Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles
Pierre Joseph

Curated by Arthur Fouray

Paris, France

Press release

Photographs: Aurélien Mole
Graphic design: Baldinger·Vu-Huu

Pierre Joseph (born 1965 in Caen, lives and works in Paris) shares at DOC a simple story. The Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles exhibition positions itself in the tradition of the rural life scenes painted in the 19th century by Vincent van Gogh and Jean-Francois Millet. Following the Hypernormandie exhibition at La Galerie Noisy-le-Sec in 2016, the artist explores the almost science-fiction continuation of the Impressionists’ work.

He hijacks the keywords and labels, confusing everything while clarifying the themes of his solo exhibition. He plays with the codes of a hierarchical technological society with normative mythologies obsessed by an organic, natural ideal. He notably focused on the exhibition La Vie Simple – Simply Life/Songs of Alienation by Bice Curiger and Julia Marchand at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles in 2018. La Vie Simple seeks to decipher artists’ relationship with a lifestyle in harmony with nature. Moving from a real context to a temporary exhibition, Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles sets the tone.

Are we on rue du Docteur Fanton or rue du Docteur Potain ? This keyword shift, here a ground shift, leads us into a potato field. A 21st-century version of a potato field. Storage, industrial display of potatoes, Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles takes us to an aisle in Rungis. This presentation, almost communist in the deliberate consistency of the photographs and their subject, conveys the idea of a simple potato, devoid or rather peeled of all qualifiers. A few sprouts here and there, and the pinkish hue of their film sometimes punctuate the dry soil surrounding them. In this cosmos of potatoes, the tiny details are so many anchor points to return to and emphasise a simple truth: they are potatoes.

How to simplify the message of any political, social, ideological, or historical issue to arrive at expressing the humble object ‘potato’? Pierre Joseph delves into the perspective of a simple potato. Re-discovering the direct and trivial attitude 19th-century painters might have had while painting peasants, fields, meals, and still lifes. The task is not so straightforward with such an overflow of current information. One only needs to search for the hashtags ‘#potato’, ‘#potatoes’ (and all their variants, including in Esperanto) on social networks or search engines to realise the richness and diversity of the starch’s visual vocabulary. The exhibition, moreover, is constructed with and thanks to the potato. From the starch that fixes the image on film to the starch glue binding the forty-five ‘endless photographs’ to the DOC wall. It is about narrowing the vocabulary to discern precise categories and clear intentions.

The potato, seriality, contextual shift. All these components mix and naturally constitute the exhibition experience in an extended spatio-temporal framework. Today or in 10 years, here or elsewhere, Pierre Joseph presents us with a living ecosystem that has evolved since the project’s inception, expressed during the exhibition’s duration, and will change tomorrow with time.

Arthur Fouray
Jean–François Millet : Pop down up 

Jean–François Millet accesses history’s arena by many entries. The most famous comes from Vincent van Gogh, who devotes a fraternal, even paternal worship to Millet (1). In this complete and surprising lineage, a ‘nineteenth–century look’ appears in the colour ‘translation’ from the Dutch painter. This look is focused on images, which start being industrialised and coloured in front of the stingy eyes of newcomers, collectors and connoisseurs, among which reigns the van Gogh pair – Vincent and Théo. The last is pegged to one of the vital parts behind the new pictures’ culture, which gradually settles during the second half of the XIXth century. The Goupil House, as others, feeds its enthusiasts with photographic copies and luxurious coloured engravings. Reproductions, drawings, originals, they parade between fingers of our dear Vincent, soon aspiring artist, who decides then to refine his eyes at the heart of image making (2). From London in 1874, he writes and answers to the passion surrounding L’Angélus (1857–1859). Also a pleased victim of ‘Aura’s migration’ (3), van Gogh experiences the masterpiece through the many reproductions that conform to the new uses of fresh collectors. A picture for each and for all those who love to free images from portfolios to spread them across salon’s walls. On a simple card, between two glasses, or simply pinned, the reproduction shows off its new powers and narrates the glory of photomechanical processes (4). These popular hangings foretell a ‘pop’ (5) sensibility and fever that culminates, a century later, in the Anglo–Saxon’s world. This boiling world of images moulds a ‘nineteenth–century look’ that welcomes the countryside’s wealthy man, the peasant–painter, Gruchy’s native and School of Barbizon’s regular.

Jean–François Millet is a man of his time, skilled at handling pre–programs and tricks. In his own way, he engages in media celebrity, through, among others, a postcard. From 1863, he authorises the reproduction and diffusion of L’homme à la houe and modulates the palette of his paintings with the help of their photographic copies. The by–product dictates the original in this mail orders’ game. The image has to be seductive at first glance. The new works available to purchase from the French territory display an assumed contrast and a silhouette’s play for the one observing from the United States. Millet is known to Americans. His brother lives there and generates for him an ongoing platform thanks to pre–sale photographs. The man from the fields is a man of his time, of its expectations, and of its pre–sales, even of its turmoils which would drag him to the hectic flows of small and major History. The ‘peasant’s painter’ lost some strings.

His outdoor work gestures put up the perfect green screen for those who like to see a rural France nostalgia in the wake of France’s defeat in 1870 (6) – a lowliness sometimes tinted with arrogance in the peasant’s demeanours (7), or even the exact reverse: a politically unstable small nation. Towards this catalogue of fantasies, Millet claims a non–political work that treats the peasant’s class with realism and kindness. The ‘nineteenth–century look’ is paired with a ‘native look’ that depicts rurality from within: a pioneer of the ‘rural informing’. One of his most famous paintings – L’Angélus – vacates France with great fanfare due to an important opinion warp going public during the sale on July 1st, 1889. Kneaded from different wishes against the mysterious painting, the government cannot find an agreement to keep the artwork on its land. L’Angélus leaves for the other side of the Atlantic, leading to 
a national loss feeling and shared humiliation. The picture returns as a palliative care : edited and distributed in large numbers, prints are scattered throughout the French territory, complementing the illustrations’ panel already circulating between fingers of our dear Vincent. ‘Migration’s Aura’ helps to dry the national tears while the two peasants, the bell tower and their small harvest move on to the Louvre in 1909. Does it make its myth tragic (8) ? It is, at the very least, caustic, mechanical and resolutely modern, abundant and pre–pop.

