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‘Lowbrow’ art show crashes highbrow Paris

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-09-20

A new exhibition in Paris brings together dozens of international artists, bound by a penchant for the weird and their collective unwillingness to be defined.

There’s a world of offbeat and slightly disturbing art out there. It stays mostly out of sight, in studios and small galleries. But Anne and Julien (who don't use their family names) have a passion and talent for uncovering it. In March 2010 the two journalists launched Hey! Magazine, a glossy dedicated to this “modern art and pop culture” current.

Their editorial project, which has brought dozens of little-known artists to the fore, has now found a real-life venue in Paris. From September 15 to March 4, 2012 the works of 63 international artists - most of whom have been featured in Hey! Magazine - are on display at the Halle Saint Pierre in the city’s Montmartre neighbourhood.

For most visitors, the exhibit “Hey! Modern Art & Pop Culture” will be a first encounter with an artistic movement that still eludes straightforward categorization. The term "lowbrow" art, in opposition to elitist or "high" art, is often used to cover the wide spectrum of artistic expression that comes from self-taught, unorthodox, underground and street artists. Art brut and art singulier are both terms that have been used in French to define the movement.

However, while they accept they are part of a global trend, many artists at the Halle Saint Pierre are inclined to reject the lowbrow label. “It’s too early to give this movement a name,” said US artist Jeff Soto. “Maybe in 50 years we’ll understand what people were doing.”

“They have the same DNA,” Julien offered as an explanation for what unifies the diverse artists participating in the exhibit. “They come from popular culture, they love the same music, they love the same comic books and use everyday references.”

The human body, or rather its disfiguration and mutability, also seems to be at the core of the show.

British artist Jessica Harrison filled two horizontal glass cases with smiling, curtsying and dismembered porcelain dolls. Her work, both macabre and oddly funny, typifies the energy of the exhibit. Both humour and danger seem to be creeping around every corner.

An entire room is dedicated to the Swiss artist Titine K-Leu’s series “Homage to the Icons of Tattooing.” Each of the frameless paintings emits a cosy red vibe and enshrines a unique person, so covered with tattoos that it is hard to tell where the ink ends and the body begins.

“It is weird,” said Julien, agreeing that the exhibit has a carnivalesque quality. “Art should exist without taboos, and should represent all the aspects of our lives. The world can be weird, and we like that.”

The name "Hey! Modern Art & Pop Culture" seems an incomplete description of the wonders waiting inside the Halle Saint Pierre. Another reason why this odd and surprisingly endearing exhibit will catch highbrow Paris off guard.

Date created : 2011-09-16

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