After a winter marked by worrying climatic phenomena such as winter drought, this spring sees the French art scene involved more than ever in the major environmental issues of our time.
The seeds sown in 2022 with landmark exhibitions, such as “Reclaim the Earth” at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris), “Novacene” at the Gare Saint Sauveur (Lille) and Fabrice Hyber’s exhibition “The Valley” at the Fondation Cartier (Paris), continue to bear fruit with a season that confirms the importance of the French art and environment scene, across art centers, foundations, and galleries.

The Pinault Collection announces the new season

On February 8 2023, Paris’ Bourse de Commerce-Pinault Collection’s weather forecast indicated “Before the Storm”. Since then, the storm has taken over, illuminating many signs of the current ecological crisis: overlapping seasons, sick forests, desertified landscapes… In a poignant display, the artists – including Dineo Seshee Bopape, Tacita Dean, Jonathas de Andrade, Pierre Huyghe, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Diana Thater, Thu Van Tran, Danh Vo, Anicka Yi– draw on both human and ecological tragedies, such as nuclear accidents or the effects of the Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War, to defend a new and different relationship between humans and the environment.
The director of the Pinault Collection Emma Lavigne thus confirms her environmental commitment, after “Sublime” in 2016 and “Réclamer la terre” in 2022, two exhibitions held at the Palais de Tokyo under her presidency (curated by Daria de Beauvais).

(Left) View of the exhibition «Avant l’orage», Bourse de Commerce, Paris, 2023, Daniel Steegmann Mangrané. © Art of Change 21/ (Right) View of the exhibition «Symbiosium – Speculative Cosmogonies», Fiminco Foundation, Romainville, 2023 © Maurine Tric

The Fiminco Foundation in Romainville, on the outskirts of Paris, is currently hosting an exhibition conceived by the Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles (currently closed to the public) called “Symbiosium – Speculative Cosmogonies” (18 March-6 May). Its curators, Christopher Yggdre (director of the LAccolade Foundation) and Stéphanie Pécourt, director of Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, have devised the exhibition, dedicated to the theme of symbiosis, both as a manifesto and as a living experiment. Debates, performances, and, of course, on-site creations, many of which will evolve as the exhibition goes on, have been entrusted to many young artists working with the living world, including Fabien Léaustic, Marie-Luce Nadal*, Charlotte Gautier Van Tour, Caroline Le Méhauté, Marie-Sarah Adenis, Jérémy Gobé*, Eugénie Touzé and Côme Di Meglio*.

The third major collective exhibition of the spring is without doubt the debut of the 2023 art season of the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, from April 1. It will celebrate the work of 15 artists on the themes of nature and dreams as part of a journey that leads us through the castle’s exhibition spaces and its significant ground. A minority in a very masculine list of leading artists (Fabrice Hyber, Lee Ufan, Lionel Sabatté, etc.), Claire Morgan’s work is among the proposals not to be missed.

Art Paris art fair, curated by Guillaume Piens, presents many environmentally-engaged artists, such as Lélia Demoisy at the Galerie By Lara Sedbon, Suzanne Husky at Alain Gutharc’s, Vincent Laval* at Bertrand Grimont’s, Quentin Derouet at Pauline Pavec’s, or the legendary NILS-UDO at both Pierre-Alain Challier’s and the Ruinart’s VIP space (guest artist in 2022).

Institutional solo exhibitions cultivate a new relationship with the living

The powerful force of a growing number of artists’ environmental engagement is spreading across France, transcending purely aesthetic practices. From each individual initiative, a collective energy emerges that contributes to the ecological transition through its imagination and sensitivity.

Chimeras, corrosion, and unvalued materials. This is the artistic subject of Lionel Sabatte’s exhibition “Clandestine Pollens”, hidden between the fauna and flora of the Domaine national de Chambord (May 14-September 14 2023). Here 150 works intertwine the artist’s intimate rapport with nature, especially other animals, and the idea of rebirth. Among the works is a monumental cave hiding a prehistoric flint.

In the south-east of France, Julia Gault brings together the contradictory forces that have affected Thoronet Abbey. “Fossilis: What We Get from the Earth” which is held until 28 May 2023 crosses the history of the abbey with that of the extraction of bauxite nearby, which threatened the collapse of the religious building in 1975.

Suzanne Husky, The Sound of a New Waterfall, film, 32 minutes, 2022.

Moving to the east of France, «La Parabole de Bièvre», a personal exhibition by Suzanne Husky at the Centre régional d’art contemporain de Montbéliard, on display since February 18, proposes to help us understand more about wetlands and the state of waterways in France thanks to a specific «hydrological animal»: the beaver. Suzanne Husky, the recent recipient of the 2023 Drawing Now Prize, will also inaugurate a solo exhibition on April 1 at the Centre d’art de la ville de Houilles, “What you seek also seeks you”, curated by Julie Sicault Maillé.

