Jean-Michel Alberola

Saïda Algiers 1953, lives and works in Paris, France

‘Please note: jma wishes to make it clear that five paintings are not yet finished.’ Jean-Michel Alberola once placed this text at the entrance to a Paris gallery as an introduction to his exhibition. It was a remarkable statement, particularly because the exhibition consisted of only six paintings and a photograph. Only one painting was signed and given a sale number. By doing this Alberola was effectively undermining the gallery business, which after all regards art as a commercial product as well.

Such Duchamp-like ‘pranks’ are not uncommon for Alberola. These can include providing his work or its context with some sort of commentary, hanging paintings too high or selling small monochrome paintings as ‘recycled’ objects – and thus suggesting that such a small plane of color is sooner a reused idea than an original work.

During the early eighties, Alberola became particularly known as a painter. France was also undergoing a revival in painting, though the artists of the Nouvelle Génération made less of an international breakthrough than their German and Italian counterparts. Whether Alberola was part of this group, however, is uncertain. Still producing only about four paintings every year, he devotes much more time to drawing, making books, taking photographs and writing. It is therefore not surprising that he feels a greater affinity with socially and politically involved artists such as Beuys and Boltanski than with the painters of his own generation.

Alberola is a critical and humorous investigator of the artist’s role as ‘creator’. A large part of his work is signed by him with the name Actéon. Actaeon is the hunter from Greek mythology who sees the goddess Diana bathing. Diana tolerates no male advances, however, and responds ruthlessly. He is changed by her into a stag and torn to pieces by his own hounds. What Alberola finds fascinating about this story is that Actaeon transgresses the boundary of what may be seen. Through this theme he explores the limits of the forbidden and thereby those of the iconoclastic tradition.