Nuit américaine
Marc Camille Chaimowicz

Marc Camille Chaimowicz is an understated pioneer, who has steadfastly sailed against the prevailing artistic winds since the start of his career in London in the 1970s. Resisting claims for art’s autonomy, he early embraced the decorative arts and intertwined design, installation, painting, print-making, collage and his daily life into a highly personal vocabulary. He continues to be of great importance to younger artists, not least due to his constant yet subtle challenging of the role of art and in his development of a camp aesthetic.

Exhibition Nuit américaine
Artists Marc Camille Chaimowicz
Date 17.02.2023 - 13.08.2023
Curator Zoë Gray
Venue WIELS, Brussels

Like his refined yet playful work, Chaimowicz himself defies easy categorization. He embraces ambiguity in his persona as an artist, adopting the position of a discreet dandy, and in the work he creates, which in many ways prefigures recent investigations into gender and identity.

Folding together past and present, Chaimowicz’s exhibition at WIELS brings together one of his earliest installations – Celebration? Realife Revisited (1972-2000) – with two new bodies of work: a series of collages inspired by the figure of Madame Bovary (2020-2023); and a recreation of his sitting room of the past 40 years (2023). All three work groups presented at WIELS examine intimacy, domesticity, and the need to create one own’s context.

His installation The Hayes Court Sitting Room transposes a fragment of South London to Brussels. Created on the occasion of this exhibition, it is the theatrical evocation of a room in which Chaimowicz dreamed, worked, conversed, corresponded (and more) for over four decades. Encapsulating an extended moment of his past, it includes hand-printed wallpaper, furniture designed by the artist, and table-top assemblages of sentimental items. However, its recreation proposes a subjective, fragmented and provisional experience, rather than the static, authoritative “museumification” typical to preserved artist’s studios and houses.

Another new body of work presented is a suite of 40 collages, begun in October 2020, in the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic. Chaimowicz continued making the collages throughout the two years of the exhibition’s preparation, sending them every fortnight to its curator. Their starting point is Madame Bovary, the anti-heroine of Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 eponymous novel, a figure trapped by the conventions of her time into a narrow existence, from which she seeks escape through consumerism, seduction, and the world of the imagination. Using fragments from fashion magazines, literary prints and reproductions of works by other artists (often focused on the domestic, “female” domain), Chaimowicz connects the longings of Emma Bovary to contemporary imagery and desires, to recent experiences of containment, social isolation, and escapism.
Flaubert’s novel also appears in the earliest work presented at WIELS, the seminal work first realized in 1972: Celebration? Realife. As this immersive installation’s title suggests, it embraces both the celebratory and the mundane. It features masks, mirrors, glitter balls, fairy lights, and candles, with music by the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, among others. As Tom Holert argues in his 2007 book dedicated to this one work, Chaimowicz’s post-Pop scatter environment owed as much to glam rock as to art practice. It raised questions about public/private dichotomies, art/design boundaries, and identifications based on gender, recasting the artist as an art director and stage designer.

Light plays a central role in Chaimowicz’s exhibition and in its title. Nuit américaine is the French term for the cinematic technique of filming day-for-night. Here the title becomes a metaphor for presenting real life through the filter of art.

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