Salon d’Automne 2009
Visiting the legendary Salon d’Automne this year in Paris, I had the impression of walking through the aisles of an early 20th century salon. It has kept the same warm atmosphere, though it is now several years that the salon is not held in the Grand Palais of the Champs Elysées.
Refusing to comply with the ministerial decision to club together all the salons in the newly renovated palace on the Champs Elyséesa decision that could risk diluting the identity of the Salon d’Automnethis salon is now held in the Espace Champerret, well away from all the other salons that have indeed lost their identity to profitability.
Salon d’Automne’s originality from the beginning was its creation by a group of dissident artists who refused the dictates of the official salon of their epoch, judged too academic, becoming since 1903 the most avant-garde salon in the world. Exhibiting Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso and the like when they were little known to the public, this became a tradition that was rekindled every year for many years.
Guided by the beautifully put-together catalogue, I went through all the ‘isms’ of the past categorized in the catalogue. It struck me that I was seeing works that have in common their affiliation to schools of the past started by leaders such as Gauguin for Symbolism, Matisse for Fauvism etc… I was therefore seeing mannerism in all its splendour. Even the more modern abstract works presented reminded me of turn-of-the-century abstract artists.
Contrary to its beginnings, the Salon is now promoting well-known, well-polished painters who have in common non-disturbing, agreeable-to-the-eye, bourgeois paintings and sculpture with colors singing an ode to happiness, oblivious to what goes on in the world. These artists cultivate their own little rose garden, one that is hand picked in their own image by a Cartesian jury of elders.
Flipping through the catalogue, I found a long and poetically composed ‘manifesto’, signed by these eminent artists, about the ‘Pompiérisme de l’Etat’ which could be translated as ‘Academism of the State’. This is really quite interesting because in this manifesto the organizers denounce the choices made by the French State in contemporary art, which they label ‘conceptual art’. They consider the height of bad taste being the recent exhibition held in Versailles of Jeff Koon’s controversial production, and the giant worm of Jean Fabre exhibited in the Louvrea real ‘lèse majesté’ for the genteel crowd.
Well, I agree that the kitsch and shocking is not quite my idea of art; I agree too that to choose one type of art, excluding all others, is perhaps not the best way to promote art. But isn’t that exactly what Salon d’Automne and all the galleries actually do? They select some works to the detriment of others that are refused?
Is it not that every choice is subjective, not to say political and one-sided?
My intimate belief is that when we choose and categorise, we start by eliminating what is most original and advanced. It is not so sure that we eliminate the worst while we select, but for sure we eliminate the best.
Until recently, this was the fate of art and artists, for no one can exhibit a million artists in any gallery; this was the necessary path of selection and we just had to bear with it. But then something miraculous happened: the internet… At least one smart gallery understood the new paradigm, and that is Saatchi-on-line. Whoever you are, whatever your art is, you have a place to exhibit free of charge in this gallery, which understands that putting in place a system of elimination is a sure way to eliminate the most promising and the most original artists.
I like to walk in the present towards the future and keep my mind open in the spirit of the Salon d’Automne in its beginning, not one to grumble about the over-selectivity of the state while doing the same oneself. Not one who categorizes art and artists and eliminates all that is suffered, felt and poetic. Not one who refuses to admit the most original artists who don’t belong to a school or established manner.
Just as well there is the internet and a natural Darwinian process to console you.
Association du Salon d'Automne de Paris
Grand Palais des Champs Elysées,
Avenue Franklin Roosevelt,
Tel: 33 (0) 1 43 59 46 07
Fax: 33 (0) 1 53 76 00 60