Galerie des Galeries doesn’t have to be a challenging space. The snug, awkwardly shaped first floor at Paris’ Galeries Lafayette department store might have done just as well displaying pretty pictures of vintage clothing modeled by the Paris Match set.
Instead director Elsa Janssen has spun it into a space to be reckoned with, each quarter exhibiting local and international artists in their prime. Most recently she’s invited American Alex Prager to mount her ‘cinema verite’ photographs, and French textile designer Karina Bisch to hang layers of pop-art textiles.
Now Janssen has lent her title to the young Swiss curator Samuel Gross, who has amassed a dizzying spectacle of bandes verticales, or vertical stripes, mostly by his fellow Swiss. His overarching statement? ‘All questions about motifs in Swiss abstract art lead to lines.’
'All Over', running until 14 May, is saturated with intense, grasping, often uncomfortably aggressive vertical lines. To Gross, ‘there is no painting if there is no motif’, and vertical stripes are the ideal motif, the summary of all avant garde thought. In Swiss radical art, the movement in which Gross, a former lecturer at ECAL and Geneva’s High School of Art and Design, has made his home, ‘[vertical stripes are] one of the elements that condense the story of radical painting, ideals of beauty, distilled into a simple, graphic statement’.
For patrons of the Galeries Lafayette, the fashionably graphic work provides an easy entry into Gross’s world. ‘Radical painting is not really complex, and stripes are a very easy way to enter it,’ he says. ‘I really hope this is going to affect people, beauty or not.’
Visitors will observe a largely Swiss body of work, with roots in Russian constructivism and Dutch De Stijl. Foreign exceptions include London’s Ian Davenport, an obvious choice for his oeuvre of glossy multi-coloured stripes, and Venezuelan Domenico Battista, an op artist who cuts together conflicting lines that create moiré waves.
There’s a kinetic rhythm to their work that makes the space appear to vibrate with bold colour and tone. In an angular space at the centre of a shopping mall, the effect is all the more discombobulating.
‘If anything,’ says Gross, ‘it will be amusing. Some people see these radical verticals as something cold and uncompromising. But for me it’s warm, like old friends. Like a cup of tea.’