Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Unknown Monet at the Royal Academy of Arts

By Ashley Eldridge-Ford in London

Having spent the weekend in the country surrounded by boggy fields frolicked in by new-born lambs, and having donned DWWs (Dog Walking Wellies), I left little time for my weekend museum/gallery visit. On my list to review and rather fortuitously at the end of my working street, I popped across to the Royal Academy (returning once again to the same institution I visited last week may seem a little uninspired on my part, but, thankfully, the shows are very different) to see 'The Unknown Monet' exhibition in the Sackler Wing of Galleries. Having read a rather disparaging review of the exhibition by one of our national daily newspaper critics, I was preparing myself for a fairly uneventful show. Bearing in mind that the last exhibition of Monet's work I saw was at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh in 2003, which was truly fantastic, the prospect of looking at a collection of his pastels and drawings from between 1857 - 1901 seemed a little like second best compared to the luminous, colourful, lively paintings I had previously studied closely.

Most fascinating at the beginning of the exhibition are a collection of Monet's first money earning commissions: caricature. A very surprising selection due to my having had no knowledge of Monet's output of this variety in his early years. One, in particular, stands out, 'Caricature of Jules Didier, 'Butterfly Man'' (c.1858). A painter and lithographer who specialised in historical landscapes and animal subjects, Didier has been portrayed in profile with fuzzy bewhiskered cheeks, unimaginably (and enviously) long eyelashes, and elongated delicate nose, like that of a neurotic sommelier, with the floundering body of a butterfly supporting the head's weight. Like a balloon hovering, a string runs from the hybrid butterfly-man into what at first appears to me the mouth of a lively dog but which, on closer inspection, transpired to be the hands of a female centaur, if such a creature were possible. I would never have envisage this piece as belonging in Monet's oeuvre. The remainder of images in the first room were part of landscapes around Le Havre - an alley of trees, a water mill, cliff faces.

In the second room the first sketch is a black and white chalk study of a female figure ('Figure of a Woman (Camille)', c.1865). Her thick hanging skirts, smart fitted jacket, the tapering ribbons falling from her hair are elegant additions to a figure who stands with her shoulders rounded and a wistful expression on her face, turned from the viewer. She is repeated alongside this study in a painted study for 'Luncheon on the Grass' entitled 'Bazille and Camille' (c.1865). The two figures stand in a glade of shadow, awkwardly together, the gentleman reaches over to tentatively touch the arm and attention of mademoiselle Camille (is this Monet's attempt to communicate his feelings or his shyness to Camille - his future wife - during their courting period?). What is quite striking in this painted study is the luminosity of the floodlit grass behind and a sliver between them. This is the first sight, in this exhibition, of where Monet intends to take his palette. The light explodes around the two figures in a halo of pale green with white and yellow hues.

Moving from this to Monet's 1863 'Farmyard in Normandy' it is possible to see the incredible transition that has taken place in two years, the palette here is dull browns and dark greens, the subject matter a quiet farmyard but what is interesting to see is, even at this early stage, the loosening flickers of his paintbrush representing the leaves on the trees and the black lightning streaks of the branches cutting diagonally into the canvas from the upper right hand side.

In the pastel 'Sainte-Andresse, View Across the Estuary' (c.1865-70), his hand has freed up and the long grasses fall over themselves silkily diagonally down the slanted cliff in a mass of greens. The next pastel ('Yport and the Falaise d'Aval', c.1861)is more formal, rigid and staid with a darker palette; there is no indication of light or fluidity as in the preview pastel. To see an artist really grappling with his own style and use of colours whilst learning to capture light is truly fascinating. Where we once more are given a glimpse of what is to come is in 'Towing a Boat, Honfleur' (1864). In this oil on canvas (for they are not all, as is indicated by the subtitle of the exhibition, pastels and drawings) the striking colours of a sunset striate across a darkening cloud bank hovering over the bay. The light brings to mind Monet's 'Impression: Sunrise' of 1872, which gave the critics the terminology to label him an 'impressionist'.

