Part of the challenge of the current exhibition of work on view by painter Genieve Figgis on view at Almine Rech’s Paris location lies in the deciphering of her press release. With only a single paragraph on the genesis and economic boon caused by the “Monster Jesus” phenomenon (in which a woman’s disastrous restoration of a fresco depicting the Christ in the North of Spain became the city’ main tourist draw), the show makes Figgis’s paintings a bit more confounding. For an artist whose body of work consists of deconstructed, loosely rendered interpretations of Rococo and Classical masterpieces, the comparison is a strange one. Are we being led to understand Figgis’s work as a degradation of these works? Is she presenting them as an economically-motivated path away from such classic images?
No matter the interpretation, the artist’s work is presented here as a playful dig on the landscape of historical painting and its varied constructs. The work on view comprises ideas and projects Figgis has worked on for the past several years, and pulls from a range of shows the artist has mounted, yet here are reinterpreted or repainted with slight variations in style or technique (globetrotting viewers will find some works vaguely familiar from her Half Gallery show in New York in 2014). Interpretations of Fragonard, Boucher, and others are included here, a particularly resonant selection in their presentation in the French capital. But this repetition of works also serves as a strength, particularly in the depth and range of the material covered. Elsewhere, the artist has branched out into distinctly new territory, such as her work Pink Landscape, which breaks familiar historical antecedents into a haze of pink washes and minimalist brushstrokes to create her scene from an absolute minimum of action.
The gallery has chosen a body of work by the artist that speaks to her relentless, and often comical, reinterpretation of the canon and its varied historical and social connotations. Taken as a whole, the show emphasizes Figgis’s attention to both the vivid energy of the original works, and the potential for playful reanimation of their themes. In one piece, Lucifer and Me (after Bouguereau), the artist’s ability to both twist historical signifiers into her work, and playfully incorporate them into her own scenarios brings her work to a striking focal point. Rather than merely rely on her works as slapdash deconstructions, her pieces take the internal universe of the paintings, and seek to connect it to the present, to the chaotic and subterranean mental landscapes of our world and its inhabitants.
So perhaps its this line of thought that animates Figgis’s choice of press release, the idea of a world where arts tied to the past, no matter their quality of pictorial accuracy or visual acuity, are perhaps able to echo the modern condition only on their own terms. Even if the face of such a willful subversion of the canon, Figgis seems to follow a line that makes its original material all the more resonant today.
The exhibition closes February 24th.
— D. Creahan
Genieve Figgis: Wish you were here [Almine Rech]