07 March 2016
Translation: Gérard Fromanger, or the Forgotten Generation of Contemporary French Art
This article by Laurent Boudier was originally published on Telerama on February 22, 2016 in French.
Distanced from the traditional circles, too rebellious for pop art, the activist work of this French painter finally finds its place in a successful retrospective currently on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Just a few months ago, all you had to do was take the Eurostar to London to get the latest on Gérard Fromanger. At 76, the French artist was part of large thematic, colorful and searching exhibition, as was written by the Tate Modern to evoke a section of art that strays far from the marked pathways. “The World Goes Pop” featured a colony of international artists who are in the margins; or rather the mirror opposite of the Pop Art movement, initiated in the 1960s by the dandy king Andy Warhol and his partner in crime Roy Lichtenstein.
A Biting and Engaged Art
The exhibit’s picture rails were each decorated with blood-red graphic slogans, encouraging you to view the off-beat work of a generation of French artists apart: the simple posters on India paper, likewise glued to the wall belonging to Gérard Fromanger, showed peaceful demonstrations against the Vietnam War (Album, le Rouge, 1968); the work of his friends — Erro, Rancillac or even Henri Cueco — evoked a much more political use of the image than the consumerist alignment of Brillo soap boxes; a rereading that The Guardian heralded through these words: “Is this Pop? Or a biting, intellectual, engaged art, in the image of interiors painted by Erro, where we see a Vietcong group descend upon a domestic bathroom.”
A Lot More Than Pop Art
You just need to visit the terrific Gérard Fromanger retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, delicately condensed under the skillful direction of curator Michel Gauthier, to realize that the Fromanger line goes far.
From the first screen prints of flags with bleeding colors, to the huge canvas dedicated to the activist Pierre Overney (a Maoist worker activist killed in 1972 by a Renault factory security guard), the exhibit allows us to admire much more than a “popular, ephemeral, easily forgotten, cheap, serialized, made-for-the-young, spiritual, sexy, superficial and seductive” art, to paraphrase the description of Pop Art given by Richard Hamilton, an English pioneer of the movement at Warhol’s side.
Sentimental crowds, road scenes, portraits of active thinking comrades like Barthes, Deleuze or Foucault — Fromanger provides a colorful relationship with the world he includes himself in, the world he fights for, brushes in hand (or through the use of electrical tape), by using printed photographs that he projects on canvases of figures connected by a winding line or tattooed with tints of primary color, a little cold, purple or aqua green. This way of combining warm and cold, of spreading the signs of a modern world, offering it as a spectacle by detailing it under the scalpel of existential activism, has probably and astonishingly isolated the hardworking boxer Fromanger from the international scene a little.
The Fromanger Curse