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Exhibition presents new monumental bronzes in dialogue with some of Johan Creten's early pieces
View of the exhibition “Sunrise/Sunset”, Perrotin Paris, January 10–March 10, 2018 © Creten/ADAGP, Paris 2018. Photo: Claire Dorn / Courtesy Perrotin.

PARIS.- Johan Creten is considered a precursor of the ceramics revival in contemporary art, alongside Thomas Schütte and in the wake of Lucio Fontana. Through his use of clay, his proven knowledge of the materials, his careful attention to glazing, and his thoroughly physical grasp of the medium, he restored ceramics to majestic grace and paved the way for many young contemporary artists. The work of Johan Creten raises ceramics from a poor relation to a noble art.

Johan Creten’s œuvre is not governed by Venusian beauty alone. As a result, some of his major pieces, in darker, murkier tones, like the enchanting Odore di Femmina, betray the political bent of his work, filled with a desire to probe the ambivalences and tragedies of History, the hours of darkness and days of gloom. As such, two recent and ambitious exhibitions—”CERAMIX” at La Maison Rouge in Paris, and “La Traversée/The Crossing” at the CRAC (Regional Center for Contemporary Art) in Sète—focused on these more politicallymotivated pieces produced from the late eighties up to the present, tackling the social sphere and confronting the viewer with the immensity of our shared sorrows.

For his exhibition at Perrotin, new monumental bronzes dialogue with some of his early pieces like The Gate (2001) or C’est dans ma Nature (2001). Alongside Madame Butterfly (1991), an especially political piece produced in the United States, several eloquent photographs are being presented of these projects conceived to bandage the wounds and explore the cité, in the ancient and modern sense of the word.

Presented for the first time in New York in 2015, The Price of Freedom is a centerpiece of the Parisian exhibition. The monumental bronze takes on full meaning, or at least a different meaning, when placed alongside the recent series of portraits Creten created as a set with incredible intensity and coherence. Filled with mysterious ambiguity and “disturbing strangeness” (Sigmund Freud), the veiled women (Vierge d’Aleppo, 2014–2015) evoke confinement and the permanency of age-old preoccupations. In taking up Mozart’s theme of Aus dem Serail (2016–2017), does Creten not mean to show the extent to which the polysemy of the East has always been a motive of dreams, a machine churning out projections and fascinations?

As an admirer of Antiquity, the silence of marble and the mystery of bronze, Johan Creten is a champion of “Slow Art”; his works reveal themselves slowly, they require time. They must be visited thoroughly, supremely, using both the eyes and the feet. Contemplation and convolution are crucial, as we are reminded by his Points d’observation/ Viewpoints, which, much like bollards or mooring posts, anchor the viewers and demand time, hindsight and distance—both visual and critical.

The exhibition presents spectacular pieces such as the monumental bronze De Gier (2015–2017), alongside more intimate, confidential works like Vulvas or the series of photographs C’est dans ma nature. From Wargames to The Strip, each artwork is an exploration of our relationships with the world—physical and mental, real and imaginary— filled with fantasies, obsessions and flashes of brilliance.

“Sunrise / Sunset” moves us by its solar beauty. This new presentation of Johan Creten’s œuvre shows us a committed and lucid artist—lucid because he is committed—whose works are epiphanies of deep-seated beauty. For that is the risk of any aesthetic and political project: staring straight into the sun often burns the eyes and skin.

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