Valérie Belin: Modern Royals

24 March - 14 May 2022 Faubourg Saint Honoré - Paris

Galerie Nathalie Obadia is delighted to present Modern Royals, Valérie Belin's fifth solo exhibition at the gallery. The new series, after which the exhibition is titled, is shown in its entirety at the new 91 rue du Faubourg St Honoré location. With its very painterly feel, it is presented as a group of "tableaux" based on the theme of the vanities.

This new corpus comprises eleven portraits of women, fictional characters who are nevertheless designated by their first names, posing seated on a sofa. The title of this series suggests that the figures might be celebrities or "wordly women," meant as illustrations for a romance novel. Each portrait represents a different personality, played in the studio by the same female model, whose looks vary from one picture to the next, depending on her appearance (dress, hairdo, jewelry worn in a conspicuous way), and also on her pose and attitude. Paradoxically, this imbues the portraits with a mixed impression of strange singularity and similarity.

According to the artist, "these portraits seem to have been realized spontaneously, in the soft glow and intimacy of a living room, lit as though by a television screen in a dark room. The motifs added to the image (photographs of neons, of illuminated signs, etc.) also suggest that we might be observing the scene through a pane of glass that reflects the city lights. Bizarrely, the model seems trapped between the décor in the background and these reflections of the outside world in the foreground. Sometimes, she appears totally captivated by something happening outside the frame, while at others, on the contrary, she gazes at us distractedly. The photographs are realized precisely in this in-between: between the moment when the model is still reflecting on her 'inner world' and that when she abstracts herself from it in response to the needs of the pose and the representation."

Though these photographs were conceived in the manner of a genre scene, due to the tight framing, they look like details. To contribute to the effect of a universe that is not so much bucolic but domestic, urban and contemporary, the "backdrop" of these portraits was realized afterward, by superimposing and juxtaposing vernacular motifs from different photographs taken by the artist and sourced from her stock of images: parts of shop windows, neon signs, advertising typography, graffiti, printed fabrics with painted motifs, and pseudo-luxurious decorative objects arranged as a still life. These different elements are layered, in the same way as one would glacis, and contribute to forging the painterly character of the resulting images. The digital artifices she uses also add to a confusion or perversion of the genres, at the crossroads between portrait and still life-and between photography and painting.

To borrow Phillip Prodger's writing on Valérie Belin's work, we could say that each of these photographs is simultaneously "a portrait and a still life', a deep dive into the psychology of a 'semi-anonymous' woman and a reflection on our society characterized by the overconsumption of images. Her work's undeniably feminist commentary also conveys a more universal message in the form of questioning: What place do we give identity in our consumerist culture? How are we, as individuals, accomplices to our own failure to find authenticity in the life we lead?".1


1 Phillip Prodger, Alter ego - Une histoire du portrait en photographie, Textuel, 2021