Monet returned to Etretat after decades of absence in 1885 and created more than fifty canvases and an exceptional group of pastels such as the 1885 'The Cliff and the Porte d'Aval, Etretat' where the brushstrokes are free but heavy with thick heavy dabs of paint. He is using a thicker brush than he goes on to use in slightly later paintings. The sea is a choppy palette of greens, blues and whites, the cliffs in pinks, greens and blues in the sunlight and whites, greys and blues in the shadow. In the second painting hung here of the cliffs he is using less paint, a thinner brush and his representation of light is more sculpted as we come to know it. The shadows remain an unworked on uncertain mass of greys and darker blues. What is interesting is that is the black and white drawings executed along the coast, one can see his representation of the structure of the cliffs, rock face and shore. It makes the later development of his use of light all the more marvellous for it becomes a beautiful cloak or an haute couture gown that emphasises to good effect the existing structure beneath.

Monet's sketchbooks in room three are an extraordinary souvenir of all he saw and chose to draw from for his paintings. His hand seems to have been rarely idle. By around 1883 his sketching begins to look towards his handling of his paintbrush and his chosen subject matter, such as in 'View of Rouen' (1883) where the tall poplars resemble Giacometti figures, the clouds a shaky mass and the reflections of Rouen and its cathedral obfuscating the stillness of the water. There is a beautiful and delicately vulnerable sketch of two grain stacks that appear to tremble upon the field on which they stand. These are the soft feeble structures on which Monet went on to project his dazzling pink and blue hues in his grain stack series in the late 1880s - 1890s.

Monet visited London on three occasions between 1899 and 1901 with the intention of creating a series of views across the river Thames. Whilst waiting for his painting materials to arrive he made a series of pastels. Staying in the Savoy Hotel he executed twenty pastel views upstream to Charing Cross Bridge and downstream to Waterloo Bridge. The results are a startling series of candyfloss pastels that look as though the colours and views will disintegrate at any given moment, like mist evaporating as the day warms up. The sweet colours - pale blues, peach, lemon yellow and ice white - is enough to satisfy any sweet tooth.

It is a charming exhibition and a really wonderful introduction to the 'other side' of Monet - the working artist whose images are developing in terms of style, brushwork, structure and colour, most importantly. In the final room are two paintings of his waterlilies and they pale in comparison in my interest levels due to the over-familiarity of the subjects. It is these unseen works, the unexpected subject matter, style and technique in an artist who has become best known from over-exposure on tourist and exhibition marketing souvenirs, that makes the exhibition and the work itself truly unique. Redemption is sweet indeed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Portraits in the Age of Revolution: Citizens and Kings

Citizens and Kings

Portraits in the Age of Revolution 1760 - 1830

3 February - 20 April 2007

The Royal Academy of Arts

By Ashley Eldridge-Ford in London

With temperatures plummeting in London this weekend, I reposed to the Royal Academy for warmth and found myself engrossed in the Citizens and Kings exhibition currently on show. Skipping past the obtrusively placed book store ostentatiously selling the catalogue and other relevant books on various themes around the exhibition, it seems to me that it takes up more and more space, obstructing one's path to the entrance of the exhibition, more so every time I visit. Entering the exhibition one is introduced with a selection of portraits of George IV (Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1822), Pope Pius VII (Lawrence, 1819), Ferdinand VII (Francisco de Goya, c.1815), Charles IV (Juan Adan Morlan, 1797), Napoleon I (Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1806), Marie-Antoinette (Louis-Simon Boizot, 1751), Louis XVI (Antoine-Francois Callet, 1789) and Catherine II (Fedot Ivanovick Shubin, 1771). It acts as introduction by means of a written text that perhaps explains their inclusion together more successfully than the works themselves do: that a portrait aims to 'provide a recognisable likeness and to function as an art object. Thus it can capture an historical moment, enshrine the sitter's personal achievements, encapsulate the cultural attitudes of its time, and reflect the ambitions and stylistic imperatives of the artist.'

