Sunday, July 22, 2012

100 Sculptures Animalières at the Musée des Années Trente

Paris seems to have animals on its mind this year, from January’s amazing Bêtes Off! at the Conciergerie to the Grand Palais’s current show. And so, it seems, does the city’s neighbour, Boulogne-Billancourt, where the Musée des Années Trente is currently host to 100 Sculptures Animalières.
This museum is quite big, but the exhibition itself is a comfortable size, full enough to satiate without overwhelming or causing fatigue. 100 Sculptures Animalières focuses roughly on the period between 1910 and 1950, with a final section showing contemporary art.
It’s easy to forget about the animals at the Jardin des Plantes, but the beginning of this exhibition is a good reminder of their importance before the internet made it easier to approach unusual species. Many of the animal sculptors working in the early twentieth century sought their models at the Jardin des Plantes. The sculpture from this period, with which the show begins, is remarkably lifelike, particularly in terms of capturing the personalities of different creatures. Maurice Frost’s 1934 ‘Tête de Cobra’ is terrifying, and one can imagine Rembrandt Bugatti’s 1906 ‘Kangarou’ bouncing out of the exhibition and into an Australian landscape.
Soon, animals become stylised, a subject ripe with experimental potential. It’s interesting to watch this progression in the exhibition, particularly in seeing which animals are focused on particularly. In general, there seems to be a move away from the exotic. Paris’s ubiquitous pigeon show themselves as stylishly modern creatures in Joel and Jan Martel’s geometric ‘Pigeon’ and Bela Vöros’s ‘Pigeon Bouland’. The bison’s unusual shape also lends itself well to sculptural interpretation.
The abstraction of the animal perhaps reaches its height with Jacques Lipchitz’s ‘Forme Animale’ from 1921, where specifics are abandoned in favour of expressing an essence. Jean Arp’s ‘Animale de Rêve’ is similarly intriguing.
The show ends with contemporary animal sculpture, which continues the trend toward animal-as-medium in a different way. Here, animals are used as devices to comment on human vulnerability, possession and faith. Wim Delvoye’s famous tattooed pig, now art object rather than living animal, is here, along with a piece by Jan Fabre, the first contemporary artist to have a solo show at the Louvre (in 2007). Alain Sechas’s ‘Le Petit Baldaquin’ is both cute and poignant. Rose K and Rose K’s ‘Le Porte Pyjama,’ a horse lying on a bed beneath a hologrammed face, ear flicking against a feather, surrounded by scissors, ends the exhibition on a rather chilling note.
In tracing the way in which animals have been used -given identities naturalistically or through stylisation, converted into geometric forms or as conduits for human concerns- over the last century, this exhibition gives the visitor a lot to think about. The pieces in the show illustrate the strength of animals as a subject for artists, but don’t entirely explain what it is that lends these varied creatures their appeal. This mystery adds to the aura surrounding these sculpture, and the appeal of this show.

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