In Saint-Etienne, the “Double Je” exhibition highlights the exceptional donation of a couple of gallery owners

It is a rare donation by its volume, with 187 works offered to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMC) in Saint-Etienne. It is, “the third most important at the museum since its creation in 1987 “, welcomes the director of MAMC, Aurélie Voltz. visible until September 18, 2022

It is a couple of retired Parisian gallery owners who hide behind this generous donation presented in the exhibition Double I. Very early on, supported by the former director of MAMC, who exposed several of the works which they had acquired during their career as a gallery owner, Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert have decided to donate their collection to the Stéphanois museum and to pay homage more generally to provincial museums.

In its presentation text for the exhibition Double I, the MAMC indicates that thehe Durand-Dessert couple had already offered a painting by Gerhard Richter (Skull, 1983) and a sculpture by Luciano Fabro (The Eye of God, 1969), two masterpieces appearing at the opening of the exhibition. “Proof of their confidence, this donation is accompanied by an archive collection relating to the history of their gallery, as well as multiples and artists’ books testifying to their initial activity as publishers under the name Multiplicata”, specifies the museum.

As part of the exhibition Double I, the works offered by Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert are presented alongside pieces belonging to the museum, over a space of 1,000 m2, in nine rooms named after the nine inspiring muses of the arts of antiquity.

The selection, which brings together some fifty artists, reflects different movements from the creation of the 1960s to the 1990s, from conceptual art to plastic photography through radical abstraction. And in multiple disciplines: painting, sculpture, photography, drawing, engraving, postal art. The title of the exhibition, Double I, refers to the two figures of this couple of atypical art dealers but also to the duality of certain works, explains Alexandre Quelle, the curator of the exhibition.

Present in Saint-Étienne for the presentation of the event last week,
the Durand-Desserts present themselves as art lovers “totally self-taught”, relying on their “intuition”. Now aged 77 and 76, they closed their gallery in 2004. “Their sharp and singular look at the art of their time made it possible to bring together a magnificent personal collection, as open as it is demanding “, according to the MAMC.

He began his career in advertising before embarking on a thesis on cartoons by the iconoclastic artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). She was associate professor of literature and published a thesis on the poet Lautréamont (1846-1870). The two scholars met in 1972 through the painter Bernard Rancillac. In 1975, their attraction for art led them to open a gallery in Paris: “We first survived for ten years, my teaching salary was spent entirely in the gallery”remembers Liliane Dessert.

“When we started to earn some money, we bought some artists’ pieces”

“When we started to earn some money, we bought some artists’ pieces”, she said, referring to the decisive support of the Saint-Étienne museum and of its former director Bernard Ceysson.

As the presentation of the museum underlines, their “visionary commitment“led them to take an interest very early in German artists like Richter or Beuys, English like Tremlett, or French like Garouste. Without forgetting their infallible support for the Italian Arte povera, at a time when it did not have the favors of collectors.It is moreover a work of this movement, Eye of God (the eye of God) by Luciano Fabro, who opens the exhibition: a polished mahogany triangle rests on golden rods, reminiscent of organ pipes.

Further on, an oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter, representing a skull, is next to another skull, in plaster this one, from the 17th century, belonging to the MAMC. In a room dedicated to figuration, a large format by John Hilliard – used for the exhibition poster – printed in purple shows two figures of indeterminate sex facing each other, like a ghost and its shadow, each holding a torch whose the beams meet in the center.

Another room is entirely devoted to the couple’s most recent passion,
ethnographic objects. Forty-five works of pre-Columbian art, mostly from the Olmec civilization, are presented, accompanied by contemporary drawings by Victor Brauner, a surrealist painter very inspired by pre-Columbian iconography.

The exhibition ends with a photographic focus, with family album
D. a monumental work produced in 1971 by the visual artist Christian Boltanski,
in the beginnings of its worldwide fame. The artist wonders about the amateur photo, trying to reconstruct in chronological order dozens of black and white photos of a family album entrusted at the time by a friend: Michel Durand himself.

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