“My paintings are not formalist nor narrative. My paintings are realist and connected to real life. The social field in brief: action” – Steven Parrino
There are certain similarities between Gagosian exhibiting the work of American artist Steven Parrino and Saint Laurent selling leather jackets or Valentino’s studded creations. It reminds us that punk is as popular with the affluent for its edgy, counter-culture connotations as with everyone else. Gagosian is a dominant force in the contemporary art market with outposts in New York, London, Rome and Hong Kong as well as two large spaces in Paris where this excellent exhibition creating a dialogue between the work of Parrino with his European colleagues which is currently on view.
Steven Parrino (1958-2005) appropriated an extreme punk sensibility in his work attacking the canvas, twisting it off the stretcher to disrupt the rectangular plane. He lived as he created and died: on the edge (Parrino died in a motor bike accident in 2005). Some of the works are very physical and Parrino appropriates powerful imagery, identity and energy from various powerful street sources, for example in his work and 13 Shattered Panels (for Joey Ramone), 2001, a monumental installation of plasterboard painted slick black, brutal in its raw, dark power. Another remarkable work is Dancing on Graves, 1999, a video installation of what can only be described as a very sexy girl dancing in black PVC. It has to be seen to be believed but it conveys the existential ethos of the work brilliantly, capturing a certain moment of raw vitality in New York and energy that could perhaps only be augmented by a razor blade and two lines of cocaine!
The purpose of this exhibition is to compare Parrino with a group of well-known European abstract painters, The BMPT (Buren, Mosset, Parmentier and Toroni). This group challenged established ideas of artistic authorship and originality. They suppressed subjectivity in favour of practical systems such as the use of repetitive patterns, for example, Buren’s famous stripe motif which Parrino also employs. Freed from the constraints of representation, these artists produce works that are surprisingly diverse.
There are some masterpieces on view here including John Armleder’s CRE (Furniture sculpture) which consists of a striped painting installed along with four black chairs, daring the visitor to take a seat. For me the picture that steals the show is Daniel Buren’s Peinture acrylique blanche sur tissue rayé blanc et orange, Décembre 1970. Although not the earliest of Buren’s stripe pictures, it is a bold and classic representation of the motif for which he is best known and must be considered an early masterwork. Given his recent work for Louis Vuitton it may also be considered an inspiration for this year’s fashion and indeed once you have seen these works, rather like Damien Hirst’s dots, you will start to see them everywhere.
This is an interesting exhibition which curiously captures the fashion zeitgeist with punk and stripes. Gagosian is a force to be reckoned with in the commercial gallery world and the calibre of its exhibitions is exceptional – they have managed to secure high quality works from the 1960s to contemporary examples of abstraction in this tightly curated and beautifully installed show. Although its purpose is to show the similarities between Parrino and the BMPT, to the more astute observer it also highlights the differences between them and perhaps their disparate cultures. The American works are bold, physically expressive and almost out of control with emotion and the French by comparison are immaculate, self-contained methodical and entirely controlled.
Sarah Hyde lives in Paris and is our European Editor.