Close to the German border, the exhibition “Alchimia Nova” by the Belgian artist Anne Marie Maes will be on show at the Mulhouse Kunsthalle until April 30. Centered around a “Lab for Form & Matter”, a hybrid artwork-laboratory-studio, the artist’s exhibition highlights her current artistic research around the microorganisms present in the Alsacian territory.

Finally, in Martinique, Louisa Marajo inaugurated her exhibition “An dlo sargas viré!” on March 20. A monumental installation composed of wooden pallets, it intertwines social, environmental, local and global issues related to the infamous sargassum species. Stimulated by human activity and waste, which in turn pollutes the sea, these algae are also symbols of resilience and demonstrate the complexity of the relationship between humans and their environment. This exhibition is fairly unique in that it is the subject of a full environmental Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA), as part of her successful application for Art of Change 21’s Eco-design Prize**, in partnership with Palais de Tokyo. 

Scaffolding of our consciences, view from the exhibition «An dlo sargas viré!», Atrium Tropiques, Louisa Marajo, 2023 © Louisa Marajo & ADAGP

Other solo exhibitions of the season include: “Pas de cerise sans noyau” by artist Ju Hyun Lee, at the Centre régional d’art contemporain de Montbéliard until April 30; “Emprunt distant” from the contemporary artist duo Ouazzani Carrier, at the Louis-Senlecq Museum of Art and History in L’Isle-Adam until September 17 2023; and “Renée” by Marie Denis, at La Maison de Chateaubriand until March 24 2024 (see below for a full list of other exhibitions not to be missed).

In galleries, environmentally-conscious art is in full bloom

On the gallery side, the collective exhibition “Bittersweet Symphony” at Mor Charpentier gallery, Paris, which ends on April 8, addresses the idea of ‘dysanthropy’. Through the works of Lara Almarcegui, Bianca Bondi, and Daniel Otero Torres, the exhibition explores the possibility of a sudden disappearance of human presence, perceived as a consequence, perhaps inevitable, of contemporary environmental issues.

At the Zoo Galerie, Nantes, the exhibition “Your trash cans are our citadels” by the artist Laurent Tixador draws up an inventory of waste in contemporary society, which surreptitiously turns our surroundings into a vast dump of plastic litter and used metals. Following a logic of sobriety, the artist attempts to transform our abandoned waste into actual citadels.

On a similar topic, Paris-B gallery presents the exhibition “Imagined Landscape” by Chinese artist Yang Yongliang. Until April 22, it presents a set of new photographs and video installations of the artist, who trained in traditional Chinese painting, that juxtapose urbanisation and traditional rural landscapes to denounce the devastating effects of accelerated urban development.

The Carole Lambert gallery, Paris, will host until May 24, 2023, Jonathan Bréchignac’s* solo exhibition “Stone” which incorporates a series of sculptures of psychedelic geology entitled “Alien Rocks”. This is the artist’s second solo gallery exhibition that focuses on both natural and artificial boundaries.

Rolling Figures 1.0, view from the exhibition “Seas, Lands and Bodies Crossed”, La Traverse, Malala Andrialavidrazana, 2022 ©Malala Andrialavidrazana

Finally, we end this non-exhaustive tour of France-based exhibitions in southern Marseille, often now considered to be France’s second art capital.

If La Traverse declares itself to be a “maison-outil” (a “house/tool”) more than a gallery, it is thanks to its former gallery owner, Catherine Bastide. On April 28, she will host “Seas, Lands, and Bodies Crossed”, a collective exhibition that brings together the works of artists Malala Andrialavidrazana, Francis Alÿs, Shivanjani Lal, Louisa Marajo, Tuly Mekondjo and Otobong Nkanga around the themes of displacement caused by global warming and conflicts.

Equally, in the sun-filled port city, La Friche de la Belle de Mai has invited numerous local environmental NGOs fighting against marine pollution, ‘upcyclers’ of plastic waste, to participate alongside contemporary artists in its exhibition “Plasticocène”. Among the artists exhibited are the Museo Aero Solar (Communauté Aérocène), Elvia Teotski*, Côme Di Meglio*, Maxime Verret and Marion Flament. Accompanied by the NGOs MerTerre and Polymer, their creations symbolise an attempt at regeneration of the Blue Planet through the deconstruction of humankind’s unhealthy relationship with plastic. 

