Johan Creten: Fireworks / Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong
October 2 – November 15, 2014
Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong, is pleased to present “Fireworks” by Johan Creten. Born in Sint-Truiden, Belgium, Creten has been working on the move for 25 years, from Mexico to Rome, from Miami to Amsterdam. He currently lives in Paris, France, but the sculptures exhibited in Hong Kong have been specially made during the past two years at Struktuur 68 in Den Haag, the Netherlands.
Creten started working with clay from the late 80s, when the medium was still a taboo in the art world. Earth was deemed dirty and damp, while the creator was also seen as a usurper of God, transgressing religious interdicts. Yet, at the same time clay represents “Earth Mother”, linking the sacred to the profane. Creten is one of the earliest exponents of using clay in the context of contemporary art and is considered a precursor alongside Thomas Schütte and Lucio Fontana. As a pioneer in the revival of modern ceramics, Creten continues to influence a generation of young artists today.
The title “Fireworks” of the exhibition is twofold: on one hand it describes a show that is about joy and the outburst of intense emotion; on the other hand the works are literally fireworks. They are sculptures made of fired clay, which evoke the moment when muddy earth transforms into pure mysterious beauty. They rose from fire like a phoenix from ashes, metamorphosed into a timeless and superbly rich material.
In the center of the main room stands “Hong Kong Beauty”, 2014, the most recent torso from the well-known “Odore di Femmina” series. The title of the series is taken from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, referencing the point when the great seducer sniffs and calls out “Ah, odore di femmina”. “He does not see the woman but he smells her. There is something animal about body odor, but at the same time it is attractive and sensual. Nonetheless it is taboo, a complaint that must be combated with endless perfumes.” The title is a game Creten plays with his sculptures, in which the two parties are engaged in an ambiguous relationship.
“Hong Kong Beauty” is covered in a fleshy dark red glaze and a skin of bright gold luster. It is the first torso that makes use of a glazed stoneware base.
Carefully hand-built by the artist himself, only very few of these torsos are produced each year. Their forms have evolved over the years, from the early dark black torso suggesting mussel shell covered rocks as seen in this show, to the open coral colored torso made in Miami, and to the pristine virginal white Sèvres torso that was shown at the Wallace Collection in London and at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Explaining the concept of the “Odore di Femmina” series, critic Rosa Martínez says “Johan Creten alludes to the weight and density of the sea – mother odor (la mer – la mère, in French) – by using torsos covered in roses. From a distance the dark color and incrustations suggest mussel shells and the darkness and glow of the female sexual organ thereby creating primeval reflections on the origins of life. ” The torso is also a reminiscence of the Venus de Milo, who emerged from the sea as the incarnation of love and beauty. In the primitive form of woman nature, the sculpture lures men with its feminine aura, urging them through an uncharted journey of feelings. Fragile and tender with seductive petals, “Hong Kong Beauty” is sensitive to the male gaze; but the razor-sharp edges on the surface immediately present a threat of wound resulting in a figurative tension between the opposite sexes.
“Hong Kong Beauty” is surrounded by sculptures from the “Glory” series shimmering on the wall. During Creten’s stay at the Manufacture National de Sèvres, he started a series called “Les Vagues pour Palissy”, which consists of triumphant images of energy, regeneration, the cycle of life and the hopeful nature of creation. The series was a tribute to the renaissance ceramic master Bernard Palissy, which later developed into new wall sculptures titled “The Glories”. Hand-shaped from clay, the secular is glorified and the secret is made secular, witnessing the collision of two distinct worlds. However, this does not give rise to chaos but harmony, with geometric perfection and uniform proportion giving viewers a scope into inner peace. The sculptures are embodiments of majestic splendor, images of bliss, prosperity and great happiness.
Creten has employed the Italian majolica glaze technique in a fresh new way and created the “Fireworks” pieces in the other room. They are sculptural works with painterly quality, perfectly poised between painting and sculpture. Created in a specific form, they can be placed in four different orientations, opening up to multiple possibilities.
Finally are presented “Community One” and “Community Two”, two oversized sculptures covered with insects, modeled after traditional European beehives. They are the artist’s appropriation of human relations, with a metaphorical socio-political undertone. For Creten, the anthropomorphic motif stands for a constructive community, a force that works together for the greater good. Each individual is part of the community, who has his or her own role, position and task. There is a free-flow of communications through the channels in the eye and mouth area. Such is the ideal form of a constructive community. Nevertheless, when viewed from a different angle, one can see a multitude of insects invading this seemingly utopian community, dissolving the established order. Thus the work is simultaneously a criticism towards blind work discipline, which is susceptible to disintegration upon the derailment of an individual or external attack.
Johan Creten was the winner of the Rome Prize and held a residency at Villa Medicis, Rome, Italy, from 1996 to 1997. From June 2004 to January 2008, he was an artist in residence at the legendary Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, the French national porcelain factory. He was one of the featured artists in the exhibition “Contrepoint 2”(2005) at The Musée du Louvre, Paris, France. He recently had a solo exhibition “The Storm” (2014) at the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp, Belgium. Creten will also participate in FIAC 2014 where Galerie Perrotin will unveil a series of ceramic paintings made by the artist at the Alfred University (New York) in 2013.
 Doris Wintgens Hötte, “Johan Creten. Ars longa, vita brevis”, Johan Creten: beelden, cat. exp., Leiden, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, 2007, pp.51
 Rosa Martínez, “Johan Creten. Odore di Femmina”, cat.exp., Robert Miller Gallery New York, 1998, pp.11
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 am – 7 pm. Exceptional Closure: October 10th – October 18th.
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