The New York artist Steven Parrino came of age, he said, when ‘the word on painting was that, “Painting is dead”. I saw this as an interesting place for painting… and this death-painting thing led to a sex-and-death painting thing… that became an existence thing.’
Death in America #1 (2003) is a prime example of his twisting, contorted canvases and exemplifies Parrino’s iconoclastic approach to painting. It also sets the tone for Death in America: Selections from the Zadig & Voltaire Collection, an extraordinary selection of works existing at a crossroads of art, music and fashion.
Zadig & Voltaire, known for its effortlessly cool brand of Parisian rock chic, shares the rebellious vision of many of the artists in the collection. Although their artistic missions are diverse, a sense of radical creative (re)vision applies to the tough, pioneering Minimalism of Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, as it does to the prankster sensibilities of Urs Fischer and Maurizio Cattelan, or indeed the irreverent post-painting of Joe Bradley and Sterling Ruby — who, like Parrino, have both had stints as punk musicians.
As founder Thierry Gillier and his wife, creative director Cecilia Bönström, are well aware, confronting traditional taste can unlock exciting new avenues of expression. Their label, which even has its own music imprint, offers a vision of classic simplicity infused with a rock-and-roll spirit that’s in sync with their lifestyle, philosophy and art collection.
Born in Troyes, France, Thierry Gillier is a descendant of André Gillier, co-founder of the sportswear label Lacoste. From a young age, he was surrounded by his family’s collection of art. ‘They were always collecting mostly 17th- and 18th-century French art,’ the designer says, ‘and always had books of Picasso, Braque or Kandinsky around.’
The rebellious Gillier’s artistic leanings were at odds with his family’s more traditional inclinations. ‘I was very upset by Picasso,’ he muses, ‘because it seemed so easy… So of course I wanted to outdo him. That’s kind of the story of my life, you know: if he can do it, I can do it.’
In the 1980s, Gillier began to study painting at New York’s Bard College, only to be thrown out for being ‘too wild’. After graduating from the school’s film programme, he honed his creative eye at Parsons School of Design before relocating to Paris. This wide-ranging visual education feeds into Zadig & Voltaire’s fashion as much as the collection’s international constellation of artists.
Parrino called his works ‘misshaped canvases’, in direct response to the shaped canvases of the 1960s. Minimalism and its manifold legacies are themes that run throughout the collection, from the serene beauty of Robert Ryman’s white paintings to the enigmatic pictorial endgame of Christopher Wool’s Untitled (1989).
Underscored by a strong showing of appropriation art from Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine, the collection pays sharp attention to how images and themes can evolve and be refashioned over time.
Elsewhere, Zadig’s more riotous edge is reflected in works such as Andy Warhol’s confrontational Untitled (1977), or Rashid Johnson’s Pound-For-Pound (2011), which powerfully explores black identity in America with visceral splashes of soap and wax on mirrored tiles.
Gillier residence, Paris. Franz West (1947-2012), Untitled, 2011. Styrodur, steel, epoxy resin, glass fibre mats, synthetic resin, lacquer and metal base. 89 x 237⅜ x 61 in (226 x 603 x 155 cm). Estimate: $600,000-800,000. This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 18 May at Christie’s in New York
Imposing materiality comes into play with the heavy black paintstick apparition Artaud (2009) by Richard Serra, and a host of cerebral sculptures by artists ranging from Franz West to Eva Rothschild. Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled (2012), above, which enshrines transient graffiti as gilded artefact, reminds us that the influences of the city are never far away.
What unites this eclectic grouping of works is what also underpins the Zadig & Voltaire lifestyle. Both are characterised by an urbane spirit of creativity, uncompromising attitude and, of course, visual appeal. The raw edge of rock-and-roll sits side by side with formal subtlety; expressive gesture accompanies sleek restraint. The collection makes it clear — ultimately, Death in America represents a way of life.