A student of biology at the Sorbonne who was involved with the early 20th-century Paris avant-garde, Jean Painlevé used film and photography to encourage a closer look at the curious world of underwater marine life. Rather than document some exotic sharks or deep-sea creatures, he magnified the humble claw of a crab and the rostrum on a shrimp’s nose, transforming them into sculptural behemoths in large-scale, black-and-white photographs.
Like his Surrealist contemporaries Luis Buñuel and Man Ray, he had an eye for the odd and uncanny, but used the techniques of a scientist, such as a microscope-camera combo, aquariums, and underwater photography. In the 1930s, he made his only underwater film, journeying into the Bay of Arcachon to observe the seahorses, then remixing the views of nature with humorous insertions like footage of a land-horse race. All the aquatic specimens, from octopus to sea urchin, were found off the coast of Brittany, where the French artist kept a studio.
His work, especially the seahorse film that spurred something of a seahorse craze, was popular in his day, but has since fallen somewhat into obscurity. Bridging between art and science, he certainly still has fans (a 2009 Criterion Collection edition of his films has scores by Yo La Tengo), yet his legacy can be hard to pin down. Currently, Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, is exhibiting his first UK solo show, simply titled Jean Painlevé. Organized in collaboration with the Archives Jean Painlevé, the retrospective features his photography, films, and jewelry designs.
“Painlevé recently has been an artist’s artist, and we wanted to present him to a wider public,” Jonathan Watkins, director of Ikon, told Hyperallergic. “He was very engaged with music, jewelry, as well as film and photography, and this suits the cross-art form nature of Ikon’s program very much.”
By the time of his death in 1989, Painlevé had created more than 200 films, from 1928’s The Octopus, which details the rippling tentacles of the cephalopod while noting that “the open eye is very human,” to the playfully macabre The Vampire (1945), which combines jazzy music and animal body horror (with shots of an octopus creeping on a skull) to consider how biology may have influenced the fictional vampire. The Ikon exhibition, curated by Marie Jager and Jonathan Watkins, features four films. One from 1955 shows Alexander Calder performing his kinetic sculpture “Circus.” Also included are Sea Urchins from 1958, Phase Transition in Liquid Crystals, and, of course, L’Hippocampe (The Seahorse). One room of Ikon Gallery is swathed in a wallpaper based on a seahorse scarf sold at a stall in Paris’s Printemps department store, which hosted a whole frenzy of seahorse accessories in response to the popularity of the film, including delicate jewelry designed by his partner Genevieve Hamon.
Although the artist’s foray into fashion may seem a bit unexpected, Painlevé was always committed to the accessibility of his work. He also enjoyed the play with traditional expectations of gender and sexuality represented by the seahorse, where males carry babies in a collaborative birthing process. As he once stated: “To those who are ardently striving to better their daily lot, to those women who long for someone free from the usual selfishness to share their troubles as well as their joys, is dedicated this symbol of a tenacity which unites the most masculine efforts to the most feminine maternal care.”
The Association of Art Museum Directors announced a shift in its longstanding policy, which restricted the use of funds from sales of art to new acquisitions only.
Martín Mobarak may have broken Mexican law, but he burned the proof.
Artists reflect on histories of oppressive power structures in Brazil in this exhibition at the Visual Arts Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very Los Angeles art events this month, including the Maya Codex of Mexico at the Getty, Beatrice Wood, Trenton Doyle Hancock, and more.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very New York art events this month, including Xaviera Simmons, Cristina Iglesias, Mire Lee, and more.
With explosions of color and materiality, Cave has his own enigmatic ways to funnel the funk through histories of adversity.
Kapwani Kiwanga invites viewers to look with only the quiet glow of natural light seeping in through the skylights, illuminating a nuanced way of seeing race.
Funding options at UB include full-tuition scholarships for MFA students, the Arthur A. Schomburg Fellowship Program, and additional opportunities for MA students.
This week, Godard’s anti-imperialism, in defense of “bad” curating, an inexplicable statue, criminalizing culture wars, and more.
I inserted the text from five press releases into DALL-E and this is what it churned out.
As protests rage across the country following the death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, Iranian and Kurdish artists are creating work in support of freedom.