Julia Marchand

(1) Vincent van Gogh, n° 493 letter (Nuenen, 1885) ‘Millet, he’s Millet the father, which means he’s a guide & advisor for young painters.’
(2) Goupil’s house business unit in London
(3) Latour B., Lowe A., 2011. ‘Aura’s migration or how to explore an original via its facsimile’ in Intermédialités n° 17 Spring 2011 pp. 173–205
(4) Renié, P–L., 2006. ‘The Image on the Wall: Prints as Decoration in Nineteenth–Century Interiors’ in Nineteeth–Century Art Worldwide  [Online]  http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/autumn06/49-autumn06/autumn06article/156-the-image-on-the-wall-prints-as-decoration-in-nineteenth-century-interiors [viewed on June the 22nd 2017].
(5) For further information, see Van Gogh : Pré–pop symposium acts initiated by Bice Curiger, Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles Art Director, 2017
(6) see Georgel, C., ‘The Peasant gets into history’, HPI [Online] https://www.histoire-image.org/fr/etudes/paysan-entre-histoire [viewed on June the 15th 2017].
(7) ‘Baudelaire thinks Millet’s humility is close to pride : His peasants are prigs who have a too high self esteem. They spread a fatal, dark, drowsiness which urges me to hate them.’ Quote by Isolde Pludermacher in ‘L’Angélus de Millet : du souvenir personnel à la mémoire collective’ in Millet (exhibition publication), Palais des Beaux–Arts de Lille, 2018. p. 40
(8) Salvador Dali the tragical myth of ‘L’Angélus de Millet’, paranoïa–critic lecture, Paris, Jean–Jacques Pauvert, 1963.

Potatoes Love Treaty

Our first culinary thrills were with you. Do you remember?

As children, we devoured you as mashed potatoes on Sunday noon. You were named Amandine, and once on our plates, we would carve a well in your centre to pour in the juice of our roast.

A few years later, when we were at the age to fry you, you adopted the name Charlotte. Luckily for us, during the time of our first encounter in 2011, you lost your license and became free. No more royalties paid to the giants of this world. You had just turned thirty and could finally enjoy a bit of tranquillity. Now, you are free to embrace any farmer, provided he treats you with tenderness.

In April, you experience his caresses before he buries you under a soft bed of soil. Often, you remain hidden there for over four months. Sometimes, early in June, you grant us the privilege of tasting your flesh. Your skin is then so delicate that a mere touch is enough to peel you. Cooking you is child’s play.

Then comes the end of summer; your skin is toughened by the sun and rainless days. It then becomes more challenging to retrieve you. We might have to dig and try up to three times before we can hold you again. Yet, you are less slender than before. Your curves are more pronounced.

In a few months, the days of your beauty will be past. Your skin will wrinkle. You will begin to show your claws, ready to depart. You prepare for the grand journey, one that will reunite you with the love of your life, the earth. The very one that lives, breathes, and sustains us all.

We’ve grown accustomed to your fleeting nature. We never part in anger, for you never truly leave us.

Your sisters are there to comfort us. They, too, are free, and we will have all the time to cherish them. Anaïs, Bernadette, Blanche, Désirée… Why savour the same one every day when nature is so diverse?

By Norbert Nicolet (farmer, La Ferme ô VR, Annoville) and Jill Cousin (gastronomic journalist), lovers and enthusiasts of all potatoes: white, pink, purple, to mash, to nurture for hours in a pot, or to fry in hot oil. What matters is that the large agricultural cooperatives no longer bind them, and we can savour them as much as we wish.

Pierre Joseph
Born in 1965 in Caen. Lives & works in Paris.

Since the late ’80s, Pierre Joseph’s work has focused on issues of his presence. He began his artistic practice with collective projects in collaboration with Philippe Perrin, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Philippe Parreno, and Bernard Joisten. He first gained recognition with Les Ateliers du Paradise, the now-historical inaugural exhibition held at Air de Paris in Nice in 1990. In the early ’90s, he began his series of ‘characters to reactivate’, derived from contemporary mythologies (examples include Superman, Snow White, a policeman, and Pris Stratton from Blade Runner). These characters are present during the exhibition’s opening and can be subsequently reactivated using documentary photography.

After a 3-month trip to Japan in 1997, he shifted his focus to the concept of learning. In the ’00s, he developed a keen interest in the theme of his disappearance. More recently, he has been blending keywords and superimposing layers of content. His most recent solo exhibition at Air de Paris in January 2018 featured photographs that resemble the watercolours of botanist Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Pierre Joseph thus merges the hashtags associated with both of their visual practices.

Pierre Joseph has exhibited widely in Europe and internationally. His works are part of collections at institutions such as the Centre Pompidou, Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, Van Abbe Museum, and numerous private collections. Recent exhibitions include those at Le Consortium, MAC/VAL, Dallas Biennial, Centre Pompidou Metz, Fondation d’Entreprise Ricard, LUMA Westbau, and Swiss Institute.


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Arthur Fouray
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Curriculum vitæ

Many thanks for reading.

Special thanks to Béatrice & Alain Fouray.

Copyright © 2024 Arthur Fouray.
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