james pinson/Bernard Frize


Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 

6 June - 28 September 2003.

Bernard Frize's exhibition at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris comes some 15 years after his last solo show at the same venue.   The show opens with a series of digital enlargements  of the scientist Heawood's 'Double Torus', an image  that demonstrates a cartographic system where eight colours can be seen to share a common limit  yet without one colour overlapping onto itself.  However these works are but an avant-propos to the exhibition serving to declare Frize's interest in systems and rules as well as inviting comparisons between artists and scientists in their shared focus upon rules.  The main galleries of the exhibition juxtapose groups of paintings that date from the late  eighties alongside more recent works.    The first impression  of  these works is that they are both masterly and seductive.  The glossy alkyd surfaces and the abundance of  ironic gestural marks gives the sense that here is a virtuoso artist, and that if he intends dismembering painting then it will not be made at the expense of  the sensuous attributes of that medium. 

 In fact one of the products of the juxtapositions between eighties and recent works is that  Frize has latterly become a  kind of conceptual, bravura painter.   The late eighties paintings reveal a more speculative endeavor while the recent works risk being no more than fait accompli set pieces.  Paintings like 'Jumelle' and 'Nain'  painted respectively in 1990 and 1989 have seeds of another path where doubt and even error contaminate an otherwise perfectly resolved pictorial aporia.   Into the nineties and Frize  is full throttle  into paintings that  are determined by rules and game strategies.  Paintings like 'Trésor' from 2000 is a good example.  It is series of brush trails, where the brush has been loaded up with different colours and where the movement of the trails comes together as a braid or tressage.  All is seemingly apparent yet there is an incipient illusion in the coming together of these marks as an immaculate braided form.  The spectator thus becomes engaged in a process that Suzanne Pagé deftly describes in the catalogue as "pushing the viewer to  'think', to reinvent the mental unfolding that concludes with the emergence of the painting on the canvas". 
The various catalogue essays reiterate such points as well as repeatedly making the claim that Frize, through his game strategies, is withdrawing from the act of painting as the 'expressive' artist.  And it can be said that perhaps Frize's major achievement ,alongside that of an artist like Simon Hantaï, has been to enter into the ruse of painting with this anti-expressiveness and auto-composition and without resorting to the stock solutions of the monochrome or the ready-made. 
However one cannot escape the sense of how played out  these gambits  feel at this time .  What is at stake here? The principle claim being made about Frize, that he has made a major contribution by reinventing strategies for painting in the face of ideas of 'expressiveness and originality', adds up to very little if these questions  are not  in themselves the most interesting game in town.

James Pinson