As with the remainder of the exhibition, I found that the introduction to each room and its theme was fascinating (amongst others: Rulers; The Status Portrait: Before, During and After the Revolutions; The Artist: Image and Self-Image; The Portrait after the Antique; The Family Portrait; Nature and Grace: The Figure in the Landscape) but that it was more often the placement of certain particular works of art alongside one another that was more so and that provoked a stronger dialogue. For example, in the entrance, it was the placement of a sculpted bust alongside the painted portrait that inspired thought of how artists chose the best means by which to paint their patron and the sitter. It also indicates that no artistic record is to be truly trusted, as each differs in their recording of the sitter's face for reasons of flattery, perhaps, or the limitations of their medium. Shubin's painted portrait of Catherine II, Empress of Russia, presents the queen in all her grand regalia. She is a plain-faced queen but this lack is made up by the luscious, heavy gold and red surrounds of sweeping curtains and dominating throne. Her enormous ivory silk skirt embroidered with the patterning of her golden crest dwarfs her two delicately booted feet. She placidly holds a mitre and sceptre whilst a fur-rimmed cloak with delicate gold thread seems to holds her upright. This particularly communicative portrait is in total contrast to the sculpted image of Catherine to the right of the painting, by Vigilius Erikson from 1765: a simple wreath of laurels sits firmly beneath a simple tiara crown upon Catherine's head. Her smile is gentle, her face softened and, replacing the rather unengaging painted expression, is here one of warmth. Her long hair falls in tendrils around the base of her bare neck and shoulders. Sculpted portraiture seems a much simpler means by which to express the essence of a person's character, more so than attempting to include the trappings of symbolism. Granted, perhaps the bare essentials of the sculpted portrait may seem to detract from the high status of the sitter but Catherine is certainly easier to approach formed from marble. For posterity's sake, the sculpture 'provides a recognisable likeness' and 'functions as an art object' and I therefore think the sculpted form here is more successful than the painted because sculpture has the freedom to represent a personality without said trappings of symbolism.

Of note in the second room was a wonderful portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin (1767) painted when Franklin was living in London acting as spokesperson for the cause of the American colonies. Behind him rests a bronze bust of Sir Isaac Newton and books and papers litter his desk beside which he sits, thumb resting ponderingly on his chin, index finger pointing to his left, his reading glasses resting on the bridge of his nose. What stands out immediately in this room is the discrepancy between the painterly styles of the Americans (John Singleton Copley) and French (for example, Claude-Andre Deseine) and the English (Sir Joshua Reynolds); the latter of whom has a looser quality and darker handling of palette in comparison to the two former, whose styles are smoother and hold a luminous clarity far exceeding that of the more 'realistic' Briton. An interesting dialogue is initiated between Jacques-Louis David's Robertine Tourteau, Marquisee d'Orvilliers (1790) and Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun's The Comtesse de la Chatre (1790). David's Robertine is placed within a stark nondescript mustard gold background, her forearms are strong, she is proud and gallant, despite sitting quietly, in comparison to the feminine delicateness of the Comtesse, who sits coyly on the chaise longue looking out at us. Both women are to be effected by the Revolution in France and it seems very clear that Robertine is to be the victor and survivor of the two.

Room three looks at the Enlightenment and it is not so much a particular style of paiting or portraiture that defines these works but more so the status of the sitters: Hume, Goethe, Buffon, amongst others. Again, it is the work of Reynolds that stands out for its total stylistic discrepancy with the other paintings. It is the stormy skies, the soft fluttery brushwork, the yellowed brown palette and the yellow tint that really indicates how very different his portraits were at this period in comparison to those of his contemporaries.

The artists' self-images, in room four, I didn't find terribly interesting, bar the rather famous painting by Johan Zoffany of The Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771 - 72), which, because women were not allowed in the life-drawing classes and this particular scene is set within a life-drawing classroom, the two female members of the RA (Angelica Kaufman and Mary Moser) are shown in portraits hung to the right of the classroom.

In the subsequent room, Portrait After the Antique, it was David's Death of Marat (c.1794) - a copy of the original, I might add - that stood out but what perplexed me was why and how the paintings shown within this room (three of them) were chosen to signify those that looked back at the antique. It notes alongside the David that Marat lies in the 'attitude of the deposed Christ' and it is a 'secular Pieta' but, as far as my learning extends, the period in which Christ lived was certainly not that which we would define as the 'Antique' and this lead me to question the definition of these works under this particular theme. The sculptures spoke for themselves, the portraits executed in typical 'Roman' imperial style, but the paintings' association to this theme seemed a leap.

