Fabrics, embroideries, silk and pearls are ubiquitous at the Patinoire Royale. Inspired, exuberant and cheeky, the work presented by Joana Vasconcelos is a triumphal explosion of colours. The large spaces afforded by the former skating rink and the Valérie Bach Gallery allow her to express all the sides of a body of work where tiny details and disproportion are constantly interwoven. Her creations, the result of both titanic and painstaking work, show us her conquering nature as an artist who expresses herself powerfully, without ever straying too far from her Portuguese roots. An exhibition fit for a museum.
In the lobby, we start with Material Girl, an imposing Valkyrie which, in a flamboyant carnival of colours and materials, refers to these female warriors of Norse mythology flying over the battlefields to choose who would live among the slain. A metaphor for the difficulties faced by women artists in the world of contemporary art, visually sensual and joyful, making use of all kinds of textiles and materials. In the rear space, the Patinoire is displaying a second Valkyrie designed for the Marina Rinaldi brand. It is made with the fabrics used in the collection presented during the Milan Fashion Week.
The basement area takes deep down to the abyss, twenty thousand leagues under the sea. There, small mirrors and frames sail side by side. An underwater vision full of protuberances in tight arrangements, with red, orange, blue or green sea anemones. The mirror is a recurring element in Portuguese decoration. Do we really need to look at ourselves? asks Vasconcelos. And she offers us conceited black and silver surfaces from which polyps shaped like tentacles seem to escape, like sea serpents disrupting our reflected image. Evocative titles remind us that 19 pieces were created especially for the exhibition: Petit Sablon, Coudenberg and further on, Magritte, Brel.
We find that the visual artist is most effective when her execution is discreet and delicate. Upstairs, a complete change of scenery. As the exhibition’s arrangement gives way to a more subtle vision, we discover traditionally made china animals wrapped in fine crochet and lace, as if covered in real chain mail directly woven on a collection of Portuguese beasts. Here, horses, frogs, crabs and lizards live in complete harmony. “There was a time when crochet was the only means of expression for our grandmothers,” explains the artist. Lace making requires mathematical, almost rhythmic, abilities to produce such beautiful mesh designs.
At every level, a cheerful visual language, full of meaning, imbued with a very keen awareness of Portuguese culture, and marked by a mixture of lightness and gravity. In her work, we like the way she freely conveys her underlying feminist message, while treating the subject with a subtle humour which highlights rather than attacks the issues. The only woman to have had a solo exhibition at the Château de Versailles, this Portuguese artist born in Paris made the headlines because of her audacity. Originality sums up her work. A feast for the eyes, which is a gift in the holiday season.
De fil(s) en aiguille(s)
La Patinoire Royale
15 rue Veydt
Until 25 March 2017
Tuesdays – Saturdays, from 11:00h to 13:00h and from 14:00h to 19:00h