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Installation view, Camille Henrot, ‘Luna di latte’ at Madre — Museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples, 2016 (photo © Amedeo Benestante, courtesy Fondazione Donnaregina per le arti contemporanee, Naples)

NAPLES, Italy — Mondays are meaningful: they represent small beginnings, opening the week with new possibilities and challenges ahead. Mondays can also be dominated by a deep melancholy, as we retreat from spiritual considerations and return to the mundane matters of the week.

“I don’t care if Monday’s blue,” sang the Cure. But French artist Camille Henrot seems to care a great deal.

Henrot explores the complexity of the “moon day” in the exhibition Luna di Latte (“milky moon,” in Italian), at the Museum of Contemporary Art Donnaregina (MADRE) in the center of Naples. The pieces presented here, small sculptures and works on paper, represent a selection of never-before-shown material produced while working on Monday, Henrot’s current solo show at the Memmo Foundation in Rome. There, she is presenting a series of frescos inspired by the day of the week and the iconography of melancholy.

Camille Henrot, “Untitled (Study for Monday)” (2015), pastel on paper (courtesy the artist) (click to enlarge)

The artist’s practice is informed by a voracious appetite for images from and references to popular culture, literature, philosophy, anthropology, science, and art history. An exemplar of Henrot’s hunger is the frantic video “Grosse Fatigue” (2013), which earned her both a Silver Lion at the 2013 Venice Biennale and the attention of the art world. Lasting less than 15 minutes, the video tells the story of the creation of the universe through screenshots and videos that appear in quick succession on a computer screen. “Grosse Fatigue” covers a vast terrain of human knowledge, mixing pictures of scientific specimens and found videos with mythological narration and an array of quoted references to Buddhism, Kabbalah, and Inuit legends.

Collections appear often in Henrot’s work. The artist is fascinated by the different ways that humans attempt to make sense of the world, including the organization of objects and images. The week, of course, is another tool we use to impose order on the chaos of existence. Following its form, Henrot is starting her project with Monday and Luna di Latte, and will then develop it further, exploring the remaining days of the week. It will culminate in a solo exhibition taking over the whole Palais de Tokyo in Paris next year.

Camille Henrot, “Study for Contrology” (2016), resin (photo © Amedeo Benestante, courtesy the artist and Kamel Mennour, Paris; Fondazione Donnaregina per le arti contemporanee, Naples)

The “milky moon” of the exhibition in Naples refers to the full moon of the month of May, which represents spring’s awakening as a prelude to summer. Traditionally associated with abundance and fertility, the milky moon is also thought to cause strong melancholic feelings.

Melancholy has a rich cultural history. It was one of the four temperaments matching the four humors in ancient Greek medicine. Dürer grappled with it in his iconic engraving “Melencolia I” (1514), as did Edvard Munch in a series on the subject. Art historians, too: Aby Warburg, a chronically melancholy soul himself, had an acute interest in the subject, which was picked up and developed by his colleagues Fritz Saxl, Erwin Panofsky, and Rudolf Wittkower.

Henrot is well aware of all this, but she never allows her dense syncretism to produce heavy or obscure results. She adopts her signature playful attitude, employing light hues and a cartoonish style. And she keeps her associations loose: I recognize the classic melancholic pose — one hand on a cheek, absent gaze — in several portraits in the show, but she’s not interested in re-creating Munch. Instead, she has gathered reproductions of the artworks she uses as references in binders available to visitors, together with images found on the internet — a linking of different media and methods of transmitting meaning.

Installation view, Camille Henrot, ‘Luna di latte’ at Madre — museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples, 2016 (photo © Amedeo Benestante, courtesy Fondazione Donnaregina per le arti contemporanee, Naples)

For the installation, Henrot extends the preexisting decorative elements of the museum by painting the walls of the space to create a classical space. Her trompe l’oeil columns and painted panels evoke the décor of many Italian villas without parodying them, like a gentle tribute.

Her sculptures and works on paper have the same effect: they manage to constantly hint at their sources — some elegant Art Deco lines here, a Cubist volume there — while avoiding looking anachronistic or tacky. Her pastels display the jocosity and facility of line that were Picasso’s and Matisse’s, yet they emerge as brilliant examples of her own talent, thanks to her skill as well as her distinct style.

Depicting melancholy, Henrot seems to imply, requires a great deal of playfulness.

Camille Henrot’s Luna di Latte continues at MADRE (Via Settembrini 79, Naples, Italy) through October 3.

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Francesco Dama

Francesco Dama is a freelance art writer based in Rome, Italy. He regularly writes for several print and online publications, and wastes most of his time on Instagram.

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