Gobelins par nature. Eloge de la verdure, XVIe - XIXe siècles.

23/4/13 - Exhibition - Paris, Galerie des Gobelins - The subject is enticing and very much in keeping with the season. The new exhibition at the Gobelins is a hymn to nature, vegetation and the power of flowers, all less ephemerous when growing in wool and silk. About fifty tapestry and furniture pieces, as well as lace, converse together, in a blend of periods and techniques, offering their interpretations of foliage, either naturalist or stylized, in which we sometimes glimpse humans or animals hiding. Here the visitor discovers the decorative contorsions of 16th century cabbage leaves covering the entire tapestry, outlined with a border (ill. 1) ; there, a field of grass swaying in the wind forms a 20th century landscape which lies somewhere between a realist view suggesting even a certain perspective and a dreamlike vision of a blue universe (ill. 2).

1. Vegetation with Cabbage Leaves
Flemish tapestry, 16th century
Photo : Mobilier national/Isabelle Bideau

2. Milva Maglione (1934-2010)
Spring Wind in the Afternoon, 1962
Gobelins Tapestry
Paris, Mobilier national
Photo : Mobilier national/Isabelle Bideau

Unfortunately, though the general effect is stunning, the purpose of the exhibition remains unclear. Not only are there no explanatory signs throughout the exhibition, but the various sections of the thematic visit are not even stated. Visitors are left to their own devices in figuring them out. Some are of course obvious like in the room showing the four seasons with tapestries by Le Brun and Jean Lurçat (ill. 3 and 4) or in the portion highlighting gardens, man taming nature where we again find Le Brun with his Children Gardening alongside notably Le Jardin des Gobelins, a pixel version by Christophe Cuzin from 2012. However, other sections are harder to identify such as the one presenting only contemporary works in order to show "the constant, timeless, invariable, permanent character of the vegetable element", at least as suggested by the press release. The lack of an exhibition catalogue makes this choice of leaving visitors in the dark even more incomprehensible.

3. Charles Le Brun (1619-1990)
Gobelins Tapestry
Paris, Mobilier national
Photo : Mobilier national/Isabelle Bideau

4. Jean Lurçat (1892-1966)
Spring, 1946
Aubusson Tapestry
Paris, Mobilier national
Photo : Mobilier national/Isabelle Bideau

How can one present an "eulogy of vegetation" and the mille-fleurs style without defining them first ? Why show their permanence in contemporary art - Mario Prassinos evokes this influence in his Park or Contemporary Vegetation (1985) - if there is no mention anywhere of the fact that this tradition goes back to the 15th century ?
There are no panels summarizing, no matter how briefly, the history and specific characteristics of the factories at Gobelins, Beauvais and la Savonnerie. There is no information on the contemporary works still being produced today by these same workshops. There is no technical explanation for either the various types of weaving nor the subtlety of the colors. And yet the choice of hanging certain tapestries in the middle of the room in order to show the back is very interesting and deserved a commentary.
The curator, Marie Hélène Massé-Bersani, during the inauguration, enthusiastically emphasized the effect produced by a rug made by Etienne Hadju, La Grande Feuille, in which the principal motif appears to stand out in relief from the background, when in fact the weaving technique is uniform. Elaborating further, she insisted on the many shades of black which were needed to compose another tapestry. Finally, she pointed out that the savoir faire in Point d’Alençon lacemaking is registered on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Tapestry is a complex art, considered arcane, unfamiliar thus unappreciated by the general public ; yet it deserves to be made more approachable. Despite these drawbacks and the fact that the exhibition may not teach us much, it succeeds brilliantly in displaying the beauty, diversity and splendour of this art while offering visitors the impression of a walk through nature.

Gobelins par Nature. Eloge de la Verdure. XVIe-XXe siècles, from 9 april 2013 to 19 january 2014. Galerie des Gobelins, 42 avenue des Gobelins 75013 Paris. Tél : +33 (0)1 44 08 53 49. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 6pm. Admission : 6 € (reduced : 4 €).

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Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 3 mai 2013

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