Mastermind behind MONA shrewdly takes on Picasso
Taking a playful jab at the 20th-century artist, Jef Bourgeau's exhibit stands out
by Joy Hakanson Colby for the The Detroit News
(Detroit) - Jef Bourgeau is a one-man museum -- the founder, director, curator and stable of artists associated with the Museum of New Art (aka MONA).
Sometimes he exhibits his photographs under the name Stig Eklund. Or, he paints showy abstractions signed Taki Murakishi. Then, he'll "curate" a group exhibit featuring Billy Conklin, Kenzu Nagawa, Hanne Bloot and Missy Wiggins -- all personalities he invented and supplied with different art styles.
"I get an idea and want to go in a different direction," he explains. "So I create an artist to do the job."
Bourgeau is playing his latest name game with a 20th-century art giant -- Pablo Picasso, no less. It took real chutzpah to come up with the current exhibit called "Picasso's Camera." This risky project is packed with edgy humor, and it swipes at sacred cows and offers commentary on art world quirks.
With tongue in cheek, Bourgeau credits a broken lens on Picasso's camera with inspiring Cubism, a great breakthrough in modern art. To illustrate this, MONA's head man produced a series of fractured photo portraits that are wonderfully outrageous.
Or, Picasso is interpreted through Bourgeau's "combines," which are sculptures made with found objects joined to make a point. For instance, there's the antique bellows that resembles a Picasso mask. It's attached by means of a fire hose to a sexy red shoe that recalls the famous one's reputation as a womanizer.
A video titled "The Mystery of Picasso" keeps flipping nothing but credits. Another video captures the master's face inside a pet carrier and calls attention to itself by heavy breathing.
Although Picasso is the centerpiece of the exhibit, Bourgeau included a few leftover art works from earlier shows. One is the notorious "Bathtub Jesus," a combine that closed his one-man show at the Detroit Institute of Arts on its third day in 1999. When the museum was accused of censorship, it caused a ruckus in the international art community.
With "Picasso's Camera," Bourgeau demonstrates once more why his one-man museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and is likely to go for 20. It's a Detroit treasure.
As one last personal note:
Maybe itís the new year, maybe itís just the passing of time, but Iím evaluating people who have touched my life over the years. I must say that Jef Bourgeau has made a dent in my thinking. I always somehow mistrust the word ďgeniusĒ but I think if I were going to use it for an artist in this place and time, it would be for Bourgeau. I think his ideas and his philosophy need time to reach people, to seep through the armor that walls off our brains. Iíve been in turn annoyed, angry, dazzled, amused, nonplussed, outraged, intimidated, bewildered and a host of other emotions that his work calls up. All I can say at this point isÖThe Picasso show is a wonder. - Joy Hakanson Colby