Raphaël Denis' exhibition "D'un musée l'autre" (From one museum to another) focuses on the fate of museum works in contexts of profound historical upheaval. The concept of displacement of the work, both geographical and political, is at the heart of this new project. Through its migration, concealment or appropriation, the institutional work, an expression of a national community, becomes a power issue.
Whether it be masterpieces from the Louvre, such as The Victory of Samothrace, moved at the beginning of the Second World War to escape the threat of the Nazi occupiers, the sale of "degenerate art" in Lucerne in 1939 made up of works snatched by the German state from its own museums, or recent casts of antiques deformed and diverted by the artist, the question of the conservation and transmission of the work arises.
Even before the declaration of war on September 3, 1939, major works from the Louvre Museum were evacuated to Chambord before being sent to other French châteaux. The Victory of Samothrace was one of them and was hidden in Valençay. Photographs by Marc Vaux show the precious marble sculpture in the Grand Escalier of the Louvre, placed on a fragile board assembly and suspended by an elevation structure. Raphaël Denis is inspired by these historical facts and iconographic documents to create an umpteenth digression from La Dynamique des restes: "Les Ailes du désir". Discovered on the island of Samothrace in 1863, recovered and "repatriated" to France by representatives of the Second Empire, the Hellenistic masterpiece has since become one of the iconic pieces of French collections. The Victory of Samothrace illustrates the concept of the appropriation by an imperialist power of an exogenous heritage that has since become a national symbol. The two wings hanging as if on a gallows or a hunting trophy remind us of the fragility of these political and symbolic constructions by the dominant powers (the victory of one being the defeat of the other).
After having studied the private Jewish collections despoiled during the war by the Nazi occupiers, Raphaël Denis now turns his attention to the German museums and curators, victims of the same regime. Nearly sixteen thousand so-called "degenerate" works, according to the criteria defined by Berlin, were seized from German museums by the authorities in the 1930s. One hundred and twenty-five paintings and sculptures were sent by the Nazis to the Theodor Fischer Gallery in Lucerne, Switzerland, to be sold at an auction on June 30, 1939. The Kunstmuseum in Basel and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Liege were among the most active buyers. Modern works from German collections thus became the property of Belgian and Swiss institutions. For these purchasing museums, this was both a measure to protect endangered works and to enrich their own collections. As a prelude to the realization of a life-size installation, Raphaël Denis' model represents the moment when all these works were put into crates to be offered at auction. The crate, as an object of protection and transfer, evokes once again the issues of conservation and displacement of works, their movement between great powers.
Since the seventeenth century, the tools of reproduction of images and art objects, such as chalcography or the technique of molding, are at the service of the dissemination of national collections with the aim of transmitting knowledge and creative genius. It was also a question of carrying an offensive cultural policy, as demonstration of the power of the State, royal power or republic. Using casts of ancient busts acquired from the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire de Bruxelles and the gypsothèque de la RMN, Raphaël Denis undertakes a deformation of representation. Soaking the works in plaster basins and covering them with gum arabic and encaustic, layer after layer, he attacks their integrity, symbolically transmitted for several generations thanks to the reproducibility of the molding. In an almost iconoclastic gesture, the artist challenges the concept of conservation, the displacement is here creative.
The work exists only through the way we look at it. The museums closed during the recent pandemic reminded us of this. Raphaël Denis seeks to reactivate our gaze on the fate of the works, a reflection of the violence and troubles of human history.
Opened in 2011 in the Marais district of Paris, the Sator gallery focuses on the promotion of emerging and emerging international artists. The line of the gallery is defined in a referenced relationship of art to other artistic forms or creation of thought: politics, history, art history, literature, philosophy or science with the aim of questioning the place of Man in the world, to offer a tool for reflection on contemporary societies, their evolution and mutation, their relationship to the territory. The questioning on the image and on the production of the plastic form complete this approach. In 2019, the Sator gallery joined Komunuma in Romainville. In this space, on a plateau of one hundred and thirty square meters, it presents monographic exhibitions of its artists and curatorial projects.
Corentin Canesson • Jean-Marc Cerino • Sylvain Ciavaldini • Raphaël Denis • Hugo Deverchère • Yevgeniy Fiks • Christian Gonzenbach • Yan Heng • Evangelia Kranioti • Hayoun Kwon • Gabriel Leger • Kokou Ferdinand Makouvia • Éric Manigaud • Nazanin Pouyandeh • Truc-Anh • Pu Yingwei