JEAN GENET EXHIBITION AT THE NOTTINGHAM CONTEMPORARY
The wonderful Nottingham Contemporary never fails to disappoint me.
Its previous exhibition, works by the Egyptian artist Wawl Shawky, was
so good that it actually made my heart beat faster. So when I found
out that they would be carrying out an exhibition inspired by the works
of one of my favourite writers, Jean Genet, I was incredibly excited.
One thing I have always enthused about with the Contemporary is the
often-ingenious use it makes of its space, and this was no different
to reflect Genets career as a playwright, the exhibition
was divided into different acts, spread out across the separate
galleries within the Contemporary. The first and most central act was
by Marc Camille Chaimowicz, who had been born in Genets post-war
Paris but gained attention as a part of the London art scene in the
early 70s. The erotic visuals of furniture as representative as the
body fuels his work for every angle, as well as tracing the narrative
of Genets famous play The Maids.
Chaimowicz works alongside some important figures for his exhibition;
most notably Genets friend Alberto Giacometti , which bought all
the complexities of Genets work to life. (Genet had also written
an essay on Giacometti, The Studio of Alberto Giacometti,
after posing for him five times. Picasso considered it the best essay
on art he had ever read.) Works by other artists such as the Turner-prize
winning Wolfgang Tillmans, who constantly seems to provide highlights
of the Contemporarys exhibitions, also summarise the homoerotic nuances
of Genets work.
Whilst the first Act focused on the transcendent sexuality of Genets
plays and poetry, the second act focused on his political work, largely
through the medium of photography. Genet focused solely on political
work in the later years of his life, with an active involvement in the
struggles of the Palestinians and the Black Panthers, and it was a true
excitement to see some photography of him in action, particularly on
the images showing him working alongside other important thinkers, such
as Discipline and Punish, author Michel Foucault. Meanwhile,
photographs loaned by the Ginsberg Company of him campaigning alongside
the iconic Beat poet Allen Ginsberg were so-cool-it-hurts (probably
not the intention of campaigns for important political causes, I know
Other pieces were simply in relation to Genets political work
works by the Black Panther Partys Minister of Culture Emory
Douglas, Palestinian Liberation Organisation member Abdul Hay Mossallam,
and a West Bank-inspired piece by the art collective The Otolith Group.
Home (French) politics are also bought into the equation with works
by Gil. J. Wolman, the experimental artist and founder of Lettrist International
(a forerunner of Situationist International.)
With any major art exhibition which encompasses a range of artists'
works, there is always a but. And the but which
I am going to have to bring up here comes courtesy of Glenn Ligon and
his use of neon signs to make a racial point. It's not the message which
is the issue here; it is the medium. Neon signs? Hasnt this already
been done to death (and to more emotive effect) by the likes of Jenny
Holzer and Tracey Emin?
But on the whole this exhibition was as highly original and as fantastically
edgy as Genet himself. It covered everything you could really want from
art, including traditional beauty (Lebanese artists Mona Hatoums
ceramic sculptures of hand grenades are far more aesthetically beautiful
than they sound.)
Until October 22nd, the Contemporary will host many Genet inspired events
screenings of his own film, Un Chant DAmour,
screenings of relevant political films, a film featuring the wonderful
dancer Micheal Clark, and a discussion workshop. I urge anybody reading
this to attend any of these but not without taking in another
the main exhibition, another resounding success for Nottingham, first.
Details of the exibition are here