Charles Derenne opens up his suitcase for you, from February 9 to March 31, 2019, at agnès b. Galerie Boutique, 50 Howard St – Manhattan – New York: city of lights, lighthouse of the exiles.
The prodigal son is back, as he has never gone, as he has never been away…
Atlas: Iconology and Writing Surfaces offers time as a capsule, creating a space in which we can be still with the work for a moment, taking a kind of collective breath as it traces his own responses to the changing face of place and memory in our era. His conflicted adoration for the recent past – one in which physicality once held a primacy that we now see disappearing in today’s increasingly virtual world – appears at the periphery of every image that is the sum total of Atlas. For while the world still knows the icons of the recent past, this work begs the question: for how much longer will we even be able to rely upon these centralizing collective memories?
The sense of loss that we find here, then, harkens to those moments that are at once utterly general and completely personal. As the primacy of the virtual world continues its push forward, we are left here with Derenne, mystified by what we see but also made aware of the fact that we have never been given a chance to say goodbye otherwise. The work, then, is Derenne’s attempt to allow us to catch our collective breath and take stock of this loss.
From his long journey, he presents us his intimate puzzle. As a jigsaw requires patience for the icon it contains to appear, so too does Atlas. And as with a puzzle, the image is suddenly elevated beyond the literal and enters the realm of the individuated response once all of its parts are in place. With a gentle guiding hand, this exhibition leaves space for the viewer to snap these pieces together with their own associations and to come to their own conclusions about what these pieces mean as a whole.
These, then, are the images from his infinite journey: his never-ending trip through life and time. Revisiting Aby Warburg’s monumental Mnemosyne Atlas (1924-1929), mixed in with some clichés derived from American mythology, we find monumental landscape, wild beauty, nature against architecture with its skyscrapers and the brutalism they portend. Then we come upon European sculptures (Rodin and the Cesar’s complex structures), Roman antiquities, Egyptian and Etruscan statues. By reconstructing his own mental process, we find him attempting to visually recreate the space between memory, icon, and emotion with these kinds of visual-cut-ups. This is his very own cosa mentale. “Collision” more than the simple overlay of pictures and postcards, “interaction” beyond collage, all trying to capture the last vestiges of our collapsing civilization.
Other parts of the show, seemingly unrelated, are anything but — blackboards, schoolboy souvenirs, as well as a reminiscences of parietal engraving, scratching black surface and the unusual use of chalk as medium. They serve as a tribute to abstract-expressionist masters like Cy Twombly, Ad Reinhardt, Clifford Still, returning us to primitive gesture. This then is Derenne’s attempt to hand Atlas’s viewer a puzzle. Our cultural roots. Stéphane Mallarmé used to call Rimbaud Le passant considérable, in some ways that suits perfectly to Charles.
My son was lost but now he is found / ‘Cause that’s the way for us to get along!
The sum total of all these disparate parts coalesce to leave us with a kind of riddle: is a memory something you have or something you’ve lost?
Marc-Olivier Deblanc, January 2019
Exhibition from February 9th to March 31st 2019
Opening Reception Saturday, February 9, 6-8pm
50 Howard Street, New York, NY