Martial Raysse: Visages
Lévy Gorvy, New York
February 28 - April 14, 2018
Martial Raysse: Visages (2018) brought together portraits the artist created across his decades-long career. Raysse began making portraits in 1961. Composed in a bold, exuberant palette that he termed “Martialcolor,” these early paintings were based on stereotypical images of the female face gathered from classical works and popular media, such as advertisements, fashion catalogs, and publicity stills. Defined by vibrant hues and sharp contrasts, they dispensed with naturalism in pursuit of what the artist praised as “false relationships” and “bad taste.” Raysse’s most recent portraits, while still executed in an intensive color palette, seek to convey the essential nature of their sitters. His subjects gaze out from the canvas but seem to simultaneously look inward, as if lost in thought, exuding a sense of pathos and enigma that leaves the viewer intrigued and unsettled.
Martial Raysse: Visages expanded upon the themes of an early important example of his portraiture. Portrait de Gabriella la jolie vènetienne (1963) combined several canvases with store-bought trinkets, including a fake rose, a plastic earring, and a miniature gondola. The mixed-media work uses the female face to explore the entwinement of beauty and artifice. Over twenty recent works relate to the 1963 painting, including NOW and QUE VEUX TU DIRE MON BEL AMI (both 2017)—shown at Lévy Gorvy for the first time. Raysse marks both works with ambiguity and disjuncture. In QUE VEUX TU DIRE MON BEL AMI, its subject, an androgynous figure dressed in a coat and blazer, balances a blank notebook in one hand and a worm-ridden apple atop the other. Though symbolically suggestive, these objects remain ambiguous, leaving the viewer questioning the artist’s intention. The exhibition expressed the eccentric wonder of Raysse’s vision and his desire to strike what he described as an “equilibrium between the classical and the modern, between that which remains exemplary and that which suits the present.”