The Family focus of room six (The Family Portrait) is charming with the paintings a more effective means by which to express the family unit more so than the singular depiction of the figure of a child or a mother.

James Barry's Burke and Barry in the Characters of Ullyses and a Companion Fleeing from the Cave of Polyphemus (c.1776) in room seven (The Allegorical Portrait) has a wonderful story attached to it: Barry was a reluctant member of the RA as he had been encouraged to accept the membership by his patron, Edmund Burke, portrayed here as Ulysses. The terror-stricken, perspiring face of Barry speaks loudly of the Catholic artist's confrontation with a British Protestant establishment and of being led into danger on a political, personal and professional level.

Rooms eight and nine (Nature and Grace and Restoration) were of interest but the works spoke less strongly and with less dialogue between each other than in the preceding rooms. For a very meaty and weighty exhibition, this one is just the right size to maintain the viewer's interest, unlike so many at the RA, which tend to entirely inundate one. The pieces are well chosen and thoughtfully hung to bring out alternative dialogues than those being introduced at the entrance to each of the rooms. These themes in themselves are extremely informative of the years 1760 - 1830, during which the works were created, and I perhaps would have paid them more attention had mine not been deviated by the more enticing whispered conversations taking place between the works themselves. Thankfully, I stopped off in the book shop of the way out and took home a tomely catalogue, which I now have all the time in the world to tip in to.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gilbert and George at the Tate Modern

Gilbert & George: A Private View at the Tate Modern

written by Ashley Eldridge-Ford in London

It seemed that yesterday was the first day of spring here in London. After a New York-style brunch my boyfriend and I ambled along the South Bank of London's Thames River and approached the Tate Modern to embark upon a visit of the Gilbert & George exhibition. We bypassed the Turbine Hall, as there is simply no point attempting to go on the Carsten Holler slides these days as the strictures on booking in advance are so regimental that any semblance of spontaneity is simply quashed by stony-faced assistants who point at the signs indicating they are sold out for the next four hours. So much for being a space for the people off the street, it's more of a place for the people with sufficient foresight to mark down in their diaries a slot that occupies them for the equivalent of ten to fifteen seconds. Don't mind me, I'm just grouchy that I still haven't remembered to book a slot (the fact that I think it's ridiculous to have to book a slot to go down a slide is what so far has stopped me from doing so).

Gilbert & George
Fates 2005
Tate © Copyright the artists
Laser print on paper
4260 x 7600 mm

We reached level 5 where the Gilbert & George (G&G) exhibition has taken up all of the eighteen rooms and were immediately surrounded in their work in the concourse before even entering the exhibition. This acts as a rather curious introduction to the show as there is no written text upon entry into the actual exhibition spaces and no differentiation (except to have one's tickets checked) between the public and private spaces. One is drawn into their work and their world regardless of whether one wants to or not. Eight huge ordered grids shout out the headlines that we witnessed (and were subjected to) in the year or so immediately after our 7/7 bombings, with the effective repetition of only a few words: 'terror', 'blast', 'bomb', 'attack'. Seen all together the sheer sensationalism and headline-grabbing propaganda of them is almost amusing. I found that the banality of some of them (perhaps best seen when one has a number of examples and one has become immune to their 'shock' hard-sell) en masse made them quite ridiculous: 'BUS BOMB: THE FULL STORY', 'POLICE FIND BOMB'; 'LONDON BOMBER IS FATHER OF THREE', 'BOMBER LIVED IN STOKE NEWINGTON'. Of course, what I attempt to illustrate is not the banality of the event, more so the banality of the media and how they can turn the simplest detail into headline-grabbing fodder. One headline that caught my attention was BOMBER SHOT DEAD ON TUBE. This we now know was an innocent man and that lends a poignancy to the other headlines too, that there were real people behind the attacks and that a number of innocent people have been implicated along the way.

