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Brewster Fine, President of Artnet on Clement Kamena

April 17, 2018

 

 De La Tour Trickster 7PL at Gilles Clement Gallery

 

In a recent studio visit, Serge Clement commented, "You know when Marina and I met in Paris in 1962, an artist could still afford to have his own table at La Coupole or chez Castel . . . but we actually met at the Crazy Horse . . ."

 

Married a year hence, in 1963, artists Serge and Marina remained fixtures on the Paris nightclub and art scene. Twelve years Marina's senior, Clement had already framed a successful career as an artist with numerous solo exhibitions, beginning in the 50's. In the 60's and 70's he also worked in advertising and publishing. By 1978, he had his first solo exhibition at Paris’ legendary Pierre and Marianne Nahon's Galerie Beaubourg.

 

Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1945, Marina studied painting and sculpture in Paris, where, as an established artist in her own right, she had numerous solo exhibitions both in France and in the United States. In addition to fine art, Kamena worked in textiles, drawings, illustration for magazines, newspapers and international record covers.

 

Their son, Gilles (the gallerist for this exhibition) was born in 1971. The younger Clement talks about growing up in his parent’s studio, and about the extended "Charmed Circle" (homage to Gertrude Stein) of artists and literati where, "I found myself sharing dinner and entire nights with the likes of Umberto Eco, Jean Baudrillard, Italo Calvino, Paolo Fabbri, Milos Forman, Cesar, Arman, Charlotte Rampling, Charles Matton, Claude Francois, Brian Jones, Francoise Sagan, etc."

 

Serge and Marina's formal collaboration began in 1996, while hired by Warner Bros. Studios to replicate masterpieces in actual size for the movie Rembrandt, starring Klaus Maria Brandauer and directed by fellow artist Charles Matton. The scope of their work reflects the sweep of western and European art history. I would hasten to add, too, that it feels like a much larger collaboration. There are the palpable influences of artists like Jean Cocteau and the late surrealists, Cesar and Arman as well as the sight gags, visual equivalents of Nabokov's anagrams.

 

The over-all feeling is "Pop", but we're reminded that, for many artists, surrealism was the cradle of "Pop”; while in this case, Clement Kamena have managed to derive from the pop etiquette by incorporating their featured technique of classical painting in a contemporary setting.

 

As stated in a review of an exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery in 2006, "The results," are offbeat, clever works of enormous craftsmanship that outguess the viewer."

 

The current exhibition, "Illusions," comprises two dozen recent works that are primarily mixed media, and fall into three categories: Painting, sculpture, and constructions.

 

The obvious first whistle-stop conversation here could be about appropriation. But is it really appropriation?

 

Many of the works, some of which reference "Scarlett J" and "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (masterfully painted, the earring also stands out in 3-dimensions) are so ubiquitous that they almost appear "canned", introducing the leitmotif of their main collaboration, the Jar Memory Project. In a companion book to another recent exhibition, "Jar Memory," the artists state their manifesto: “A word can occasion a laugh if it brings together the Wedding of Cana and green peas. The word we have chosen is Conservation, because the term suggests both the museum case and the grocery shelf. The gap between word and image is so quickly crossed that it becomes evidence itself. Depicting words -- jar, conservation, painting -- the language of illusion becomes our chosen task. We ourselves become conservators."

 

Gilles Clement comments, "My parents had a genuine concern about the disappearance of classical art in the last century; being sometimes forgotten or erased by what might have been legitimate innovations but nonetheless forgotten; and had the desire to give homage to the masters by including them in their conceptual archival work. But there's a gentle irony: from the grocery shelf, the clear Mason jar serves both as a transparent container to protect its contents, but also to preserve the important art works and historic icons through the ages.

 

So the conversation is really not so much about appropriation, but about perception . . . about preservation . . . about cataloging within a new creation a fantastic archive of the past, the present and what’s to come….

 

And naturally, it's about illusion. "Illusion as a ‘certain regard’…..

 

I would add that so many of the objects or illusions in the exhibition simply delight.

 

‘Michelangelo’ and ‘De la Tour’ stand as some of the exhibition’s most powerful work, in which Clement Kamena have managed to transform classical idols into contemporary faces, where their 3-dimensional work playfully seduces.

 

There are also the constructions - I liked ‘Flame’ in particular, with a bird's eye view of the lower Manhattan topography as seen from the torch of the Statue of Liberty.

 

But, the most surprising, and of special interest in this exhibition are the "Final Neon Jars," incorporating neon relief into painting. In my opinion, the principal works here, "Freedom", "Ophelia," and "Stardom" are the most compelling.

 

Finally, I must confess that I am fundamentally intrigued with the process of collaboration itself. This kind of artistic collaboration, more common in music, or even in design, happens far more rarely in contemporary art (certainly, more common in Renaissance times). I wonder if each of the works was like Mozart's ‘four hands’ sonatas: did Serge and Marina have their own secret language as twins develop in early childhood? Marina suggested there were times when she and Serge would relieve one another where a specific crafting application was concerned, but I never got a clear answer, hence the magic in this process.

 

 

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