Catherine Wilkening

Loo & Lou Gallery - Haut Marais
09.02 - 19.03.2021

"For over fifteen years, Catherine Wilkening has concentrated on universal themes that surround the female figure - birth, life, death, and rebirth. Now, her work collides with the figure of the Madonna, one of the most canonical forms in Western art. Wilkening avoids both the image of the divine and the melancholic beauty that encompasses the ideal Christian Virgin, including a contemporary and provocative kitsch approach. Instead, she proposes a series of sculptures that evoke restlessness and agitation, in the image of some other beauty - a beauty of which we do not know if it is the end or, as Rainer Maria Rilke once said, just 'the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure'

The wind of an intense life blows on the Madonna's by Wilkening that fold the porcelain dresses with a baroque gesture that continues infinitely. Decadent and expressionist, shamanic and lyrical, these works are a hymn to a swaying and swarming sensation, an invitation to be rid of habits of making glances that are too quick to judge.

Sometimes the sculptor creates her Madonnas ex nihilo: from the erection of blocks of porcelain miraculously assembled - such as the strange piece, Le Papillon, evoking a disturbing version of Golgotha. Other times, the artist acquires vintage, existing sculptures dedicated to the celebration of the Virgin Mary, which she diverts from their ecumenical representation to reintegrate them into her mystical and baroque universe.

She customizes them in the ways of voodoo by covering them with porcelain and glass, adorning them with gold leaves and acacia branches. The large-format pieces impose themselves by creating a formal space that grabs the viewer's attention. The viweer can be enticed to change, ever so often, their focus as they get closer to the sculpture, discovering worlds within worlds, and infinite forms wrapped in each fold of material. The base of the sculpture Mortel Immortel, which seemed from afar to be lace, turns out to be an accumulation of butterflies. It is a baroque universe where each volute, each wing contains another form, and each of the works carries within it a set of worlds folded one inside the other. The artist goes so far as to recover old fragments of forgotten sculptures to integrate them into her new works.

Wilkening says that she is looking for "the monumental in the minuscule." She conquers the grandeur of her works by exploring all the possibilities of the miniature, enveloping the infinitely large in the infinitely small. Moreover, Wilkening's sculptures cannot be deciphered through a quick glance, no, it is necessary to look at them for a long time to reach the meaning of their forms.

The monsters, and the exquisite obsessions of the artist are hidden from our eyes in the maze and extreme finesse of the porcelain, of which the artist has learned the secret! But under the apparent softness and consistency of the white enamel, the chastity of the virgins quickly crumbles for the greatest pleasure of our souls, revealing the violence of scarifications cracking the skin of the ceramics, the abundance of floral patterns, animal bones and accumulations of small rear-ends, expression of a generosity of life that takes on it all the reigns of creation. The artist's use of new materials such as gold leaf, Murano glass or acacia wood helps to thwart the summary recognitions. The eye hesitates between the aerial, vegetal, and animalistic elements. Glass and porcelain become strange fabrics enveloping a Madonna who is no longer Catholic!" Through the infinite exploration of minute detail, Wilkening's evokes certain spiritualist artists that obsessively operate as miniaturists on immense formats, folding and unfolding their composition as they advance, practicing a form of automatism. The sculptures are sometimes worked for hundreds of hours, showing a certain asceticism from the artist. Hence the mantric and hallucinatory dimension of some of these pieces born in the isolation of confinement, the sculptor having made this constraint her own as the expression of a happy and protective thebaid where she was able to concentrate and intensify her practice.

This new exhibition, Les Chemins des Délices, witnesses the overabundance of an unfulfilled and restless life, taking ever further, without the slightest rest, the work of an artist who recognized in the figure of the Madonna her fellow man, her sister, and the mystery of fecundity and creation."

— Philippe Godin, Art Critic