Michel Houelle­becq Ex­hi­bi­tion

Up­per East Side, Man­hat­tan

Gervois - - Editorial Content -

“French Bash­ing” ex­hi­bi­tion

Be­gin­ning June 2, 2017, VENUS presents French Bash­ing, an ex­hi­bi­tion of pho­to­graphs, pho­tomon­tages and re­lated work by best­selling French nov­el­ist Michel Houelle­becq, one of Europe’s most con­tro­ver­sial cul­tural fig­ures. Com­pris­ing two dis­tinct en­vi­ron­ments con­ceived specif­i­cally by Houelle­becq for VENUS, the show is his first in the United States. It will re­main on view through Au­gust 4th. Al­though Michel Houelle­becq (b. 1958, La Réu­nion, France) has taken pic­tures for decades, he be­gan ex­hibit­ing these images only a few years ago. Houelle­becq’s photography is in­ti­mately linked to his writ­ing prac­tice, and he of­ten com­poses scenes in his books while look­ing at a pho­to­graph he shot. French Bash­ing pro­vides two vi­sions of Western Europe as ex­pressed by Michel Houelle­becq. On view in the first room at VENUS is a set of pho­to­graphs that var­i­ously de­pict train sta­tions, toll­booths, apart­ment build­ings, and movie the­aters. Hung on darkly painted walls and in­di­vid­u­ally lit with fram­ing pro­jec­tors, these images as­sem­ble a dystopian vi­sion of France fa­mil­iar from Houelle­becq’s nov­els. Bleakly de­sat­u­rated, the pho­to­graphs cap­ture the at­mo­sphere of what Houelle­becq calls “peri-ur­ban” zones: de­spon­dent sub­ur­ban ar­eas sur­round­ing larger cities where homes are val­ued ac­cord­ing to their prox­im­ity to ar­ter­ies of pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Houelle­becq su­per­im­poses lines from his nov­els and poetry onto some of these pho­to­graphs. The first im­age vis­i­tors en­counter in the ex­hi­bi­tion bears the sen­tence, “It’s time to place your bets,” a quo­ta­tion from Houelle­becq’s poem “The Mem­ory of the Sea;” the right panel of a large trip­tych bears a phrase from Houelle­becq’s 2015 novel, Sub­mis­sion: “I had no more rea­son to kill my­self than most of these peo­ple did.” In con­cert with So­hier’s am­bi­ent sound­track, these enig­matic and provoca­tive bits of lan­guage con­trib­ute to an omi­nous feel­ing through­out the space. Houelle­becq’s point is driven home by the im­age of a crum­bling con­crete sign of the word “EUROPE,” sug­gest­ing a vi­sion of a con­ti­nent on the verge of de­com­po­si­tion. In the next room, Houelle­becq has pro­duced an en­vi­ron­ment of a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent na­ture. Here the floor is cov­ered with gar­ish lam­i­nated place­mats ad­ver­tis­ing such tourist des­ti­na­tions as St. Tropez and Port-la-Nou­velle. Hung on bright white walls with flu­o­res­cent light­ing, a group of pho­to­graphs con­verge around vi­sions of tourism. Heav­ily sat­u­rated images de­pict kitschy tour buses, coastal views, and beach­side con­dos in France and Spain. One of these of­fers an aerial view of a Leader Price dis­count store that ap­pears wedged into the side of a moun­tain. Like the images in the first room, the scenes Houelle­becq shows here are eerily un­in­hab­ited. But in this well-lit space, ele­ments of the nat­u­ral world seem to en­croach upon dis­used man­made struc­tures. A brighter sound­track, also com­posed by So­hier, fills the space with the sounds of va­ca­tion towns: chil­dren play­ing, peo­ple laugh­ing, and the au­dio ev­i­dence of mer­ri­ment in the dis­tance. Michel Houelle­becq’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of France’s most provoca­tive cul­tural fig­ures has grown over the course of his nearly three­decade ca­reer, through a se­ries of nov­els that ad­dress sub­jects as var­ied as Is­lam, sex­ual tourism, and con­tem­po­rary art. Widely dis­cussed and of­ten hotly con­tested, Houelle­becq is also one of France’s most crit­i­cally ac­claimed nov­el­ists. VENUS 980 MADI­SON AV­ENUE NEW YORK, NY 10075

Michel Houelle­becq, In­scrip­tions #005, 2016, pig­ment print on Baryta pa­per mounted on alu­minum, 29 5/16 x 19 7/8 in (74.5 x 50.5 cm), courtesy the artist and VENUS, New York.

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