Review

Élisabeth Ballet at the MAC VAL: Retrospective as Work of Art

02.12.2017 |

Élisabeth Ballet, exhibition view Tout En Un Plus Trois, MAC VAL 2017, in the foreground, Smoking & Brillantine, 2011, steel, variable dimensions, © Photo: Marc Domage, © ADAGP, Paris

The musée d’Art contemporain du Val-de-Marne (MAC VAL) presents a retrospective of the work of Élisabeth Ballet (born in 1957), bringing together drawings, videos, monumental installations, and sculptures dating from the 1980s to the present day.

The works presented in the vast hall of the museum were selected by curator Frank Lamy, in close collaboration with the artist from among several series (Sept Pièces faciles, Face à main, and Vie privée, in particular), in such a way as to form an original conversation between them, transforming the exhibition itself into an ambitious work of art.

Élisabeth Ballet at the MAC VAL:  Retrospective as Work of Art - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Élisabeth Ballet, Leica, 2004, transparent green film on plexiglass, 180 x 980 x 80 cm, © Photo: Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/ Georges Meguerditchian/Dist.RMN-GP, © ADAGP, Paris

A graduate of the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, for almost forty years now Élisabeth Ballet has been questioning the hidden connections that unite such notions as interior/exterior, empty/full, open/closed, opacity/transparency, organic/industrial, supple/rigid, exclusion/inclusion, real space/mental space, word/thing, and so on. While the artist refuses a directly political interpretation of her work, these associations do nonetheless have a certain topicality in terms of borders and the necessity of surpassing them.

Élisabeth Ballet at the MAC VAL:  Retrospective as Work of Art - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Élisabeth Ballet, Emmanuelle, série JEJ, 1988, coated medium, 100 x 156 x 220 cm, exhibition view Un, deux, trois…sculpture, 1989, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Jouy-en-Josas, © Photo: Florian Kleinefenn, © ADAGP, Paris

Materialising these trains of thought at the MAC VAL are geometric sculptures in cardboard, plexiglas, or medium, similar to architect’s models, which are placed on the floor or attached high up the walls (Dessin, 1989; Matière, 1989; Couleur, 1989; Percer le site, 1991; Modèle III, 1998); imposing and minimalist installations, enclosed within themselves (Boléro, 1999; Leica, 2004); or, more rarely, open to circulation (Emmanuelle, 1988; Corridor noir, 1994); and painted or neon letters creating unexpected wordplays (Les Idées and Lazy Days, both from 2007). Similarly, the soundscape Vous me direz (2014-2017), which renders the noise of a factory (sounds of machines, shouts from workers), responds to the silent video Eye Shadow (2007), a shadow projected onto a leaf blown in the wind, one of the only references to nature in the exhibition.

Élisabeth Ballet at the MAC VAL:  Retrospective as Work of Art - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Élisabeth Ballet, Les idées, série Sept pièces faciles, 2007, neon sign, 40 x 226 x 8 cm, exhibition view Sept pièces faciles, Le Grand Café, Saint-Nazaire, © Photo : Marc Domage, © ADAGP, Paris

Élisabeth Ballet at the MAC VAL:  Retrospective as Work of Art - AWARE Artistes femmes / women artists

Élisabeth Ballet, BCHN, 1997, translucent plastic, steel, wood, red carpet, © Photo: Marc Domage, © ADAGP, Paris

The spectators find themselves immersed in a complete and extraordinarily constructed space. However, they are free to move about as they wish, in an exhibition with no set direction for the visit, and they can establish new connections between the artworks as they roam through it. The absence of plaques and introductory text – replaced by a sheet of paper and a flyer distributed at the entrance – contributes to this freedom given to the visitors, but sometimes does a disservice to the understanding of the project’s message; although we do commend the mediation effort provided by Stéphanie Airaud’s analysis in the flyer. There is no seduction, then, in the choices made for this retrospective, simply the opportunity to discover (or rediscover) the work of Élisabeth Ballet in which real-life individual experience, personal narrative, and formal austerity resonate in a rare and interesting way.

Élisabeth Ballet, Tout en Un Plus Trois, from 21 October 2017 to 25 February 2018, at the MAC VAL (Vitry-sur-Seine, France).

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