I was taken to Abbaye de Maubuisson, near Pontoise, on a beautiful day by a good friend who was baffled that I had never heard of this highly praised center for contemporary art. And discovering Patrick Neu (pronounce the German way NOI), was a unique experience thanks to the curator Isabelle Gabach, who has been exhibiting artists with a soul, in this 13 th century abbey, for seventeen years. It is so exciting to meet people who have true faith in art, in beautiful surroundings.
When I marvelled at the tiled ceramic floors, Isabelle Gabach patiently explained to me that similar tiles had been found in digging the grounds of the building which was founded by Blanche de Castille, Louis IX th’s mother, in 1236. The premises are now devoted to contemporary art where the artists are invited to produce new works in connection with the Cistercian abbey, dismantled and sold after the Revolution.
What is most striking in Patrick Neu’s art is the contrast between fragility and strength. This wax hand looks charming until you realize it is pierced by glass. The colors, green and off-white respond to the tiles of the “Salle du Parloir” where it is shown. The cristal armor represents power, protection and violence, except that cristal is one of the most fragile material on earth and makes it defenseless. The white feathers add to its lightness. It is also a reminder of Saint Louis’s crusades.
A black cristal vanity and a straight jacket made of bees’ wings glued together with nail polish, are similarly fragile. This latter piece, which was bought by a Canadian collector, was made on a plaster cast moulded from the artist’s own leather jacket and might just fall into dust “as we all will”, says the artist. The buyer was informed.
In the next room named Passage aux Champs (passage to the fields), a veil made of woven hair floats in the space. The hair was partly bought in China by the artist’s Chinese wife, and friends also contributed. It was patiently assembled over months of work. Neu tried to mix white and blond hair but the color made it impossible to see and therefore to work on. It is a reference to the nuns having to shave their heads when they enter the Cistercian order and take the veil. A reminder of their covered heads.
There is extreme poetry in this gesture. And Patrick Neu, whom I have never met, seems to be all reflexion and philosophy about time. In preparing the exhibition with him over three years, Isabelle Gabach never knew when he would deliver his pieces. Nor what he would create. He was well known before this project started, for his smoked glass cases where he draws elaborate medieval sceneries. This is what he showed at Palais de Tokyo in 2015 when Jean de Loisy invited him.
All his drawings are made with the smoke of candles on glass and he sometimes has to repeat the operation many times before the drawing is perfect. It is very hard for the visitor to see the drawings because light and shades make it disappear easily. The artist did not want any artificial lighting, which complicates things even further. His elaborate technique can be seen on a short film screened in the antechamber.
The exhibition is on until March 17 th and entrance is free.
In the hallway, a spectacular gilt olive tree by Hicham Berrada (Galerie Kamel Mennour) is a remembrance of his show last year. Before him, Stéphane Thidet (galerie Aline Vidal) had also been a guest at the Abbey.
Abbaye de Maubuisson is 45 minutes from Paris near Cergy Pontoise. The next artist shown by Isabelle Gabach is Julien Colombier on May 19 th.
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