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The FLAG Art Foundation presents a two-floor exhibition by Nicolas Party
Installation view of Nicolas Party: Pastel at The FLAG Art Foundation, 2019. Photography by Steven Probert.

NEW YORK, NY.- The FLAG Art Foundation is presenting a two-floor exhibition by Nicolas Party, on view October 10-February 15, 2020. Conceived as a complete artwork, Party transforms FLAG into a sumptuously colored environment of interlocking rooms setting the stage for a suite of four new wall murals created in soft pastel. Continuing Party’s interest in mixing art history and genres, the rococo-inspired murals serve as a foil to, and occasional backdrop for, a selection of pastel drawings from the eighteenth-century to present day by Rosalba Carriera, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Louis Fratino, Marsden Hartley, Loie Hollowell, Julian Martin, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Chris Ofili, Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Billy Sullivan, Wayne Thiebaud, and Robin F. Williams.

The exhibition centers on soft pastel, the incredibly fragile and ultimately temporal medium, that experienced its short-lived golden age in excessive and flamboyant Rococo period in eighteenth century France. Party’s site-specific murals at FLAG, influenced by paintings by Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), which depict sumptuous if artificial allegories of courtship, gallantry, and mythology—all frothy hallmarks of the era—are reinterpreted by Party as color-saturated, non-naturalistic landscapes. The opening wall features a tondo mural of hyperchromatic, flatly rendered gourds and fruit—a recurring subject in Party’s work—layered with an eighteenth-century portrait of an aristocratic woman by Perronneau.

The opening wall features a tondo mural of slumping gourds and fruit—a recurring subject in Party’s work rendered in his flat, hyperchromatic style—layered with an eighteenth-century portrait of an aristocratic woman by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (1715-1783). Additional murals are influenced by Rococo’s greatest painters, Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), sampling his masterpiece The Progress of Love, 1771-73, commissioned by Louis XV’s mistress Madame du Berry for their pleasure pavilion near Versailles. Allegories of courtship, gallantry, and mythology—all frothy hallmarks of the era—are reinterpreted by Party as color-saturated, non-naturalistic landscapes. The installation is further animated with pastels by thirteen artists that reflect their individual styles and the times in which they were created.

“When you look at an artwork from the past,” Party says, “you feel that time becomes much more elastic. Time and history become a ‘zone’ where you can travel.” In that spirit, Rosalba Carriera (1675-1767) contributes the earliest work to the exhibition and is described by Party as the centerpiece and impetus of his presentation at FLAG. One of the first self-taught female artists to achieve international acclaim and independent financial success as a professional pastel portraitist prior to 1800, Carriera was noted for a radiant palette, lustrous velvety tones, and is credited with revolutionizing the physical pastel medium by binding powders into uniform sticks. Portraits by Carriera and Perronneau represent the brief height of the Rococo pastel craze, highlighting the eighteenth-century’s fashionable and affluent before the onset of Neoclassicism and the rise of the French Enlightenment.

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917), amongst the most renowned historical artists to work in the pastel medium, depict intimate moments in the lives of well-to-do late nineteenth-century women. Cassatt’s portrait of her sister-in-law in a pale blue gown (with eyes to match) counters Degas’s more voyeuristic drawing, expressed in muted tones, shifting focus, and exaggerated forms. Loose, gestural pastels by Billy Sullivan (b. 1946) chronicle the artist’s broader circle of friends and fellow artists, while Toyin Ojih Odutola’s (b. 1985) fictional portrait of a Nigerian aristocratic explores color, class, and race through intricate mark-making. Robin F. Williams (b. 1984) and Louis Fratino (b. 1993) assert the primacy of the nude: Williams’s stylized women fuse early modernism and the staged informality of advertising, whereas Fratino’s bedroom-eyed figures recall funerary portraits from ancient Roman Egypt. Loie Hollowell’s (b. 1983) luminous abstractions suggest the body and echo Julian Martin’s (b. 1969) graphic, sharply defined compositions based on still-life photography. Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920) channels Paul Cézanne, Degas, and Giorgio Morandi in pastel confections that blend art history and pop nostalgia. Marsden Hartley’s (1877-1943) spartan desert mountainscape is captured in textured patches of color, light, and shadow and capped in a blue corona. Nodding to Henri Matisse and Wassily Kandinsky, Chris Ofili’s (b. 1968), dreamlike and mysterious Charmant series explores lyrical, serpentine images in a patchwork of blue, black, and aluminum leaf.

Party’s use of the effortlessly smudgeable soft pastel is a formidable task for the large-scale, unprotected mural surfaces, and gives the artist the freedom to experiment as it will disappear with the end of the exhibition.

Nicolas Party (b. 1980, Lausanne, Switzerland) is an artist living and working in Brussels, Belgium, and New York, NY. Party earned a BA in Fine Art at the Lausanne School of Art, in 2004, and an MA at The Glasgow School of Art, United Kingdom, in 2009. Party’s recent solo exhibitions include Arches, M WOODS, Beijing, China (2018-2019); Magritte Parti, Magritte Museum, Brussels (2018); Nicolas Party: Speakers, Modern Art, Oxford, United Kingdom (2017); Sunrise, Sunset, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC (2017); among others. His work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including Nightfall; curated by Erika Verzutti, Fernanda Brenner and Milovan Farronato, Mendes Wood DM, Brussels (2019); The Biennial of Painting, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium (2018); SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL, Parkett @ Nomad St. Moritz, Samedan, Switzerland (2018); You Remind Me of Someone, Frac Lorraine, Metz, France (2018); Pastels du 16e au 21e siècle, Fondation de l’Hermitage, Lausanne, Switzerland (2018); among others. Party is represented by KARMA, Kaufmann Repetto, Galerie Gregor Staiger, Xavier Hufkens, and Hauser & Wirth.

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