abstract art, a systems view

The Jean Genie

with 2 comments

Should I be slightly embarrassed by the fact that my introduction to Jean Genet came through the 70’s hit single by David Bowie?

Nottingham Contemporary have a show about him (Genet, that is, not Bowie) running until October.


It is divided into two parts or acts. Act One is an installation by Marc Camille Chaimowicz entitled the Courtesy of Objects, featuring Alberto Giacometti, Tariq Alvi, Lukas Duwenhogger, Mathilda Rachet and Wolfgang Tillmans. I recognised the Genet I knew a bit about, in this exhibition which is about his early life, his books, his homosexuality, his friendship with Giacometti etc.

I did think it a little strange to see Giacometti featured. In my view, he is the major artist here and I wondered if I would simply have preferred a solo show. (Check out this blog about one such show).

Act Two, entitled Prisoners of Love, brings together work by André Acquart, Emory Douglas, Latifa Echakhch, Mona Hatoum, Glenn Ligon, Abdul Hay Mosallam, The Otolith Group, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Carole Roussopoulos, Gil J Wolman and Akram Zaatari. And this was the Jean Genet I knew nothing about. He had engaged in a lot more political activism than I had realised, including the events of 1968, and his support of the Black Panthers.


I found the second part of the exhibition the most interesting and I learned a lot about Genet. I am not sure how much of it I read as ‘art’ though. I felt more like I had visited a museum than an art gallery.

There also seemed to be something incongruous about looking at (wonderful) Emory Douglas Black Panther posters and other images inciting revolt, viewing Gil J Wolman’s ‘Scotch Art’ prints of May ’68 in Paris, watching the Otalith Group’s film set in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, and then taking a short walk down the steps to drink expensive tea and coffee on the nice terrace of the posh restaurant.


Written by Andy Parkinson

August 14, 2011 at 9:48 am

2 Responses

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  1. I feel like I have a very troubled relationship to most leftist activism from the 1960s. There has been a marked and uncritical tendency among those on the Left to romanticize the Black Panthers because of their radicalism, militancy, and the government persecution they faced. I find black nationalism very problematic. Perhaps the political forces of socialism did not adequately account for the peculiar difficulties posed by race relations (and for this they have only themselves to blame), but I find that the black nationalist movement — as embodied by such groups as the Black Panthers — became methodologically separatist and single-issue by splintering off from the broader program of social emancipation.

    Ross Wolfe

    August 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm

  2. I agree entirely

    Andy Parkinson

    August 16, 2011 at 8:21 pm

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