Likes to Provoke
“Nasutamanus” (2012), by Daniel Firman. Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli
Emmanuel Perrotin, France’s answer to Larry Gagosian, is celebrating his Paris-based gallery’s 25th anniversary with a major exhibition, “Happy Birthday Galerie Perrotin,” at the Tripostal exhibition space in Lille.
A savvy talent scout, Perrotin has nurtured the artistic careers of some of the most successful contemporary artists of the past three decades. Takashi Murakami, Maurizio Cattelan, Damien Hirst, Sophie Calle and Wim Delvoye are just a few of the names that he’s helped push to international stardom. From small beginnings – he opened his first gallery in his bedroom when he was 21 – he has grown into a key player on the international art fair circuit and in major art capitals, most recently opening new spaces in Hong Kong and New York.
The Tripostal exhibition, housed in a 6,000-square-meter converted mail-sorting depot next to Lille’s international rail station, is both a retrospective and a launch pad for some lesser-known artists who may mark the next 25 years.
One thing is certain, Perrotin has a good eye. The show, spread over several levels, includes more than a hundred works that reveal the stylistic and geographical breadth of his artistic network. They include sculptures and monumental installations by Delvoye, Daniel Firman and Tatiana Trouvé; mobiles by Lionel Esteve; two mixed media works, “La Filature” and “Vingt Ans Après,” by Calle; and the infamous “INRI” by Cattelan – a taxidermied horse lying on its side with a stake driven into its belly bearing the crucifixion epithet, “INRI” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).
Perrotin and Cattelan go back a long way together as naughty boys of the Paris art world, a sort of Tweedledum and Tweedledee of provocation. Some of the in-crowd oldies still talk about Cattelan’s opening show at Perrotin, when the gallerist dressed up as Le Lapin Perrotin in a phallic hot-pink rabbit suit.
He still likes to dress up, apparently. At the entrance to the Tripostal, the up-and-coming Viennese collective Gelitin provides horse costumes that can be borrowed to trot around the exhibition. No prizes for guessing who can sometimes be seen playing the front end of a horse.
A whole room is dedicated to Damien Hirst, medicine cabinets and all. Hirst no longer belongs to the Perrotin stable, but Perrotin gave him his first solo exhibition in Paris in 1991, when other dealers thought he was unsellable. At the time, Perrotin said in an interview, the artist was showing
“A hard sell: With Dead Head“ (1991), by Damien Hirst. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin
photos he had taken of himself smiling alongside a decapitated head, and his future success was not glaringly obvious.
Further on, Jean Michel Othoniel, known to the public for his festive portal at the Palais Royal Métro station in Paris, illuminates a space with giant Murano-glass necklaces, while two Paola Pivi zebras look on improbably from a snow-covered photographic mountainscape.
Guy Limone’s “image painting,” composed of photocopied, collaged scrap paper, spreads through the stairwell in shocking pink. In another room, photo collages by JR cover the walls while his video “Women are Heroes” runs in a loop. Daniel Firman’s life-size elephant, attached to the wall by its trunk, almost fills one space.
The show is the fourth in a series of major exhibitions of private collections at the Tripostal – the others were the François Pinault Foundation, the Saatchi Gallery and the Centre National des Arts Plastiques. It confirms the importance of the Lille space as a hub of cultural activity, but perhaps more to the point it offers a rare chance to understand the vision of a French gallery owner and – even rarer – one with a puckish sense of humor.
Tripostal: Avenue Willy Brandt, 59000 Lille. Tel.: 03 20 14 47 60. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-7pm; Friday-Saturday, 10am-8pm. Closed Monday and Thursday.. Admission: €6. Through January 12, 2014. www.lille3000.eu
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