Monsieur Desgrandchamps' vacation in Marseille

Marseilles. Superposition, transparency, telescoping, hybridization, we hesitate on the term that best summarizes the pictorial production of Marc Desgrandchamps (born in 1960). One thing is certain: we will avoid the word “collision”, because in this universe all violence is excluded.

Figurative painting, that of Desgrandchamps? Indisputably, but a trembling, evanescent figure, the images of a dream that it seems impossible to remember. We think of Fellini’s film, Rome (1972), where ancient frescoes, discovered during the drilling of an underground metro gallery, appear for an instant in all their beauty, then suddenly disappear under the influx of fresh air. Nothing, in fact, is stable with the characters of Desgrandchamps, painted using transparent colored juices, close to watercolor. Located in landscapes – essentially seaside areas – they seem to emerge from somewhere else, but an elsewhere that is all the more disturbing because it remains apparently familiar. In or rather on the landscape, because these indeterminate figures, emptied of all material density, seem to be placed delicately on the support, like a thin film added after the fact. Hence a feeling of discrepancy, more or less slight, between the figures and the background. In other words, the “actors” of Desgrandchamps do not really adhere to their framework.

This disjunction is not surprising because the artist does not offer us stories. Resistant to anecdote, this work challenges any attempt at interpretation, establishing itself as an enigma. Of a subtle, diffuse strangeness, it does not offer instructions for its “decoding”. Ultimately, unlike the aqueous nature of Desgrandchamps’ painting, his depictions are never transparent.

“Combining several temporalities”

Yet, a priori, nothing more banal. Women walk by the sea (Untitled2016), a man adjusts a sock (Untitled2012), a seated woman watches another taking a photo (Untitled, 2019). The viewer is not helped by the artist, who most of the time refuses to give a title to his paintings. These scraps of story, these terribly prosaic scenes, are divided here into three rather porous sections. The first two, the section curiously named “Mediterranean Landscapes”, and the other, “Figures of Passage”, share practically the same theme: ghostly vacationers, silhouettes moving on a beach. In passing, we wonder under what pretext the curators, Pauline Nobécourt and Thierry Ollat, located these no man’s land on the edge of the Mediterranean. While we’re at it, why not “Landscapes of Marseille”?

“Presence of Antiquity”, the last section, contrasts somewhat with the rest. In addition to a few works with titles, there are elements located in the distant past, probably in Greco-Roman Antiquity. With these images, Desgrandchamps sometimes introduces a classical sculpture, without it being possible to determine which work it is. The draped woman who appears in The Conducting Threads (2022) is Venus? Is the headless statue archaic in style? (Untitled, 2020). In reality, it doesn’t matter, because, according to the painter, the main thing is to “combining several temporalities on the web” (as he states in a text in the catalog). Several temporalities, but also different registers, because it is difficult to distinguish between stone and flesh, organic and mineral, living and inanimate (The river, 2022). In this journey where the paintings are hung with great elegance, we can wonder about the singularity of Desgrandchamps in the field of contemporary art. Does he share the poetic nostalgia exuded by Peter Doig’s landscapes? or the feeling of emptiness obtained by David Hockney and his swimming pools under a cloudless sky? Finally, the silence – the spectator seems to be separated from the urban space by a window which stifles the rumors – the suspended time, the inaction, all of this recalls the moment preceding a performance. But at Desgrandchamps, this performance will not take place.

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