les presses du réel
Painting Straight on Reality
Catherine Perret
(excerpt, p. 14)

You think you are walking into an exhibition of painting, perhaps even abstract painting. If you are slightly informed before arriving, you will have been told: Oh yes, Figarella, an artist who insists on making pictures, things that have to do with Conceptual Art, informal art, Pop, Fluxus… In a nutshell, a difficult artist, an intellectual, an artists' artist in short… You visit the show all the same, slightly skeptical, and you walk past a small chewing gum-pink picture without seeing it… On the first white canvas to your left, you barely have time to glimpse the painter sneaking away with his stretcher under his arm… You were coming to see some monochromes, and there you are in front of a sheet stretched taut under a play of shadows. The show starts. The first two numbers follow one after the other: stage left, metamorphoses in full sight of a Kabuki artist, kimonos of paint sliding over each other, blossoming of satins, cold splendour of fuchsias and vermillions. Stage right, a butterfly with its wings spread out does the splits, a more or less controlled skid, a slide, it's a clown's act… There you are like a child starting to invent names for these pictures which are so powerfully figurative under their discreet notices announcing: Untitled. Untitled? No kidding… Isn't the act of naming the condition for fully enjoying what is happening, and then telling your friends what you have seen? This is what turns an exhibition into a spectacle and permits it to arouse the desire for contemplation and study… Like me, you wonder perhaps why Figarella allows us the pleasure of inventing these names. Is it to invite us to do so? To force us to see? To see “what” we have seen? “That” we have seen? That we saw nothing? Mystery…
What is clear is that we are here in an exhibition which has been conceived as a ‘show' and this is not as surprising as all that, because we are at the LiFE, an institution devoted to the living arts, and not, as one might be tempted to say these days, to “the live performance.” The expression gives one the shivers, just like the spirit of seriousness and the morbid voluntarism that it conjures up. The fact that such an exhibition is accommodated in such a venue is, incidentally, the illustration of a situation where painting is summoned to come to the rescue of the performing arts in such a way that, in return, it can appear for what it is: a performance of vision, of seeing. The master blow struck by Christophe Wavelet, whose brainchild this amazing place called the LiFE is, was to pounce upon the opportunity of this Figarella exhibition both to question what this “life,” with which the spectacle should be brightened up, is all about, and the status of the object to be seen, which assigns painting to the melancholy of the picture. The paintings that we are looking at are not objects that can be assigned to the uniform condition of the picture, they are the characters of a new kind of variety show. Characters in the process of acting. Actors who, in the form of the picture, stage actions which are each time one-of-a-kind.

Life, itself

Dominique Figarella's oeuvre lies within the posterity of the following artists: Kurt Schwitters, George Brecht, Allan Kaprow, Piero Manzoni, Vito Acconci, and Bruce Nauman, for whom modernity crystallized into a feeling that I shall call the impossibility of living. Here I am referring to Duchamp's words: “Art is the impossibility of iron.” (1) With this slogan, the author of the readymade stigmatizes the “iron” curtain of modern utilitarian abstraction. He calls upon an art which, far from being summed up by what it does/makes, suspends this doing/making in a still possible abstention. An abstention that is all the more joyous when it suspends itself, and denies itself, and when the action breaks the ice.


1. Marcel Duchamp, in Duchamp du signe, Flammarion, collection Champs, Paris, 1975.
topicsDominique Figarella: also present in

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