July 28, 2021

With “The other contemporary art”, Benjamin Olivennes castigates the state culture

The Normalien puts his feet in the dish. His new book tackles the takeover of the fine arts by the French Ministry, which in fact follows the trade.

Benjamin Olivennes, 30 years old.

Credits: Babélio.

There is a discomfort in contemporary art, or rather with what officially takes its place. The hegemony of certain creators, bound by the force of things to the financial world, is largely the cause. While there have never been so many plastic surgeons (probably too many!), Only a handful of names do better than float. They dabble in the middle of dollars, euros and renmimbi. The frightening Venetian exhibition dedicated in 2017 by the two local Pinault foundations (La Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi) to Damien Hirst offered caricatural proof of such interference. One could speak of collusion between the money and the kitsch.

The public can therefore understand the episodic reactions to this state of affairs, which the supporters of all-out modernism dismiss with the back of their hands as linked to the “fascosphere”. As if François Pinault, Charles Saatchi or David Geffen were leftists! Contemporary art as practiced by most museums or Kunsthallen does not support questioning. So we should not be surprised if “The other contemporary art” by Normalien Benjamin Olivennes has only been recognized in the traditional press. However, the book is not at all hot-tempered, as was the case with Aude de Kerros’ “The Imposture of Contemporary Art” in 2017. Benjamin remains a moderate. It just suggests other people to admire. This amateur wants a plurality of votes, even if he obviously hates Jeff Koons and his expensive Easter bunny. According to him, we should take an example from England, which was able to “resist all the nonsense of the twentieth century, fascism, Stalinism, the euro, avant-garde painting, atonal music and the New Romanesque. ” There, I can already see the eyebrows frown… What a mixture! Olivennes has all the old grumpy, even if he is only 30 years old.

In the footsteps of Jean Clair

The list of those forgotten by this thirty-something, however, corresponds to other tastes, expressed in 1995 by Jean Clair, when he saw himself in charge of the Centenary Biennale in Venice. There are precisely the British, Lucian Freud in the lead, accompanied by Bacon, Kitaj or Auerbach. Zoran Mŭsič for Italy. The Englishman of Paris Raymond Mason. Jacques Truphémus, who died in his 90s in 2017. Avigdor Arikha, who died in 2010. Plus Sam Szafran, who has just bowed out in 2019. Famous people, of course, but not really famous. Only the British cited are stars. Think about the current rating of Bacon and Freud. The duo is at the top of the ranking of monetary values ​​with David Hockney, also cited by Olivennes. The latter took the opportunity to rehabilitate the idea of ​​a national school, now hated. He recalls that Emmanuel Macron said in particular in 2017 (year in which he expressed himself a little too much), that there was “no French culture, but a culture in France.” A desire for inclusion, no doubt. But there was already, in the twentieth century, “the School of Paris” for that.

This attack on the avant-garde, which sounds like a new boomerang, attacks collectors or artists themselves less than the state. Culture remains official in France for Olivennes insofar as it emerges from a ministry created for it. A civil servant ministry, whose role is declining. “The state is now weakening and ends up bowing down to the market, a market no longer national and based on taste but globalized and speculative.” We recognize here ideas readily localized to the right by people still considering themselves to be on the left. But should we blindly support Daniel Buren, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Bernar Venet or Martial Raysse? These are undoubtedly our “firefighters” today. Less profession. The country could however, according to the author, go up the slope by looking at the real creators with personalities. “Most contemporary art museums in the world are similar, like airport duty free”. Paradoxically, this is what slows down their flight to the public most.


“The other contemporary art” by Benjamin Olivennes, Aux Editions Grasset, 165 pages.