love, Ich&Kar, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Ich&Kar - Pokerface Love (2016)

In an interview with La Repubblica in 2016, the literary critic Benedetta Craveri asked the French author Jean Clair what art can to combat fear.

Bertrand Gadenne - The snail, Bertrand Gadenne, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Bertrand Gadenne - The snail (2016)

“Art can move forward. In 1944, when his daughter Marguerite was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, Henri Matisse continued to paint. He created special paintings: some of the finest floral arrangements of his life. He turned on a light in his tremendous darkness. Art today must do this,” responded Clair. The journey into modernity must continue.


Marion Lesage - Mali, Marion Lesage, 2016, From the collection of: Imago Mundi

Marion Lesage - Mali (2016)

Credits: Story

Isabelle Valembras Dahirel
Barbara Liverotti
Giorgia De Luca
Enrico Bossan
Luciano Benetton
Isabelle Valembras
Dahirel Paul Ardenne
Florian Gaité
Emma Cole
Sarah Cuminetti
Valentina Granzotto
Francesca Stopper
Pietro Valdatta
Bianca Otilia Ghiuzan
Marco Zanin
Marco Pavan
Pascal Lièvre - Made in France Ingres
Josiane Valembras
Giuseppe Cucurachi
Sam Baron
François Guilhaume-Bohl
Patrick Fabre
Frédéric Hubin
Valérie Carvalho-Marcelino
Thierry Kauffmann

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.