This multi-actor collaboration demonstrates that many artists are breaking down historic barriers and advocating increasingly collective approaches. Artists today find themselves “embarqué” (“involved”), to use the words of Albert Camus, in an era that transforms them and makes them want to act.

Alice Audouin, Louise Verdier, Alexandre Pastor
with the collaboration of Pauline Lisowski

Translation (from French): Stefano Vendramin

* Laureate of the Art of Change 21 Planète Art Solidaire Prize (2021)
** Publisher of Impact Art News 

Cover : View of the exhibition «Avant l’orage», Bourse de Commerce Paris, 2023, Anicka Yi © Art of Change 21 

Impact Art News, Février-Mars 2023 #42

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Exhibitions mentioned in this article :

La Vallée, solo show, Fabrice Hyber, Fondation Cartier, Paris, from December 8 2022 to April 30 2023

Avant l’orage, Bourse de commerce, Paris, from February 8 to September 11 2023

Saison d’art 2023, Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, from April 1 to October 29 2023

ART PARIS, Grand Palais Éphémère, from March 30 to April 2 2023

Symbiosium-Cosmogonies Spéculatives, Fondation Fiminco, Romainville, from March 17 to May 6 2023

Pollens clandestins, Domaine National de Chambord, from May 14 to September 17 2023

Fossilis – ce que l’on tire de la terre, à Abbaye du Thoronet, from February 4 to May 28 2023

La Parabole du Bièvre, Le 19 CRAC, Montbéliard, from February 18 to April 30 2023

Alchimia Nova, Kunsthalle Mulhouse, from February 17 to April 30 2023

AN DLO SARGAS VIRÉ !, Atrium Tropiques, Fort-de-France, Martinique, from March 20 to April 14 2023

Pas de cerise sans noyau,  le 19 CRAC, Montbéliard, from February 17 to April 30 2023

Emprunt Lointain, musée d’Art et d’Histoire Louis-Senlecq de L’Isle-Adam, from April 2 to September 17 2023

Renée, Maison de Chateaubriand, Châtenay-Malabry, from March 24 2023 to March 23 2024

Bittersweet Symphony, Mor Charpentier, Paris, from March 11 to April 8 2023

Vos poubelles sont nos citadelles, Zoo Nantes, Nantes, from March 3 to May 17 2023

Imagined Landscape, Paris B, Paris, from March 11 to April 22 2023

Stone, Galerie Carole Lambert, Paris, from March 30 to May 24 2023

Mers, Terres & Corps traversés, La Traverse, Marseille, from April 28 to May 21 2023

Plasticocène, Friche de la Belle de Mai, Marseille, from February 16 to May 27 2023

Other exhibitions to see:

Dans l’épaisseur de nos lisières là où naissent les dragons, group show, Domaine départemental de Chamarande, from April 15 to October 15 2023

Toucher terre, group show, Espace Monte-cristo, from April 15 to December 17 2023

Penser comme une montagne, group show, Creux de l’Enfer et au Château de Goutelas, from April 7 to September 17 2023

Les cloches de Fontevraud, du prisme contemporain à l’histoire monastique, group show, Abbaye de Fontevraud, from April 14 to September 19 2023

Répliques, solo show of Manuela Marques, Galerie Anne Barrault, from March 4 to April 16 2023

8 BPM (experiments with time), solo show of Simon Faithfull, Galerie Polaris, Paris, from March 11 to April 15 2023

Grey Gardens, solo show of Nona Inescu, Centre d’art de Saint-Fons, from March 11 to April 24 2023

L’île intérieure, Carmignac Foundation, Porquerolles Island, from April 29 to November 5 2023

Enchant-Temps : Habiter la Terre – Archéologie Intérieure, group show, Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger, from February 4 to May 3 2023

Les alchimistes du sensible, FISH EYE Gallery, from March 9 to May 6 2023

Dans l’air, Hangar Y, from march 22 to September 11 2023 

Wormhole, solo show of Max Fouchy, Galerie 22,48 m², from March 16 to May 6 2023

Rituels pour un nouveau monde, group show, Lafayette Anticipations, from February 15 to May 17 2023

Garden Party, group show, Galerie porte B, from March 18 to May 20 2023

Le plat principal, solo show of Magali Reus, CAC La synagogue de Delme, from March 11 to June 4 2023

Le paradis dans une fleur sauvage, solo show of Denis Brihat, Espace photographique Arthur Batut, Labruguière, from March 16 to June 18 2023

Sans mémoire, solo show of Edi Dubien, Rurart, from March 16 to June 25 2023

Le centre d’art coupe ses fluides, Maison des arts de Malakoff,  from February 12 to july 8 2023