Nathalie Obadia


09 Jan - 01 Mar 2014

Installation View, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Bourg-Tibourg, Paris, 2014
Au commencement le blanc
9 January - 1 March 2014

The Galerie Nathalie Obadia is very pleased to present Au commencement le blanc by Sarkis, its third collaboration with the artist following Opus 2 in 2011 and Aura d’après Vaudou in 2012.

Au commencement le blanc brings together a large selection of works on the theme of white, which have either never been shown or are from an earlier period. In a precise and accurate manner, Sarkis has treated the gallery as though he were a musical composer. By arranging his works like sounds, whose formal intonation he has fine-tuned through their positioning and the participation of the observer, Sarkis has created a score of great expression.

The tone of the exhibition and the welcome offered to the visitor is given by the aphonic cry of Sarkis’s reinterpretation of Edvard Munch’s Scream. The four accomplished wall sculptures in neon and copper define the four primary sound tempos with the intensity of their light: D’après Satantango de Béla Tarr (2013), Scène en cuivre avec néons (2012), La colonne vertébrale du Retable d’Isenheim de Grünewald (2012) and À la limite de 120 cm (2012).
As an accompaniment to this arrangement, the artist has thrown in a few harmonies at random intervals: his Ikones offer a cadenced rhythm to possible interpretations, two works on the floor – After Ice Age (2013) and L’Attente (1969) – provide a counterpoint to the mural works, a previously unseen series of drawings with the title Uruchi is inspired by Kintsugi, the Japanese technique of ceramic repair, the experience of which he prolongs using torn paper, white fingerprints on coloured glass reveal the delicate touch of the artist and his glazier master, and the video Blanc sur noir jour et nuit (2007) makes light of the physical properties of watercolour in a bowl of water, while Sarkis reflects on the creative possibilities offered by the medium.

For After Ice Age (2013), Sarkis has arranged fifty oils on paper in a metal cabinet rather like a filing case for prints. As in the series Aura d’après Vaudou, in which he allowed the oil of the paint to act freely outside the motif bounded by the brush, here he has taken inspiration from prehistoric objects that were exhibited in Ice Age Art, Arrival of the Modern Mind at the British Museum in 2012. In D’Après Satantango de Béla Tarr, some of his Ikones, and a selection of works on paper – R1, R2, R3, R8, R10 and R11, in which he has carefully worked the titanium white or zinc white in the same way he would plough earth in furrows as preparation before planting – he husked grains of rice, a completely new material in his work, onto the pure matter.

By inviting observers to touch the coloured glass, to consult the drawings in the metal cabinet and to manipulate curtains made from ancient silk, Sarkis offers us the tactile and bodily sensations involved in the interaction with his works. With his restriction on unproductive gestures and a rigorous choice of strongly evocative materials – neon, gold, oil, brick, paper, silk, copper and feather – Sarkis offers a remarkable orchestration of discernment and plastic intelligence. And it is in a similarly constrained manner that Au commencement le blanc proposes a contemporary digression to the visitor, without Sarkis’s works ever losing control of their power.


Born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1938, Sarkis lives and works in Paris.

Born in Istanbul in 1938, Sarkis studied French, painting and interior design before moving to Paris in 1964. In 1967 he won the painting prize at the Biennale de Paris and presented his work Connaissez-vous Joseph Beuys ? at the Salon de Mai, in a reference to the man he considered the most important artist of the day. In 1969 he was invited by the critic and curator Harald Szeemann to take part in the now legendary show When Attitudes Become Form. Teaching and the sharing of experience are key concerns of this artist. From 1980 to 1990 he was director of the Art Department at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg, and from 1988 to 1995 he ran a seminar at the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques created by Pontus Hulten. Since the 1980s, Sarkis has taken part in numerous international exhibitions (including Documenta and the biennials in Venice, Sydney, Istanbul and Moscow) and had his work shown in the world’s leading museums.
In the exhibition Passages at the Pompidou Centre in 2010, works by Sarkis were allowed to dialogue with works by Kasimir Malevich, the wall from André Breton’s studio, and Plight by Joseph Beuys, who is one of Sarkis’s sources of inspiration, along with the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, one of whose films he explored in the Brancusi studio. Passages evoked both the permanent back-and-forth between an artist’s studio and the museum, and Walter Benjamin’s great unfinished work about the arcades of Paris. The exhibition featured a series of recent or specially created works produced by the Pompidou Centre. These works, standing as the artist’s KRIEGSSCHATZ (trophies), comprised found objects, art works and ethnographic objects from different civilizations.
In 2011 the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in Geneva (MAMCO) devoted an important retrospective to the artist entitled Hôtel Sarkis. The presentation on four floors brought together 200 works created between 1971 and 2011, and explored the artist’s different practices (video and sound installations, watercolours, photographs, films) and thus amplified the resonance of a body of work produced in response to other artists, whether musicians, architects, writers, philosophers, painters, sculptors or filmmakers.
In 2012, Sarkis presented Ballads in the 5000 square metres of the underwater Hangars, at the invitation of the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen and the Port of Rotterdam, as well as Ailleurs, Ici on the estate of Chaumont-sur-Loire, following a commission by the regional council of Centre. He has also taken part in the group show La Triennale – Intense Proximité at the Palais de Tokyo with his Frise des Trésors de Guerre, showed at Néon, who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue? at La Maison Rouge – Fondation Antoine de Galbert, and Istanbul Modern at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. 
In 2013, Sarkis took part in the exhibition When Attitudes Become Form, Bern 1969/Venice 2013 at the Prada Foundation as part of the 55th Venice Biennale. He also showed at Passages Croisés en or at the Château d’Angers, and was invited to present his Frise de Guerre at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania as part of the exhibition The Red Queen. Sarkis also participated in the exhibition Ici, Ailleurs as part of the Marseille – Provence, European Capital of Culture programme, and the exhibition Modernity? Perspectives from France and Turkey at the Istanbul Modern, and in his solo exhibition titled Sarkis – Cage/Ryoanji Interpretation at the ARTER – Space for Art in Istanbul.
In 2014 he will exhibit his Ring Portraits at the Huis Marseille Museum voor Fotografie in Amsterdam, and will be presented in three places: the CIAC, the MNAC and the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest. A solo exhibition will be devoted to his work at the Musée du Château des Ducs de Wurtemberg in Montbéliard beginning in spring 2014.

Tags: Joseph Beuys, André Breton, Kazimir Malevich, Edvard Munch, Sarkís, Harald Szeemann