Gilbert & George
Death Hope Life Fear 1984
Tate © the artists
Handcoloured photographs, framed
object: 4220 x 2500 mm object: 4220 x 6520 mm object: 4220 x 2500 mm object: 4220 x 6520 mm

I skimmed the displays of G&G's postal sculptures, the Magazine Sculpture layout, et al, as I was aware of the enormity of the show and I didn't want to burn out too soon. As mentioned, usually at Tate there is no shortage of information available as the viewer progresses from room to room but in this exhibition there is none. This allows the work to speak for itself (despite which, a quick reference to the guide every now and then proved most illuminative) and certainly in the first five rooms they do so gently, prettily and quite contemplatively. In room 1 taped square sheets on heavy paper hang like tapestries with very pretty idyllic landscapes in which G&G stroll or strike a pose from a carefully chosen viewpoint. Rather bizarrely, they call to mind the photographs of Prince Charles and Princess Diana when photographers were given permission to photograph the newly wed couple strolling through the grounds of Balmoral Castle in 1981, at other times, the work of the eighteenth century Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich . These drawings have been executed in loose but firm charcoal strokes that whisper of summer days in the countryside. We watch them watching a view and this seems to suggest, in lieu of a formal introduction, that we should continue through the exhibition watching them watching what they choose to show us. This is reinforced by the phrases running along the bottom of the 'charcoal-on-paper sculpture' (as they choose to call it): THE NATURE OF OUR LOOKING.

Gilbert and George
The Nature of Our Looking (1970) 1970
Tate © The Artists
A five-part charcoal on paper sculpture

In room 3 begins what we would classify as the more 'familiar' G&G works. The exhibition is hung chronologically and these works materialised around 1974. The works are ordered in photographic rectangular grids of sixteen and the use of red comes into their previously only black and white compositions. In the BLOODY LIFE pictures from 1975, such as no.3, the artists refer to their love/hate relationship with alcohol. An open bottle on either side of the grid pours clear liquid into waiting glasses below; two glasses are duplicated beside one another, full, in the central bottom two; the artists stand in the central four grids looking out of a respective window, the view obscured by muslin curtains whilst above them a boxing ring contains two fighting figures. Despite the calmness of the sun-drenched interior scene, recalling the serenity of interiors by Vermeer and Vilhelm Hammershoi, there is more being communicated about their state of mind from the strips surrounding them. The work of Hammershoi is perhaps more relevant due to an unease evoked in his interiors, as though a figure had just left or angry words had recently been spoken and left to settle with the dust floating in the sunlight.

Gilbert and George
Bombs 2006
Courtesy Jay Jopling/ White Cube, London © Copyright the artist
336 x 493 cm

Of most interest in the preceding rooms was The Alcoholic (1978); along the bottom four rectangles, a man has passed out on a shopping crate on the side of a road. His beer can sits on its side. The remaining nine rectangles are of a close-up black and white photograph of G&G's faces, floodlit, as they gaze down like heavenly beings, a modern day holy family, with expressions of gentle forgiveness. In this room 6 political and social commentary is strong and the works on display in the concourse outside can be related back to their inception in this room: 'Are you angry or are you boring?', 'Communism', 'Cunt', 'Fuck', 'Queer', 'Lick'. These are evocative words and the accompanying imagery pays homage to a time of recession and social discontent in Britain.

It was in room 8 (early 1980s) that their work really begins to take on the format in which it continued - with the focus on the two of them within their work - with the odd hark back to the 1970s social commentary, such as in Patriots (1980) or Four Knights (1980). By room 10, I began to wonder how much that is shown within the work is their private life on display or merely used to provoke or numb a reaction. The first which were blatantly self-referential to their sexuality were Sperm Eaters (1982), Thirst (1982) and Winter Tongue Fuck (1982). The first two are presented in a cartoon format, the third in photo detail. The works at this stage are of a very large scale and the compositions are more complex, which begs me to wonder why they chose to work with a cartoon style reminiscent of Keith Haring.

