PARIS.- The Centre Pompidou presents, for the first time, a retrospective exhibition of the work of Christian Bonnefoi, a distinctive figure in French contemporary art since the 1970s.
Occupying a gallery space of 700 square metres, the exhibition offers an opportunity to grasp the originality of an artist who has remained committed to painting even as painting was supposed to have been rendered obsolete by the emergence of new forms of art and to abstraction when painting itself witnessed a return to figuration. Christian Bonnefoi looks to the destruction of the image in order to rediscover painting.
Bonnefois painting has been nourished by an extensive reflection on other art practices and procedures, on collage, assemblage and montage in particular. His goal has been to make visible the material and historical components of painting in all their infinite complexity.
With nearly a hundred works from the earliest collages of the 1970s to the most recent paintings of 2008 the chronological display testifies to the way in which Bonnefoi has organised his work through long series, and offers an opportunity to assess the coherence of his project, illuminating a distinctive approach conceived by the artist as a programme of speculation and experiment in support of a refoundation and hence renewal of the classical tradition of the painting.
An heir to the Minimalisms of the 1970s, Bonnefois painting is anti-figurative, anti fictional and antisubjective, based on a radical endeavour to disarticulate and rearticulate the paintings constituent elements : surface, plane, frame, gesture, colour, design. A painting only has value in so far as everything in it works towards its disappearance, he says. For him, the central issue is the reformulation of the question of the painting, that is, the creation of a surface in which the painting may constitute itself. His whole strategy is directed at the possibility of the appearance of the visible and to the interrogation of this enigma through the multiplication of different approaches.
His work has developed around the central axis of the Babel series, in a constant oscillation between works in tissue paper and works in tarlatan, all based on a single, common practice, collage, which, while destroying the unity of the surface, permits every kind of manipulation. Tarlatan and tissue paper, both translucent, flexible and porous, when impregnated with glue allow manifold superimpositions of soaked-in acrylic paint or traces of graphite or pastel executed blind on front or back or on both. All these processes and materials end up juxtaposed and interwoven, their complex interaction producing an inextricable stratification of the surface, which constitutes itself as a painting. The work is thus formed as much by what it hides as by what it reveals.
Bonnefois pictorial project, which very soon attracted the attention of art historians such as Yve-Alain Bois and Georges Didi-Huberman, before more recently attracting the attention of such theorists of the image as Jean Louis Schefer and Philippe-Alain Michaud, proves paradoxical. For although conceptual, and based on a process the mode of execution determining the aleatory quality of the final result Bonnefois painting is of great visual force. Whether skin-like, playing on the diaphanous and the vanishingly thin, or saturated, excessive, gestural and almost baroque, it conveys with force the tactility of its materials and the energy if its tensions. The chaotic surfaces of the paintings are animated by expansions and contractions generating serpentine forms that intersect or accompany each other.
In the more recent Ludo series (from 2000 on), the collage of painted tissue paper has escaped the customary rectangular frame to occupy the walls : the painting exists without the frame. For the undogmatic Bonnefoi, experiment remains open, a field of investigation always put into question.