Coinciding with Glasgow International 2018 (April 20 to May 7), 42 Carlton Place will collaborate with Andrew Mummery at his space in the nearby Oxford House (71 Oxford Street) to curate an exhibition of works by the Franco-Russian artist Serge Charchoune.
Merlin James has studied and championed Charchoune’s oeuvre for many years, organising several projects internationally (see below), including an exhibition at Mummery+Schnelle, London, in 2008-9. The present show will feature many works not seen previously, and will highlight the 1930s and the 1960s.
Hutte Blanche 1931, oil on board, 37 x 45 cm
The 30s are sometimes said to have been a low point for Charchoune’s painting, when he exhibited little, lacked artistic direction and concentrated instead on his poetry and prose writing. The present exhibition seeks to show that, despite severe economic pressures, the inter-war period was in fact highly experimental and creative time for Charchoune as an artist. He was simultaneously making esoteric, quasi-theosophical compositions, startling drip and spatter paintings that anticipate abstract expressionism, and poetic landscapes.
Though the work is often modest in scale and subdued in tone, and may reflect his introspection and apparent low spirits, it is highly compelling. The exhibition includes several park scenes that evoke Charchoune’s solitary hours wandering in Paris parks. A key work is the Petite Liseuse of 1933, that featured in his Paris MAM retrospective of 1971. This mystery motif that he depicted more than once, of a woman reading on a park bench, possibly refers to memories of his former partner the artist Helena Grünhoff.
After WWII Charchoune was represented by a dealer who favoured consistent, decorative abstractions, and his work became less distinct from a mass of rather diluted Ecole de Paris modernism. It was in the 1960s, with meditative, impastoed ‘process’ monochromes, that he would again enter a highly individual and creative phase. The exhibition will feature several examples of these works, that the artist considered visual parallels to music, sometimes radically minimal, and sometimes close to script.
Untitled, oil on canvas laid on panel, 12,5 x 27,5 cm
Merlin James curated a Serge Charchoune exhibition at the Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh, 2012-13. It travelled to the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago in May-August 2013.
The show traveled in expanded form to Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, December 2015 and to Kunstsaele, Berlin in September 2015:
SERGE CHARCHOUNE (1888-1975)
‘The exhibition is open…’
This exhibition offers a concise reconsideration of the career of Russian artist and writer Serge Charchoune. While involved with Dada, Cubism, Purism and informal abstraction, Charchoune operated quite autonomously within and beyond those movements. His painting can anticipate, in very personal ways, aspects of Abstract Expressionism, minimalism and ‘pattern painting’, and his writing looks forward to ‘language poetry’ and autofiction. In general Charchoune’s stylistic diversity speaks to post-modernism, but as a figure in twentieth-centry art and literature he seems to hide in plain view, reflecting a couplet from his 1921 Dada poem Foule Immobile: ‘The exhibition is open. And still no one sees it.‘ An associate of Duchamp, Picabia, Schwitters, Léger, Tzara, Breton, Ernst, de Staël and many others, yet Charchoune cultivated an elusive, semi-invisible persona, commenting ‘I lie low, and have a lot of freedom.’
17 November 2012 – 16 February 2013
Wednesday 21 November, 5.15pm
Organised by the Princess Dashkova Russian Centre at the University of Edinburgh, this discussion by Merlin James, curator of the exhibition, offered an opportunity to consider Charchoune’s work, in particular in the context of the Russian cultural diaspora. Charchoune’s relevance for the post-modern period will be explored, and his relation to other highly independent figures in twentieth-century art.
Curator’s talk: Serge Charchoune: a low profile
Wednesday 28 November, 6.00pm
Artist Merlin James introduced the exhibition and gave an overview of the unique achievements of artist and writer Serge Charchoune. Reserved by nature and often overlooked by mainstream art history, Charchoune was nevertheless an associate of Picabia, Schwitters, Léger, Tzara, Breton, Ernst, de Staël and many others. From post-modern perspectives his significance is increasingly emerging.
Symposium: Word & Image in Russian Contexts – The Legacy of the Russian Avant Garde
Friday 1 February, 9.30am – 7pm
Organised by University of Edinburgh’s Dr. Alexandra Smith and sponsored by the Centre for Russian, Central and East European Studies, University of Glasgow, this symposium examined the Russian Avant Garde in the context of the Serge Charchoune exhibition.
University of Edinburgh
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