Photo by Frank Perrin


By Lise Géhenneux

A meeting with Claude Lévêque from our issue 86 which came out last December, coinciding with the release of three very different works, Claude Lévêque, a monograph published by Kamel Mennour, Catalogue raisonné des cartons d’invitation (expositions personnelles 1982-2018) composed by art critic Michel Nuridsany at Les Editions MaRval/rue Visconti and Tombeau. Variations autour des œuvres de Claude Lévêque by Benoît Viguier at Les Editions Analogues.

Let’s start with the more intimate work by Benoît Viguier. What does it represent?

The perspective of someone with an interest in art and philosophy and who has followed my work for many years. For Tombeau, he placed fragments of text by writers, philosophers and poets next to black-and-white images of works he selected, without it becoming a tedious list of quotations.

Turning to the invitation cards for the other book, they retrace your career from the exhibition at the Maison des Arts de Créteil in 1982, when Michel Nuridsany discovered the “Grand Hôtel”.

He offers a chronological inventory of the invitation cards from my personal exhibitions. We shared a few stories for each card to provide some context. For the most part, these printed objects remain enigmatic. Some offer no more than the materiality of the card, its texture, while others show an image that may be blurred, but never a clear view of the exhibition on display. In order to allow readers to see what each invitation card corresponds to, I suggested including thumbnails of the corresponding works at the end of the book.

What is the significance of focusing on this unique production?

I always used to think of the card as an extension of the exhibition. Now, since everything is digital, I choose the image but I no longer handle the format. People used to collect invitation cards with interesting images. I used to do it, as well.

Since the 1980s, your artistic practice has gone hand in hand with photography, books, posters and flyers.

I always pay close attention to publications, which can function as detailed extensions of exhibitions. My gallerist Kamel Mennour wanted to publish a monograph centered on the last ten years of my work. For this massive catalog with a classic metallic cover, the graphic designers (Moshi Moshi Studio) curated my work in a brilliant way that makes you want to read all the way to the end.

All three texts featured in the monograph come from new writers. Florence Ostende documents the landscape of your childhood, a theme already developed by Nuridsany, but presented here from a larger perspective. David Sanson draws parallels between music and your art, without becoming overly encyclopedic as some music critics can be. Dean Daderko focuses on one element as a point of entry into your practice, a temporality that takes shape while observing a grate that transforms into a balustrade over the course of the text.

Kamel Mennour wanted to commission new texts on my work.

The text by Florence Ostende, whose analysis of landscape in your work places special emphasis on Nevers let love in[1], notably mentions an important video (11’17”), Le marronnier de la garde (2007).

Le marronnier de la garde bears a resemblance to Le lac perdu which I produced for the Paris Opera’s 3e Scène in 2017. It’s a voyage of discovery through a landscape, a playful way of looking at a place, objects that take part in a memory, a succession of images with graceful postures. Léo Carbonnier goes back to the places where my grandfather often took us, near his home in Allier. The video speaks about those places. It’s dreamy and music plays an important role, with songs that I like, such as the adagio of Mahler’s 5th Symphony, Slayer, The Damned, Bérurier Noir, Adamo, or even Mon amie la rose by Françoise Hardy. At the end of the 1970s, I produced a few pieced-together video magazines in the same vein as the experimental film of the time.

In terms of future writings on your work, would you consider texts exploring your ties to film or your early days in fashion? I saw one of your window displays at the first Sacha store on Rue de Buci, where you already designed installations. These experiences must have meant a lot to you.

I produced quite a few window displays for Sacha stores. It was around 1979, and I had a lot of fun with it. I remember a window where I placed shards of shatterproof glass among the shoes, as though the window had exploded, and composed with targets and cosmetic elements. It looked like a crime scene. People went into the store to attack the sales people. It was wild. I also created window displays for Fiorucci and staged a runway show that travelled to Japan for celebrity hair stylist Jacques Moisant, during a hair expo. I did something new and different than the endless models walking between plants. But I wasn’t prepared for such a tough industry. I had no protection and I didn’t own my rights. My ideas were stolen from me, so I stopped.

