At the Dijon Museum of Fine Arts, the mental world painted by Marc Desgrandchamps

Untitled (2011), by Marc Desgrandchamps.

In new rooms on the top floor, the Dijon Museum of Fine Arts presents an exhibition of the last two decades of painting by Marc Desgrandchamps. It will then go to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille. It brings together some fifty works, including several large triptychs and diptychs, adds works on paper and is completed by a hanging of the artist’s prints among the old paintings and drawings of the nearby Magnin Museum.

Desgrandchamps was born in 1960. He was exhibited at the Center Pompidou in Paris in 1987 and again in 2006, as well as in the museums of Strasbourg and Lyon, or at the Kunsthalle in Bonn. He was the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris in 2011 and is one of the few French painters known and collected outside of France. He owes it to the singularity of his work, which does not fit into any movement or any of the usual categories. It can be called “figurative”, with this nuance that figuration is constantly destabilized and, in a sense, denied. If a world is represented, it is a mental world.

Anomalies and uncertainties

At first, however, the situation seems relatively simple. Most of the canvases show exteriors, in nature or in a city. Landscapes unfold wide and deep under generally bright skies. They are often closed by the line of a horizon of hills or mountains, and crossed by rivers or arms of the sea. They are also often cut by architecture: towers, walls, railings. Trees, of which only trunks and branches can be seen, and wind turbines are sometimes planted there. Occasionally there is a bicycle, a line of megaliths or nuclear power plant chimneys on the horizon, but such details are rare. These landscapes are therefore fictions of places and not representations that claim to be realistic.

They are mostly inhabited. We see passers-by and passers-by too, bathers and bathers. The clothes are brightly colored and contemporary. Gestures are part of our daily lives: walking with a bag in hand or on your shoulder, taking a photo with a camera or a phone, walking down a street, lying on a shore, waiting. Ordinary scenes from today or from the near past.

This is, at least, what we believe before the eye perceives anomalies and uncertainties. The most immediately visible are black, white or colored spots or lines, which disperse in the air or draw networks of filaments. These traces indicate nothing. They are just there, where they shouldn’t be, inexplicable disturbances, which blur the perspective and confirm that no realism should be expected from Desgrandchamps.

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