Rachel Rose at Lafayette Anticipations
Beverly Held, Ph.D.
Figure 1. Rachel Rose at Lafayette Anticipations, 2020, Exhibition Announcement
If you are anything like me, you must justify your existence daily with an historical, cultural or art historical experience. So, I was delighted to discover an art museum or more accurately, an art space very close to Eataly. Do you know Eataly ? The first one I saw was in Bologna, a bit like a Starbucks in San Francisco’s North Beach, totally unnecessary. But it must be said that wandering around Eataly, the emporium of all things Italian, can, in a pinch, be classified as a cultural experience, but only if you are not in Italy. That particular day, though, it didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of identifying itself as a cultural experience, it could just be the smell and taste of Italy. That day, the responsibility of fulfilling my daily cultural quota was a visit to Lafayette Anticipations. And I am going to tell you about it and about the very interesting exhibition I saw there last Sunday after morning cafe at La Coupole.
Before we get to the current temporary exhibition, which is a very interesting, intelligent and intellectually engaging one by a young American multimedia artist, I want to tell you a bit about Lafayette Anticipations and the building that houses it. Lafayette Anticipations, which opened in 2018, was established jointly by the Galeries Lafayette Corporate Foundation and the Moulin Family Endowment Fund, which are the corporate and family ‘arms’ of the same family body (‘branches’ of the same family tree?) Whatever. Galeries Lafayette is a family owned chain of department stores, as I am sure you know. It has a huge selection of merchandise to fit every budget. I shop at Bon Marche, there is only one Bon Marche. It has a limited selection, and starts at a higher price point, except during sales, which is the only time I shop there. The flagship Galeries Lafayette is on rue de Lafayette (hence the name) with its gorgeous glass dome and terrace offering fabulous panoramic views of the City. (Figure 2)
Figure 2. Galeries Lafayette, dome
Galeries Lafayette was founded in 1893 by Alphonse Kahn and his cousin, Théophile Bader, both from Alsace. Kahn retired in 1912. Théophile Bader continued to grow the business and branch out. Here is how Bader got his surname. An 1808 Napoleonic decree required Jews to choose a fixed surname for themselves and their children. Bader’s ancestor, Jacques Lévy, (isn’t that a surname?) chose the name Bader, (is Ruth Bader Ginsburg related?) possibly taking the name of a non-Jewish friend. Okay so there’s that, here is another interesting tidbit, this about Bader’s business philosophies. Turns out that he, like Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jay, founders of La Samaritaine department store a generation earlier, took care of his employees. The owners of La Samaritaine instituted employees profit sharing as well as a hospital, nursery, and an old age home for their employees. Bader, too, set up a “relief fund, a nursery and a retirement fund” for his employees. Bader’s second goal was the democratization of fashion. To that end he started his own fashion label which he sold for less money. With access to fashion no longer the purview of the wealthy few; more people could afford to buy clothes and the store became both popular and profitable.
So, I was thinking that maybe I should try shopping at Galeries Lafayette again. Then I read about all the other retail concerns this family owns. For example, I recently purchased a side table La Redoute (theirs), shopped at Eataly (ditto), found exactly what I needed at BHV/Marais (same). I shop at Monoprix (also theirs) and I stock up on baking supplies (especially baking soda, baking powder and golden syrup) whenever I pass by a Marks & Spencer (they own the Paris branch of that very English store, too). So, I guess unless I want to experience that grand dome or that spectacular view, I’ll stick to sales shopping at Bon Marche. Where was I?
The president of Lafayette Anticipations (a name selected to celebrate open-endedness) is 39 year old Guillaume Houzé, the great-great-grandson of Théophile Bader, the founder of Galeries Lafayette and the great-grandson of Max Heilbronn, the founder of Monoprix. Nice. My uncle once told me, I think just before my wedding, that you can marry more money in a minute than you can make in a lifetime. And of course, what is particularly clever about this family is that when money marries money, well everything works out. Just as an aside, during the age of family dynasties, boy babies were prized because they maintained the family line, girl babies were prized because they extended the family line.
