France's Young Artists: Alive and Kicking, Alan Cravey

France's Young Artists: Alive and Kicking, Aran Cravey

Text and image of Beaux-Arts interior by Aran Cravey

From Delacroix and David, to Monet and Renoir, the list of great artists to emerge from the ateliers of Paris's Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts spans the length of the prestigious institution's 350 year history.

Established under the reign of Louis XIV, the Académie des Beaux-Arts was created to ttrain France's young artists to become the best and brightest in all of Europe. Over the next several hundred years it did just that, attracting the world's most gifted creative minds with its classical training and rigorous curriculum.

However, since the latter half of the twentieth century, the art world has come to view Beaux-Arts, as well as Paris, for that matter, as nothing more than anachronisms, artistic dinosaurs concerned only with preserving the glory of their past. Judging from the work exhibited over the weekend at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts's student showcase, the Portes Ouvertes, France's critics may need to reassess.

On Friday and Saturday, all day and into the evening, visitors were allowed to explore the Beaux-Arts campus, situated just opposite the Louvre in the 6th arrondissement.

The annual event provides students with an opportunity to showcase their work and offers the public a glimpse into the prestigious training program.

While the campus boasts an elegant 19th century design by architect Félix Duban, the school's structure is no sacred cow. The spray-painted graffiti covered walls and mangled interiors of the four main buildings tell of an institution that has withstood the most capricious of artistic whims.

Spread throughout the numerous ateliers, the students' work, which ranged from painting and sculpture, to performance and installation, was compelling as it was diverse.

In fact, multiplicity could be called the common denominator throughout the collective. Among the many examples of this phenomenon is the tricolored mixed media piece, Density: 7.61 by Emma Tandy (below). Painted in bright, elementary school blue, red, green and yellow, the disparate grouping of objects, including a rubber boot, a rope, a hairdryer, and a small painting of a toilet, works its way up the large atelier wall in compact, carefully placed vignettes that are connected by colored extension cords. Viewed from afar, the mini-clustered composition coud be the contents of a third grader's giant curio cabinet. However, the carefully arranged objects seem to interrelate as if apart of a puzzle, which once solved suggest a message of a far darker content.

In the experimental workshop of professor Emmanuel Saulnier, students collaborated to create an installation interior involving a variety of techniques and media, key among them, shattered glass. Covering the annexed atelier's floor are panes of cracked glass, on which visitors were welcome to walk. The space also included a metal cone, a TV with a broken screen, a pile of coals and a rectangular piece of wire coiling.

While, certainly a core component of the institution's curriculum, painting was clearly not the mediu, of choice among the works displayed. Though, among one of the strongest offered was a piece by Julie Beaufils, Entitled Les Rested de Babylone (200cmx200cm below), the large scale, abstract composition owes much of its stark vitality to its steel surface. Beneath the cool blue, yellow and orange streaks at its center, stenciled outlines of tenement housing peer out as if shadows. The use of the industrial material, along with the faded building images and severe swathes of color evoke a desperate frustration and forgotten hope.

Disparate in nature and in form, the work on display at the 2010 Portes Ouvertes expressed themes o chaos, disillusionment,a nd remorse for the past, all of which could be seen as fair assessments for our present state of living.

Nevertheless, the mood at Beaux-Arts on Friday and Saturday was of a far more celebratory tone, with students and visitors mingling in the commons, and sipping from large plastic cups of beer.

With the recently opened Dynasy exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, all eyes are on France's next generation of artists. While the same might not be said for our present condition, the status of Paris and her artists have every promise of a bright artistic future.

June 29, 2010.