image courtesy of Serge Strosberg
image courtesy of Serge Strosberg
image courtesy of Serge Strosberg
Cabinet de Curiosites, including Serge Strosberg
reviewed by Natalie Fasano
Serge Strosberg is neither from Belgium, nor Russia nor Spain. He will accede that his family is from somewhere, thought he balks at individual identification with one place, or culture, based merely on the happenstance of birth. At the moment, Strosberg is a New York City artist, whose recent paintings of women—including transsexuals and cross-dressers—have pushed him further from demarcation as an “emerging” artist, and more closely to the coveted “established.” His most recent in showing was part of a group exhibition, “Cabinet de Curiosites,” at Galerie Xavier Nicholas in Paris, which opened in July 2010.
Strosberg’s nude women in recline were among the few paintings displayed on the gallery walls. He plays well with colors, utilizing the techniques of old masters to create striking, contemporary images. The female form to Strosberg is perhaps what the Sirens were to the ancient Greeks—alluring in both their feminine incomprehensibility and promise of destruction. Strosberg pursuit of artistic expression through the female figure is apt, for it a subject he has studied—with alacrity—his entire life. His subjects women who have inspired him in some way—either in romantic relationships, mild “flirtations,” or chance encounters on the street. To Strosberg, it is the romantic relationship that defines where we have come from, and where we go, in life. He didn’t have much to say of Belgium, where he was born, though the mere contemplation of a woman’s portrait along the opposite wall evoked nationalistic sentiment—she is a woman of New York, a portrait of a race that neither needs nor relies upon men for happiness of success. Instead of fearing the leering ape in the background, she ignores him, raising her silver and bronze-flecked arms to the ceiling.
Strosberg selected his reclining nudes for the Xavier Nicholas exhibit, of similarly powerful figures. Men are not present, and the women appear sublimely complacent at being alone—writhing in ecstasy on a rose-red chair, or lounging in defiance, sprawled nude without care for social conventions. Strosberg’s women are not posed or poised to shock his audience. Their careless nudity instead suggests a natural comfort and derision of those who would mark them immoral. The women themselves are painted in a Renaissance style—the brilliance of the raw form is augmented in the strength of the background, the rose reds, deep browns and charcoal blacks of the scenery.
An art history buff would recognize the term “Cabinet de Curiosites” to be a child of the Renaissance. It was born at a time when scientific classification, or the orderly grouping of objects, plants and animals according to physical (rather than religious) properties, had just begun. Though the name suggests an imperial origin, Galerie Xavier Nicholas is now considered to be a denizen of the contemporary movement. “Cabinet de Curiosites” provided a jarring display of objects—each of a different style, taste and material—to perhaps suggest that we are once again in a crisis of classification. What is contemporary art? What is the role of the artist? Is it time to reveal that we are, in fact, a business?
Maybe artistic individuality, and its relationship to the movement, is best discovered in the juxtaposition of contemporary objects. From here, a modern audience may determine, dissect a collective meaning—or value. Strosberg’s quasi-Renaissance women, one sporting a tight-fitted black corset, were displayed alongside other objects of indeterminate reference—jarringly purple, yet anatomically accurate animal skulls, suspended wire “cages,” and black-and white photography of suggestive bondage found their way into Xavier Nicholas’ Cabinet, providing an alluring venue for Parisian socialites, artists, collectors and patrons to meet, mingle, and get lost in the maze.
To further disembody guests from subconscious classification, and to promote even deeper entry into the well-crafted maze, Xavier Nicholas showcased pieces from two emerging cum established designers—Parsy Debons and Fenel et Arno. Debons’ ocular-bending designs at once allude to the opulence of Rococo and the sleekness of Minimalism. Straight lines and simple forms manage to maintain composure, despite the deisgners’ penchant to dizzyingly rigid and unrestrained embellishment. Dense clusters of curly-cues, rope-like wires and dizzyingly arranged spirals augment the Debons chandeliers, bookcases and furniture, though appear as if in Daliesque, mid-melt. So, if we were to trace aesthetic lineage, would this signify a convergence, a Rococo meets Dali meets….Parsy aesthetic? Fenel et Arno’s pieces are similarly disconcerting—lurid colors, the chaos of creative kinesis, are all reined in by solid forms and borders, yet without tension. Galerie Xavier’s perfectly crafted Cabinet provided guests with an opportunity to leave expectation at the door, to travel down the rabbit hole and confront an aptly chosen cast of characters, on their own terms.
The art and design industry, like any multi-billion dollar enterprise, have always reveled in rigid classification—of objects, artists, styles, materials and techniques indicative of either the status quo, or of aesthetic upheaval. Movements in art history are as much defined by a constant, collective footprint as by the strides of successful outliers—Monet, Serrate, Munch, Earnes, Wright, Warhol (yes, him again)…
Art is a business; this truth neither detracts from not supplements the endeavors of the industry today. We perceive the origin of an unknown work by careful examination of the trends of the period, and individual styles of iconic artists. What is the history of art and design, to some, but a means to quantify the value of dusty pieces on the mantelpiece, or frayed wooden chair on the auction block?
Strosberg, like other young artists of his time, is an unabashed businessman. Drawn to New York’s celebrity allure, he seeks the figure that will sell, the form that will not only inspire but also complement the white walls of a Financial District bachelor pad, or the pale pink walls of a summer home in the South of France. Artists today are perhaps less susceptible to the Siren song of artistic posterity, or the twisted beauty in a dismembered ear. Perhaps the artist’s role is now as virile pursuant beauty on Earth. Is there now room for the artist and the man to, if not perfectly, at least to coexist?
Perhaps the era of the outlier is over. We have retraced our steps, back through time, to a new future. We recall when a chandelier was simply a chandelier, an object of universally recognized form and utility. An artist who destructs this form, and perhaps function with it, may very well be on his or her way into the pages of design history. These artists will, however, also be isolating a major consumer base; those who desire a chandelier because it is a chandelier, to light the foyer on summer nights could very well be left in the dark.