Lafayette Anticipations’ mission is to support contemporary creation, that is both the creating of art and the displaying of art. According to their website,” (w)hen Théophile Bader founded the Galeries Lafayette at the end of the 19th Century, art, architecture, fashion and design were at the heart both of his vision and his model. Five generations later, we are convinced… that the pulse of society is taken at the wrist of its artists.” (I love that phrase). What sets Lafayette Anticipations (LA) apart is that unlike all the other prestigious art museums / collections in Paris, only LA has space for artists to create as well as to present. They call their space a ‘toolbox’ in the heart of the city. The museum’s director and board are committed to sharing what is going on inside LA with as many people as possible. Hence the free admission, hence the free gallery talks. The collection that has been amassed by the Moulin Family Endowment Fund since 2013 is also on display at Lafayette Anticipations, I would guess, on a rotating basis. When he was asked about that collection, Houzé replied, “Basically, each generation supports the artists of its time.”
As I mentioned earlier (remember?) LA is in the Marais, (across the street from Eataly, which they own, too). To transform a heritage-protected, former retail storage facility into a multi-story, multi-functional, create/display space, the Galeries Lafayette Foundation chose one of the coolest architects around, Rem Koolhouse, But wait, that doesn’t make any sense. Koolhouse just doesn’t seem the right choice for a heritage protected site. This guy is the opposite of discreet. His projects for the National Library of France (1988) and Les Halles (2004) were both rejected for being too daring. But he managed. The exterior of the building was impeccably restored (he had no choice) and just looks better, not different. (Figure 3) All the action is in the interior courtyard. It has been totally hollowed out and a free standing tower 20 meters high has been placed inside. (Figure 4) It is basically a gigantic elevator shaft of glass, aluminum and steel framed by rectangular columns in beige limestone. The tower’s floors can be raised or lowered according to the needs of the artist. Above, a glass roof bathes the space with light. The building’s most important architectural feature is its flexibility. The architects conceived the space as a “curatorial machine” a sort of ideal appliance, according to one critic, equipped with multiple settings that happily and quietly operates in the background.
Figure 3. Lafayette Anticipations, exterior
Figure 4. Lafayette Anticipations, interior
While the Galeries Lafayette’s friends and rivals all hired ‘starchitects’ (Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano, etc) to build impressive structures to show off (or sometimes show up) their art collections, Lafayette Anticipations’ brief for its ‘starchitect’ was to build a structure flexible enough to encourage experimentation.
So what about the exhibition I saw last week? The space is filled with the work of a 34 year old American artist named Rachel Rose. Her bonafides are impeccable, BFA Yale, MA Art History, Courtauld, MFA Columbia. Added to that is the fact that her name is a well known one in New York. No, not the Rachel part, the Rose part. Her family has been real estate developers and philanthropists in the city for nearly a century. As I looked at Rose’s work, I couldn’t help but think of Kiki Smith whose work we discussed late last year. Rose, like Smith, works in a variety of mediums, bravely going where few have gone before. While Smith finds her groove in arts and crafts, Rose has found hers in art and technology. For both artists, there is an awareness of the earth’s fragility and of our transitory presence on this planet, in this galaxy.
Although the aim of Lafayette Anticipations is for artists to use the work space to create works of art on premises, the works that Rose has selected for this exhibition all seem to be ones that she has presented before and elsewhere, the Whitney in New York, the Serpentine Galleries in London, the Venice Biennale (2017), for example. Even though she is young, her work has been taken seriously and articles about it and interviews with her have appeared in numerous publications. Her work is intelligent and serious and thanks to Lafayette Anticipations, I had an opportunity to explore it and now to share it with you.