I left room 11 grateful for a pit-stop but found instead the cafe submerged in G&G works, video art and text. Between the recital of the Lord's Prayer monotoning from the video piece, I noted down their Laws of Sculptors, which began:

1. I Always be smartly dressed, well groomed relaxed friendly polite and in complete control

and ended with

4. The lord chisels still, so dont leave your bench for long

There is no escape from the exhibition and I found this did not prepare me well for the next rather more arduous section of the exhibition.

The more interesting part of the second half was seeing the results of the artists' scrutiny of their bodies' excretions and fluids under a microscope, resulting in rather beautiful foliage-like patterns. Their use of digital technology, shown in series of works dating from 2003 within rooms 16 - 19, removes them from the gritty realness of their earlier work and leaves us with polished, weirdly distorted images. In typical Tate style, the blockbuster format encompasses so much that one is left brain-dead by the end of the show. However, unlike the previous exhibitions I have seen there - in particular those of Edward Hopper and Frieda Kahlo - the work of G&G is not reduced to one merely remarking upon the weakness of the artist's (artists') technical ability (which is laid bare in these huge exhibitions) but that their work continues to refresh itself and to develop. This is in part because they are working with contemporary media but also because they continue to have immediate proximity to contemporary issues.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Auteur David Lynch's ‘Lynchean’ visual language on display in Paris

written by Ashley Eldridge-Ford in Paris

What a wonderful weekend in Paris I have had! Taking an extended weekend break from London to attend the vernissage of David Lynch’s exhibition, The Air is On Fire, at the Fondation Cartier last Thursday and his performance at the Fondation Cartier’s SoirĂ©e Nomade on Friday evening. The exhibition, over two floors at the Fondation Cartier, is comprised of paintings, film, photographs and two installations. The five hundred sketches, doodles and drawings, made over the last thirty odd years on scraps of paper, post-it notes, lined note-paper, hotel stationary and matchbooks, are in one space on the first floor of the square glass Jean Nouvel building situated on the boulevard Raspail in Montparnasse. These records of a mind and hand constantly at work allow one the flirtation of imagining Lynch sitting in an hotel room, say, in Paris, noting down a phone number, which he precedes to call. Continuing to hold his pen, he draws one line as he waits as the phone rings and, once it is picked up, Lynch continues the line into a curve and then another line. He completes the doodle once the call is over. At times the pages are full from corner to corner of words, numbers and quirky images. It is an indelible record of the passage of his time, thoughts and perhaps conversation during one phone call.

Some of the paraphernalia of materials contain merely a couple of lines formulating a frequently returned to symbol of a triangle or dog, the name ‘Bob’ (of whom for Lynch there are apparently many and not just the one who evokes fear in our collective memory). The triangle, in fact, was apparently the impetus behind Lynch’s choice of how to hang his paintings, which hang in both spaces on the first floor. Where are hung the sketches along three walls, are enormous sheets of grey canvas strung taught between tailor-made freestanding scaffolding. The second space has the same scaffolding but in place of canvas are heavy elegant curtains in velvets of yellow and red. From these structures, set apart from their backing, are large-scale paintings that are tactile for us and for Lynch malleable formations of the darker sides of sexuality, psychology and human beings. On many of the paintings, dolls heads and limbs have been crushed or melted onto the surface of the canvas and wide twigs or clumps of hairy material surround and smother them. In fact, dead flies are used to ornament the deeper recesses of a gaunt skull-like face, which emerged rather ominously after I took a step closer to the work. This darker edge is quite compelling and once seen, created in me a rather morbid fascination to see what other unexpected materials had been used on his paintings. The surfaces of the paintings are heavy dense impasto in sluggish brows and blacks and bear the incised or stuck on examples of typical ‘Lynchean’ phraseology, or ‘thoughts’ as he calls them, such as the three following (from three different works):

Do you want to know what I really think? No.; My head is disconnected; I didn’t know that the gun was loaded sorry

Sometimes the paintings’ so-called subject matter will suit the sentences, at others not. I don’t feel that a symbiosis between the two is necessary. As with the music performance on Friday evening, the improvised sound was initiated by Lynch reading out a ‘thought’ of one or two indirectly related sentences that call to mind the poetry of the Dadaists. The sound played thereafter could have fit any of the three thoughts read out but what I felt was of more importance was the discord or arbitrariness between the two, in keeping with that we now call the ‘Lynchean’ essence of his films.

