PARIS — The Left Bank galleries have opened their doors to a new season of shows, including the highly anticipated Jean Dupuy mini-retrospective, Léon musicien, at Galerie Loevenbruck. Dupuy, a distinguished yet still intriguing French conceptual artist and legendary performance art organizer, began as a lyrical abstractionist painter but soon became a poetic pioneer of the experimental art and technology movement with his virtuosic work “Cone Pyramid (Heart Beats Dust)” (1968) (not in the show). It consists of a glass cube in which a rubber membrane vibrates to the rhythm of the recorded sound of a human heartbeat, thrusting red dust (Lithol Rubine BK) up and down in a cone of light.
The engineer behind the piece was Ralph Martel, working in conjunction with Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T) the collaborative group led by Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüvert. It was shown widely as part of the famous The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age exhibition organized by Pontus Hultén. Moreover, in 1971 Dupuy participated in the Art & Technology exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a show that notably also involved Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Tony Smith and Robert Whitman, among others.
Dupuy’s name was familiar to me from a long way back, the mid-70s New York, when he organized an evening of performances called Soup & Tart (1974) at The Kitchen and the celebrated 3 Evenings on a Revolving Stage (1976) that he presented at the Judson Church. Indeed in the 70s he curated many performance art events, involving artists from the Fluxus neo-dada scene. 1976 on, he worked in New York in close collaboration with George Maciunas, but he is not officially considered a part of the Fluxus artistic collective. Yet many of his works fall within the meaning of the artistic process that is essentially Fluxus and he has worked in collaboration with Nam June Paik, Yvonne Rainer, Charlemagne Palestine, Carolee Schneemann, Joan Jonas, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Filliou, Philip Glass and Charlotte Moorman.
But Dupuy started his career in France, as a rather lovely minimalist lyrical painter, with such works as “N° 30” (1965) and “N° 29” (1965). The show highlights this work with several large canvases.
These repetitive, delicately whipped post-Pollock white paint drops on black canvases simultaneously reminded me of drawings by Henri Michaux, of repeated male ejaculations, and of some mysterious musical score. I thought them rather good, but in the late 1960s Dupuy destroyed most of these paintings by rather dramatically throwing them into the Seine.
The show starts with some of the saved paintings, and a few similar drawings, but quickly turns conceptual, literary, and musical. There is a strong tendency for anagrammatic texts. I was particularly fond of those texts that were paired with found stones, as they played pithily with visual propositions of deep reflection (one might even say brooding) concerning such things as John Cage and his inspiration, Erik Satie. Like the poet/critic Remy de Gourmont once said of the major French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé, Dupuy’s anagrammatic/stone work is “a pretext for reveries.”
In this installation at large, Dupuy displays a mordantly witty obsession with the language of Fluxus. Immediately one feels his sense of light humor. A peripatetic mind is clearly sensed behind such diverse, but linked, work — even while sensing an overall conveyance of longing connected to an acute awareness of the death of the avant-garde.
If I may presume to decode such a wide range of ideas and styles used here, I would say that Dupuy is attempting to give us a visual free verse that tests the limits of form and stretches the bounds of meaning by recasting our art experiences as play. Taken whole, Dupuy’s work delivers delight by tying together methods of insouciant informality with light irony: at turns hip and flamboyant and commendable. For example, with “Cage” (2012), Dupuy tweaks John Cage’s deviant logic of chance-based freedom — confining it to a pen of elegiac repetition. Cage now hoist on his own petard.
With “Paris-Bordeaux #4 (Satierik)” (1980), I needed to work devotedly to solve the riddle of the noisy circling toy train and musical conundrums supplied here — a spinning record of Satie’s piano music — and to supply my own mental transitions between the diverse elements. Definitely I had to fabricate a complicated forensic account out of Dupuy’s mélange, which kept slipping me into an idiosyncratic but light poetic sensibility. To be sure, “Paris-Bordeaux #4 (Satierik)” provided me a sense of being suspended in a compound of joy and insight, brought to a certain sense of circular pliability.
In my view, Dupuy creates exhilarating unconventional connectionist sense. His is a poet’s reading of our milieu, as Dupuy makes use of the abstract potential of the connected, all-encompassing sign-field. Thus his work is demonstrative of the real arbitrary nature of all representation. As such, Dupuy’s conceptual lyricism is most appealing.
If what I have said sounds metaphoric, it is metaphoric only in so far as it is memory, concentration, and stratagem — all working together in making up an internal model of the self. For those who understand its ocular tongue, Dupuy’s conceptual visual poetry can be seen as a self-meaningful symbolic language laden with conjuration.
Jean Dupuy: Léon musicien continues at Galerie Loevenbruck (6, rue Jacques Callot 75006 Paris) through October 18.