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Homage to Alain Jacquet: The last interview

At the age of 69 years, the artist passed away on September 4 in New York on the after-effects of cancer. We met him in his West Broadway studio, ahead of his next exhibition. Incognito in both retrospectives of the Grand Palais dedicated to New Realism and to narrative figuration, Alain Jacquet was not American enough to be labelled Pop Art either.
Even though his art showed imagery derived from the US culture - star-spangled banner, Statue of Liberty, Walt Disney figures - it was only about playing with finesse between appropriation and misappropriation. Born on February 22, 1939 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Alain Jacquet represented France at the Biennial of Venice in 1976, and again at the Biennial of São Paulo in 1989. And three great exhibitions welcomed his work in the Hexagone: in 1976 in the "musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris" (1976), in the "Centre Pompidou" (1993) and in the "Musée d'art moderne et d'art contemporain de Nice" (2005). Not too bad for an expatriate. Not enough for some people who saw more in him than just an underground painter that arrived in New York at the beginning of the 60s. Being on the fringes of mainstream art of the XXth century, as French Minister for Culture Christine Albanel noted in her tribute to the artist on September 8, Alain Jacquet knew how to remain an independent artist, without attracting disciples and without being parochial. A free spirit, in every sense. In 1961, he presented his first exhibition in the Galerie Breteau in Paris. He showed his "Cylindres" in vivid colours, thus anticipating his abstract-figurative choices of later years.
This set him and his works against the ageing School of Paris. Flirting with the New Realists, he was already closer to the Americans. In 1964, Alain Jacquet traversed the Atlantic Ocean in order to show his Camouflages in New York, and at the same time, to question art history - Renaissance (da Vinci, Botticelli), classic and modern art (Manet, Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian), and contemporary art: Warhol, Lichtenstein, Indiana. Following these wefts, came serigraphies to which the artist gave the look of advertisements, thus challenging the perception standards of his time.
A masterwork of the Mec Art group - abbreviation for "Mechanical Art" enunciated by Restany - his famous Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1964) reconstructs Manet's painting by increasing the size of points and of the image via various procedures of chromatic reproduction - a visual approach that brought the artist, in the course of the 70s, to rework pictures from the Nasa. A planned monographic exhibition of his "Visions" - pictures of the Earth and the solar system - was supposed to take place at Villa Tamaris, in La Seyne sur Mer, but unfortunately, was cancelled due to a poor health.

Renaud Siegmann: After having studied architecture for two years at the school of fine arts in Paris, what made you move to New York in 1964?

Alain Jacquet: My grandfather was American. And also because the experience I had had in the Lycée Français in London. In 1963, I had an exhibition at Robert Fraser's, the top gallery in Europe at that time. With English Pop Art: Peter Blake, Derek Boshier, Richard Hamilton, Allen Jones. In Paris, I had close contacts with the Americans. It was Harry Mathews, Niki de Saint Phalle's ex-husband, who introduced me to Larry Rivers and Jasper Johns, whom I saw at the gallery Larcade - like Rauschenberg at Cordier, rue de Miromesnil. I was therefore well informed about what was happening in New York at the beginning of the 60s.

Renaud Siegmann: That is where you showed up with your Camouflages - at Iolas' who became your dealer in 1964?

Alain Jacquet: Yes, indeed, and my canvas were sold to Bill Copley, as well as to other collectors of Warhol and Lichtenstein...

Renaud Siegmann: Were there other French artists in New York at the time?

Alain Jacquet: Not really: Duchamp was still there, but would not last. Arman was there since 1962. Bernar Venet settled down in 1965. And then, there is Christo, Marisol… But apart from that, nothing worth mentioning.

Renaud Siegmann: Not even other Europeans?

Alain Jacquet: Before 1964, German artists did not exist at all [over there]. There were some Italians like Mario Schifano - who is in "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe" with Restany and Jeannine Goldschmidt of the gallery J at Paris - because there were some great Italian collectors in New York.

