Visitors to the exhibition “Dans l’Œil du Critique: Bernard Lamarche-Vadel et les Artistes” may not know who Lamarche-Vadel was and need not care: with 250 works of art, dating mostly from the 1970s through the ’90s, on display, the show stands on its own, but knowing a little about the man adds depth and interest.
So who was Bernard Lamarche-Vadel? He was an independent French critic, born in 1949, who championed and befriended a number of artists – many of them young and unknown and many of them French. He was also a writer of fiction and poetry (one of his novels, Vétérinaires, won the Prix Goncourt for a first novel in 1994), professor, publisher and occasional curator.
His voice haunts this show (through September 6 at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris), with loudspeakers and video screens broadcasting his talks and interviews throughout. His image comes through in a number of portraits of him by artists he promoted. The show also includes a re-creation of his office, filled with his books, artworks he especially loved and portraits of his favorite artists; partial re-creations of exhibitions he curated; many examples of his writing; and his personal collection of almost exclusively black-and-white photos.
“Finir en Beauté,” a 1981 exhibition re-created here, presented the work of young figurative artists of the Figuration Libre movement (so named by the artist Ben), among them Robert Combas and Hervé di Rosa, while “Qu’est-ce que l’Art Français?” in 1986 brought together 11 artists, most of them fairly unknown, working in France. The influence of comic-book art, so beloved by the French, is evident in many of these works, but Lamarche-Vadel’s taste was by no means limited to figurative art. A number of abstract pieces are also included here; Lamarche-Vadel, whose criticism showed the influence of structuralism and psychoanalysis, was also a champion of what he called “analytic abstraction,” exemplified by artists like Olivier Mosset, Jean Degottex and Martin Barré.
Many of the artists whom Lamarche-Vadel defended when they were young and unknown have gone on to art world fame, among them Gérard Garouste, Erik Dietman, Roman Opalka and Jacques Villeglé.
He also helped make the work of foreign artists like Joseph Beuys and Richard Serra known in France (he wrote a book on Beuys entitled Is It about a Bicycle?) and was the publisher from 1979 to ’82 of Artistes, a revue mixing criticism, interviews with artists and editorial attacks on the cliquishness and institutionalization of the art world (makes one wonder what he would have thought of this show).
Toward the end of his life, Lamarche-Vadel became more interested in photography than contemporary art. In the final years, he was in and out of a psychiatric clinic, where he staged plays written by the Sade while the marquis was incarcerated in an asylum. Lamarche-Vadel killed himself at his château in the Mayenne department two years after publishing a book of short stories entitled L’Art, le Suicide, la Princesse et son Agonie, in which he described what was to become his own end.
Like Lamarche-Vadel, this exhibition is several things at once: a survey of European art between 1974 and 2000, as seen through the eyes of one man with eclectic tastes; a survey of the history of photography as seen in his own collection; and a tribute to a man and a writer who may be worth learning more about.
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris: 11, avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris. Métro: Alma-Marceau or Iéna. Tel.: 01 53 67 40 00. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Thursday until 10 p.m.). Closed on public holidays. Admission: €5.00. Through September 6. www.mam.paris.fr