His one hundred and thirty-odd photographs, on the other hand, on the ground floor, are not so much about the placement of two elements that are forced to dialogue, usually with discomfort, but rather quite beautiful in their simplicity. The series was shot over the last year in the same locations as the scenes in INLAND EMPIRE – Poland, Germany and Brooklyn. They are divided between colour and black and white. Colour is used predominantly to define the female form, the play of light as it enhances and diffuses the curve of a breast, a nose, two hands clasped together, blond hair a mass of soft light. Black and white was used to good atmospheric effect: a generic hotel bedroom shot with a wide-angled lens, double-bed lit on either side by side lights attached to the head board forming two pools of light; Lynch looking back at us from a half-length horizontal mirror; the New York skyline with the instantly recognisable cursive Pepsi-Cola sign shot through wire fencing; turn of the 20th century mechanisations, such as valves and levers, of heavy iron and steel in darkened corners; amongst many others. These photographs are hung in the larger downstairs space alongside a series of grey watercolours, a small-scale re-created film theatre – equipped with stage, heavy drawn curtains, four rows of red velvet seats and a lit ‘sortie’ (exit) sign to the right of the stage. In the smaller space next door, I introduced a friend by making him close his eyes and leading him to where on the wall is hung a small painting of a lounge interior containing a red and black patterned carpet, blue walls with yellow short zigzag patterns, two arched alcoves before which sit on one pink and one black circular mat, a zebra-striped sofa chair and a sofa. It’s an intimate and playful interior. I then turned my friend around so as to face the heart of the room; before him was recreated in 3D life-size format, an exact replica of the scene we had just examined on paper that could be walked through. Like two pillars, on either side of the set, leading to a final series of work, are two plinths on which, between tall tapering reeds, sit one colourful stiletto. These ‘pillars’ stand sentry to the photographic works to follow – Lynch’s Distorted Nudes. These are original 1840 - 1940 erotic photographs that Lynch has distorted with the computer software Photoshop to create a hybrid melange of contorted, distorted half-figures missing limbs, faces and definition but very clearly involved in a blurringly orgasmic, carnal devouring of themselves and those from whom they have become inseparable. Two, three beings lost to the pleasure-pain in the search for sexual satisfaction. It is hard, as with the sketches upstairs, not to make art historical comparisons; with these photographs to Francis Bacon and with those upstairs, at times, to Wassily Kandinsky. This latter comparison becomes stronger when the ‘triggers’ (red buttons at various strategic points on both levels) are pushed. Sounds have been layered so that at every push a new element enters the spectrum, roaring from the speakers – thunder darkly rumbles; at some distance a telephone quietly and persistently rings; a loud, unexpected burst of thunder; a constant undeterred discomforting wave of low vibrations and tones. Sound is the element that pulls all the various media in the exhibition together and makes the exhibition truly ‘Lynchean’.

The performance on Friday evening, on the little stage on the ground floor that was created to show some of Lynch’s earliest films - Six Men Getting Sick, The Alphabet and The Grandmother - was eagerly awaited despite the hour delay, the rain and the pushing, struggling crowd of people outside. The two performers, Lynch and composer and musician, Marek Zebrowski, took their seats and, after Lynch had read out an abstract and banal ‘thought’ (amusing in its unexpected pairing of subjects and settings), the synthesizer kicked in a constant drum of heavy dark tones, which acted like a stage set on which the notes from the keyboards acted out the event. Although perhaps less interesting without visuals, to see Lynch’s performance was unmissable. Sitting still and upright, hair immaculate, one curl reaching out to gently pay homage to his forehead, his jaw clenching and teeth perhaps grinding a little, his hands fluttered between keyboard and synthesizer, as they are wont to do continually as he speaks, and he carried the audience from image to image – both those in the exhibition and those of the imagination – and let us into, as fleeting as it feels, the creative process and mind of David Lynch, despite being left feeling that it is really only the tip of the iceberg.

The Air is On Fire runs until the 27 May

Fondation Cartier

261 Boulevard Raspail, Paris