Renaud Siegmann: With the Biennial of Venice, the year 1964 was a watershed in art history and in the history of the market?

Alain Jacquet: After the Biennial of Venice, the Rauschenberg award, everything switched, everything went in the other direction, to the other side of the Atlantic.

Renaud Siegmann: How's that?

Alain Jacquet: Well, there was New York, the American artists. And suddenly, no one else!

Renaud Siegmann: And then?

Alain Jacquet: Many artists migrated to New York. Money, buyers, beautiful galleries and good artists - everything was there, and not in France.

Renaud Siegmann: So those were the happy days at the Chelsea Hotel?

Alain Jacquet: With one foot in New York, we took a room or an apartment at the Chelsea Hotel. I lived there, too, on the same floor as Arthur Miller who was two doors down the hall. But apart from that, there was nothing mentionable, neither in Soho nor in Tribeca. It was a dead area: a building cost 8000 $, quasi nothing. Then, the prices climbed, the artists moved into lofts, and so on.

Renaud Siegmann: An at this time, which were the artists that led the field: Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Kline?

Alain Jacquet: They were there, but that was past that. No, it was more - Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, but also Stella, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt… But all well considered, it was not very well defined. We'd meet in the West Village at a pub where Expressionists would hand out, but that was already out of fashion. Quite quickly everybody moved over to Max's Kansas City, which does not exist any more today.

Renaud Siegmann: At your first exhibition, did you meet this who's-who of New York?

Alain Jacquet: At the evening of my vernissage, a quarter of an hour before the opening, Lichtenstein was there with Castelli. And then, at around 6 p.m., Warhol appeared. So he knew exactly what he did when he brought out his " camouflages " twenty years later. Although they do not have anything to do with mine, it is the idea...

Renaud Siegmann: Wasn't there a certain amibiguity around La Cène - between your version of da Vinci and the remake by Warhol in 1986?

Alain Jacquet: It is even more complex than that! My version of La Cène dates from 1964. Then, Iolas invited Warhol to make his own painting, but he knew very well that I had done something on that motif. He did not ask me though, he asked Andy, and Andy did it. Well, things like that happen, ideas go for a walk. In the end, this was not really the problem. There are evident things and less evident things. If I had taken up the American passport, this would have perhaps been different.

Renaud Siegmann: After the effervescence of the 60s, what movements revived art in New York?

Alain Jacquet: American art calmed down in the 70s: land art, body art, performance art. We had to wait for 1978 to see graffiti emerge which was absolutely fascinating - in my opinion, a very American art, with fabulous artists that I all knew.

Renaud Siegmann: A movement that was taken seriously, it seems, without really being taken seriously.

Alain Jacquet: That's right; in terms of politics, graffiti shook too many values. Conclusion: the dealers bet on only one guy. This was Basquiat because he had studied art. But he himself asked difficult questions. In Soho, he had written three letters instead of his name, at the entrance of his atelier: TAR - [referring to the substance] in order to say "black". It was a New York where I have seen scenes... of basic racism, a terrible shock!

Renaud Siegmann: Who do you appreciate in current American art?

Alain Jacquet: I love Condo, his last paintings about God and his crucifixions on display at Luhring Augustine. Jeff Koons makes some good stuff, too. In the 80s, Jeff reskilled himself and became trader on the stock exchange. By which he profited. Because now he knows all the billionaires, and his works sell like hotcakes at incredible prices.

Renaud Siegmann: Do these exorbitant sums make American art a better art than the others?

Alain Jacquet: These are simple but well thought-out works. When you create an object with material from the space industry for example, your sculpture costs you - let's say - 2 M$. You have to sell afterwards. This is where it happens. Another example: Richard Serra's steel plates; it is armour plating for military defense, for nuclear aircraft-carriers. Securing access to this kind of technology costs you enormously... The material, the transformation etc - all that means enormous costs.

Renaud Siegmann: What does the New York school mean to you?

Alain Jacquet: It is quite simple - it is not Cézanne or Modigliani. It is business: knowing what to sell, to whom, at what price.


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