Sometimes I go to shows with reluctance, and that was the case with Marc Camille Chaimowicz, an artist whose work I was wholly unfamiliar with. But I was gently reminded of the wonderful Deli in the basement of the Jewish Museum and so the promise of a Bagel and Cream cheese followed us as we walked up Park Avenue on an unusually warm early Spring Day.
There are lot of things to like about the show, and if I was forced to rank them, first would be the fact that it provided endless clues about the interior life of an industrious artist, who surrounds himself with objects of his own design, while telling us little about the artist himself. Why should we know his age? (the only hint I have seen is that he was born in Paris in the “post war years”) or his marital/relationship status or indeed his sexual preferences, who cares? What is important is the work itself which celebrates craft, industry, beauty and other dated idea’s. It could be considered deeply old fashioned, using techniques such as bent plywood, handmade printing, autumnal colors and it would not be out of place in a dusty Viennese museum or an East European trade fair.
Chaimowicz turns his attention to several forms and utilizes a multitude of practices. In the show we can see drawings, photographs, a window design, mirrors, vases, fabrics, wallpaper, desks, chairs, curtains, a child’s parasol all with the distinctive hand of the artist in evidence. A rug with floor pillows and an old telephone might be telling us about lazy, rainy afternoons and salacious gossip.
Secondly he seems to turn to the east rather than to the west, to “old Europe”, it conveys an essence of what we think of as Eastern Europe with technology simple and robust, of anti-capitalism, delivering art which is unpolished and modest. On the other hand, there is a real and constant connoisseurship in Chaimowicz’s curatorial intent as evidenced by the inclusion of a beautiful, borrowed, Vuillard painting. Compare that with the oversaturated artists in the west who seem now to be slaves to the market, who make shiny, distracting objects and have jumped in and swim in the same lazy pool as their collector base.
Thirdly he creates such a strong visual identity that it already seems to exist by itself in the world. But I’m describing this badly. Years ago, Mary and I were guests at a New Year’s party in a South London apartment. It was owned by an Anglo-American couple, he is a gallery owner and she is a writer who does devilish things with Ham, I once told her that if she had been born two hundred years earlier the villagers would have drowned her (and “you really know how to pay a Girl a compliment” was her dry reply). I’d exhausted my using trick of looking through the bookshelves, I approved of the CD collection, neatly organized and well balanced between classical and contemporary music. The books perhaps a little too scholarly for my taste and worse they emitted no obvious conversational openings. The art on the walls, as one would expect, was also worthy of scrutiny, I remember a Sugimoto photograph from his theaters series and a sexy Gillian Carnegie self portrait of her naked buttocks. Looking back I can remember three Turner Prize winning artists there, one had already won and two were to take that prize in the future. The Gallerist’s partner was telling a story and couldn’t remember the artists name….you know, he said to no one in particular, he’s the Burt Bacharach of painting – without a beat I chimed in Alex Katz. Others at the party turned and noticed me for the first time. If we set the clock back and he said, you know…..he’s the Proust of the art world – we could immediately chip in Marc Chamille Chaimowicz.
Really great art both helps us to see the world in a different way and at the same time allows in room for its mystery. Chaimowicz leads us to places that are unexpected and which we sense hold deep personal meanings and without obvious explanation. Why a children’s parasol or the teenagers dresser? This is the side of the show that relate most to the writings of Proust, memories disturbed by an object or an image thanks to the luxury of self-reflection and time. There is a spectacular object which is both an upright chair but which can be moved into a daybed which I read as a metaphor for two sides of his nature, indolence and industry. The wall papers also have a nostalgic hold and recall a time when muted, pastel colors created a softness to our parents and grandparents homes and allow our memories to flow through the mist of time.
Tying to articulate exactly why his practice holds such a strong identity is hard. The catalogue and other texts are largely unreadable, more like intercepts between PhD candidates which trip over themselves in offering the most esoteric quotes. The idea of objects as being repositories of memories and emotions is omnipresent. It’s a well-trodden theme; how it is both hard to hold onto possessions and at the same time, equally as important, to cleanse yourself of the past. In 2001 an artist called Michael Landy publically destroyed all of his 7,227 possessions in a former store on Oxford Street in London. This effort included a Saab 900 car as well as more personal items like notes to his partner, Gillian Wearing, and art work given to him by friends. It was called Break Down for a reason, part midlife crisis and a frustration by consumerism as well as the physical act of tearing apart. Examining and re-evaluating possessions and your relationship towards them is a common thread in art, I also remember in Beck Road in London’s east end the artist Helen Chadwick taking every possession from her house and laying it in the road and then returning them all back to their place. Objects are both bound to us and give us identity. The most beautifully expression of this can be found in a passage by Ian McEwan about his marital bed after becoming estranged from his wife in “A Child in Time”, it’s observation that all of the most meaningful moments of the marriage took place there, but it could thoughtlessly be left out in the street when it was time for new replacement.
The final thing I like is the “World of Interiors” connection in his show. Buying the magazine on its launch and subsequently every month since, I look back at that teenager and have suspicions of the impulse. I can stand accused of the crime of attempted class mobility but there is a strong likelihood that that case would be won, I didn’t know people with names like Min Hogg. Perhaps it was to worry my parents, after all a teenage boy interested in interior design is a red flag and I do remember a meaningful look between them when I showed them Kenzo’s Parisian apartment with a little too much enthusiasm. However any suspicions were alleviated in the days and months ahead, an evening where my father came home unexpectedly and my naked girlfriend leapt like a gazelle across the corridor to the bathroom, dinner plates saturated with oily finger prints from tinkering with my motorcycle, hidden playboy magazines. Above all I feel it was a rejection of machismo and therefore one of the few things I would have in common with this artist.
In truth I also bought it for the escapism and to understand and define myself a little, a Georgian country estate with floral wallpaper was not for me, Joseph’s tiny Kensington apartment by Eva Jiricna was getting warmer…but I’d already settled for clean minimalism (but with comfortable chairs surrounded by nice things). In time, and a life time relationship with a fiery willed woman with strongly defined tastes of her own, I conceded that I had little control over my apartment. It needed equity and things were brought in which I looked at initially with horror, to slowly admire, and for them to take on meanings and histories of their own. At a dinner party in our home I was circulating with a red wine bottle in one hand and a white in the other when I overheard a whispered comment from one guess to the other, what do you think of this weirdly decorated apartment? For a moment I was stung but after sleeping on it I knew what he meant, it is weirdly decorated, thank you I’ll talk that as a compliment.
It is the same with this show, the charm lies in the idiosyncrasies, some things may at first look ugly and confounding, but they are made with authority and sincerity, giving them a rare authenticity. Chaimowicz’s work is alive with mystery, and he plants many seed’s which to allow it to grow. The late art dealer, who had a wonderful and important collection, apparently once said that she only bought art she hated and I understand this impulse completely. At first glance you may not be sure if it is something you would like to live with but one has to be grateful for the invitation to his home, even if was temporary located opposite Central Park for a month or two.