Let me tell you about a few of the pieces on display. In the first space, there are about 10 rock formations, called ‘Borns’ each on a pedestal, some with glass snakes slivering out of them, some with blown glass vessels folding in upon themselves on top of them. (Figure 5, Figure 6) Since my son is a glassblower, I was particularly interested in these pieces which seem so organic and sensual. Rose explained them in an interview this way, “When I got pregnant I was thinking about this magic of producing new life and I started these sculptures. They are made of glass and stone, i.e. a single material - glass comes from sand, and sand from stone - but of different temporality: stone takes thousands of years to be created and glass is formed in one second, literally. This is a picture of the life forming in a body: it took thousands of years to create this process, this DNA, and it takes me a moment to create a person.” According to the exhibition catalogue, (t)his sculpture series denotes the artist’s interest in the egg as a form or shape, as well as an alchemical symbol… The Borns are in effect made of one material –sand– in two different states and times. Glass is made from sand, which is pulverized rock. While blown hot glass sets and takes shape immediately, rocks form over thousands of years. Glass is also not solid: it’s a liquid material in slow motion; liquid rock. For the artist, the meeting of materials in the Borns presents an analogy with conception embodied in the egg as an embryonic vessel from which life grows.” And all that for one of her seemingly more straight-forward pieces !!
Figure 5. ‘Born,' Rachel Rose, 2019
Figure 6.’ Born', Rachel Rose, 2019
There was another work in another room called Autoscopic Egg. (Figure 7, Figure 8) A large resin egg sliced in two sits upon a pedestal. An old fashioned projector (or two) projects two continuous loops of archival footage of Fred Astaire dancing the same dance in two different films. Like a disco ball, the egg refracts light from the projector onto the wall, the floor, the ceiling, dispersing Astaire’s body around the room. It was fun and easy to watch, but if you read more about it, you will learn that it is technically and neurologically very sophisticated, but never mind just enjoy the dancing!
Figure 7. ‘Autoscopic Egg,’ Rachel Rose, 2017
Figure 8. ‘Autoscopic Egg, Fred Astaire,’ Rachel Rose, 2017
In a third space there is an 8 minute video entitled Lake Valley which Rose first showed at the Venice Biennale in 2017. (Figure 9) It is an animated film set against a changing but not connected background. Rose could have used 3-D computer animation to make her rabbit like creature, instead she drew each frame by hand, like the cartoons of yesteryear. We watch the creature bouncing about an imaginary suburban landscape which we can read is actually thousands of illustrations from vintage children’s books that Rose scanned.
Figure 9. ‘Lake Valley,’ Rachel Rose, 2016
Another very cool video called “Everything and More,” (Figure 10) combines footage that Rose shot of a space-station research facility and of a crowd at an Electronic Dance Music concert. The soundtrack is vocals by Aretha Franklin, from “Amazing Grace” interspersed with the American astronaut David Wolf, talking to Rose on the phone about the pleasures of acclimating himself to space and perils of getting used to gravity again.
Figure 10. ‘Everything & More,’ Rachel Rose, 2015
That my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg. I wish you were here and we could have gone together and afterwards discussed all the various and varied pieces we had seen. After we would have had two easy options for where to have a bite to eat. We could have walked across the street to Eataly or eaten at the museum’s own cafe which is called ‘Wild and the Moon’. Here is the cafe’s mission statement: “(C)reated in collaboration with chefs, nutritionists and naturopaths, Wild & the Moon is based on the simple belief that food should be good for you, good for the planet, and delicious.” It will come as no surprise that the menu is 100% organic, vegan, gluten-free and of course, seasonal! And lest you were worried, all of its packaging is 100% biodegradable and compostable (whew I ).
If you are in need of some retail therapy after all that intellectual art and mindful eating, then the ‘gift’ shop is for you. Called Á Rebours (which means backwards, I think) it also has a Manifesto, here it is: “The 100 m2 store offers contemporary objects - not available elsewhere. Unusual, witty, useful and quirky, the selection is an answer to the emergence of new forms of production and consumption, respectful of their materials, know-how and creators. À Rebours is the outpost for a conscious trade, open to the ideas that transform and embellish our daily life.” (whew II)
Now you know something about the founders of Galeries Lafayette, Lafayette Anticipations and the building that houses it. And I have also (probably) introduced you to an ‘up and coming’ American artist whose name those of you who live in New York already know. Not bad, huh ?
À Rebours is a small novelty shop nourished by the big ambitions of creation. Serving as the Fondation d’entreprise Galeries Lafayette’s commercial alter ego,