And what about your relationship to film?

It’s true that there is a connection between my language and the language of film, notably in terms of sequence. That’s why I often talk about journeys. Things happen in relation to time, in relation to the movement of negotiating objects, and all of that calls upon the senses and emotions. But I don’t want to insist on the meaning of the image. I don’t want to give lessons like some artists who only care about making a good quote. It may have worked in the past for certain exceptional artists with radical theory. Today, it’s often a kind of alibi to cover up an absence of meaning. Quotes are a normal part of the work done by the generation of Boltanski, Annette Messager or even Hans-Peter Feldmann, because it’s their topic. They talk about personal and popular mythologies, images that belong to everyone, commonplaces.

For this special edition of Crash, I would like to talk about the question of gender with you, perhaps through the figure of David Bowie who seems to have been important for you, or even Michel Journiac whom you invited to Nevers in 1981[2].

The question of gender bothers me today because it still carries an impression of ongoing intolerance, a temptation to build new walls. The question of gender can emerge when people are still very young, among children who have trouble with their identity. I saw a show about it and I couldn’t believe it was on during primetime (Devenir Il ou Elle, France 5, 2017). We saw how in some countries, a child’s identity is addressed even at school. Violence is terrible in schools here. We are lagging far behind on these issues. We let frustration build up, which generates violence, and our only answer is repression. It’s a vicious circle. Sex change is a critical issue. People can suffer enormously from not being in the body they feel is right for them. It’s a major issue in society. People need to organize to defend their rights on all these issues. But it is important to hold out hope for a society that can integrate all its differences and allow us to live together, without creating ghettoes that keep different groups isolated from each other.

And to go back to Bowie?

It was the early 1970s, and it was a total revolution. His creative world played a formative role for me. I stumbled upon Alladin Sane and 1969: The Velvet Underground Live in a thrift store in Nevers.

What was it like to make that discovery?

When I was just a kid, I had a neighbor who was fifteen years older than me and introduced me to stuff that was incredible to hear in a small French town at that time. He stayed locked up in his room with no social life, while I went to parties. Under his guidance, I went from listening to Claude François to The Stooges. He had their 45s in 1968-1969, at the same time they were playing in Detroit. Bowie, whom I had already heard of after Ziggy Stardust, accompanied my first year at art school with Aladdin Sane (1973), which is an absolute masterpiece. That whole period of cross-dressing, with a character playing other characters of ambiguous gender, it speaks to an intense sensibility mingled with fragility and uncertainty. Bowie was a figurehead for cross-dressing at a time when it wasn’t easy to introduce that style. Fortunately, I grew up with parents who didn’t make negative remarks about homosexuality or racist comments, unlike some of the things we heard in Nevers back then. My grandfather had a very liberal side, even though he could be dogmatic about how to behave. None of it makes any sense when you are a kid. But he was the exact opposite of the free-market consumer. He followed a lifestyle based on community and solidarity, where people shared whatever they could make. I was amazed to discover that way of living.

[1] Édition Dilecta, Paris, 2012.

[2] “L’art corporel”, (action: Corps interdit I, 7 février), Maison de la Culture de Nevers, p.239, “Michel Journiac, Le corps travesti”, republication expanded to include the book “24 Heures dans la vie d’une femme ordinaire”. Texts by Paul B. Preciado, Vincent Labaume, Manuel Segade, Emilie Notéris and Stéphane Marti. Éditions Christophe Gaillard, 2018.



Claude Lévêque, Aube bleue, 2018, Dispositif in situ, Kamel Mennour, Paris, Néon Bleu

Claude Lévêque, Nous irons jusqu’au bout, 2012, Néon blanc, Ecriture Hamza Aboudou

Claude Lévêque, Regarde les rire, 2015, Néon bleu, blanc, rouge, Écriture Romaric Étienne

Claude Lévêque, Les Dessous chics, 2018
Dispositif in situ, créé à la demande du Département des Hauts-de-Seine dans le cadre de la vallée de la culture, Pont d’Issy, Issy-les-Moulineaux, Néon rouge

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