On the occasion of the Independent Brussels art fair, Almine Rech Gallery has offered its booth to the editorial and curatorial platform Le Salon, initiated in 2011 by Devrim Bayar, curator at WIELS, in collaboration with Virginie Devillez, deputy director of Sotheby’s Belgium, Impressionist – Modern – Contemporary art, and Valerie Verhack, curator at Museum M Leuven. For this collaboration, Le Salon has reactivated the project they presented from February to April 2016 at M HKA in Antwerp, around the subject of the cat tree.
One of the objectives of Le Salon is to consider contemporary artworks outside of the white cube and to rethink them through a more inhabited and subjective framework. Cats are undoubtedly the most common domesticated animals in the Western world, and cat scratchers or “cat trees” occupy—sometimes with difficulty—many living rooms. Originally designed to imitate the cat’s natural habitat, this artifact dialogues with the main themes of contemporary sculpture: part functional, part decorative, it is a mass-produced product with an artisanal twist, which offers an aesthetic proposal oscillating between (post)modernism and vernacular art. The cat tree questions the concept of taste and the boundaries between pop culture and high art. Combining in an original way various, often standardized elements and materials of interior design such as wood, carpeting, fabric, padding, etc., it cannot be defined as either furniture or a work of art.
As starting point for reflection, Le Salon has made a selection of cat-tree inspired sculptures by artist John Armleder (Switzerland, b. 1948), who, from the 1980s onward, has questioned the idea of abstraction and modernity through the appropriation of objects and the gesture of quotation. Characterized by the persistence of the relationship between life and art, his artworks call notions of style into question. With his series of Furniture Sculptures (begun in 1979), Armleder challenges us with his ‘quasi-readymade’, highlighting the ambiguity of the collector, who often considers artworks as simply decorative elements.
Alongside the examples from the Furniture Sculptures series, Le Salon has brought together artworks by other artists. One of these is a historical piece made approximately twenty-five years ago by artist Regina Möller (Germany, b. 1962). Her cat tree is inspired by the construction principles of the ‘knock-down’ or ‘ready-to-assemble’ design which emerged in the 1960s amidst a burgeoning DIY culture that advocated consumer creativity. Le Salon has also selected more recent works by David Polzin (Germany, b. 1982) and Laurent Le Deunff (France, b. 1977). Stemming from the project Furniture and Objects of Germany’s Postimperial Era, Polzin’s work evokes the annexation of former East Germany by the culture and style of the West. The products of this imaginary ‘post-imperial’ era embody the unequal union between East and West and the more or less functional symbiosis of these two contrasting social systems and lifestyles. Le Deunff works primarily with natural materials, most importantly wood, to create sculptures akin to crafts objects. His œuvre raises ancient themes—animality, archaism, ritual—while echoing our current epoch and some of its biases.
Three additional works have been commissioned by Le Salon from Eric Croes (Belgium, b. 1978), Poesivski Poeselovski, and Amanda Ross-Ho (United States, b. 1975), three artists who call into question the values related to production and the notion of taste through an affinity with DIY culture and the breakdown of classifications related to ‘fine arts’. Their works demonstrate the diversity of possible interpretations that can emerge around a similar form.
Croes is an interdisciplinary artist who, in recent years, has been working mainly with ceramics. He creates chimerical hybrid figures that question the traditional divides between art and craft, tradition and modernity. For her contribution, Ross-Ho drew inspiration from the child’s game cat’s cradle, which consists of string figures made between the fingers of the hand. Lastly, Poesivski Poeselovski is a ‘super cat’ born in Siberia in the sixteenth century and revered as a poet, wine connoisseur, and philosopher. For Le Salon, he has made a series of anthropomorphic cat figures.