La cathédrale de Monet

La cathédrale de Monet
by Yadegar Asisi

Panorama XXL, 108 allée François Mitterand, 76006 Rouen, France
Catalog ISBN: 978-3-945305-32-4
Event website: www.panoramaxxl.com.

Reviewed by
Edith Doove
August 2020

The announcement of this year’s XXL Panorama-project for the Normandie Impressioniste Festival [1] in Rouen made me initially fear the worst. ‘La cathédrale de Monet’ or Monet’s cathedral by the Austrian artist Yadegar Asisi suggests something along the lines of the immersive projections of major art works as presented by the French Atelier des Lumières. Currently this organisation advertises their project for the somewhat suspect combination of Monet, Renoir, Chagall AND Yves Klein, earlier victims were Dali, Klimt, but also Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. Big showstoppers in other words whose works are reduced to sheer immersive decoration, giving the average layperson the impression to experience real art. Call me conservative if you will, but I still think that looking, for an extended amount of time at ONE painting of any of the above in real size, will tell and teach you a lot more apart from it being truer to the artist’s initial intensions, however flattered he might be by the exposure. Because it might also be noted that these happen to be all male, white European artists, and a choice of artists that’s clearly directed to a large audience. [2]

In that sense the choice of Monet is not very different, nor is of course the idea of an XXL Panorama in that sense. What is different is that in this case it’s not just a major blow-up and cut up of existing work by artists that cannot defend themselves since they are long dead. Yadegar Asisi, who specializes in panorama painting, instead has performed in-depth artscience research into the work of Monet and the panorama is the blown-up result of his own painting. The panorama is introduced by an exhibition to situate Monet’s series of 17 paintings of the west façade of Rouen’s cathedral in different light situations from the early 1890s, in its time. Funnily enough all the paintings on show in this introductory section, apart from Asisi’s preliminary studies, are copies and the only other genuine object is an easel that was used for outdoor painting, the revolutionary response of the impressionists on the introduction of photography. They realised that painting had to reinvent itself to survive, which resulted in them exiting the studio and researching the interaction of light and colour outdoors. It’s especially this response and the interaction between disciplines that interests Asisi, as he explains in some videos in which we can see him at work. In these he also reflects on how he chose one particular version of Monet’s views of the cathedral by evening light as a starting point and that it took him a lot longer than expected to produce an actual impressionist painting. The end result is a strange oblong canvas that gives a distorted view on the cathedral and its surroundings around 1880 as its obviously meant to be shown in a circular form. The setting is dramatic with a sunset cloudy sky which allows for an extensive play with shadows. The distortion in the actual panorama, for which this painting has been blown up to a height of 32 meters and a surface of 3200 m2, is weirdly enough still present to a certain extent. Entering the panorama room, I was initially taken aback by the monumental central tower that’s for one reason or another not round but square, a serious mistake in the design of the building in my view. Because contrary to the fluid viewing experience in the famous Panorama Mestdag [3] in The Hague that lands you straight on a realistic viewing height in the middle of the panorama on a round platform, here you first have to walk to the massive central building that obscures most of the panorama and take the stairs or lift to any of the four floors. The squareness of this building at all times obstructs the viewing in my opinion, apart from maybe on the top platform, but then you are in a way too high up.

Asisi thus puts Monet’s view of the cathedral at the centre of his painting, but adds the surroundings and urban life, allowing to portray Monet in one of the now no longer existing Renaissance buildings opposite of the cathedral from where he used to paint it. As Rouen was heavily bombarded in the Second World War, one of the interesting features of Asisi’s painting alongside his research into impressionism is that it gives a clear insight in the city’s landscape at the end of the 19th century. Portraying the city’s hustle and bustle Asisi can thus playfully add all kinds of transport and passers-by, amongst which painters such as Manet, Renoir, Gauguin and Degas, but also a range of critical academic painters and journalists that are added in a contrasting academic style.

The main focus is however on the play with light and colour, shadows and reflections that fascinated Monet in the first place and that Asisi interrogates and tries to reproduce. The XXL-format relates well to the cathedral’s real size. The blow-up is such that the figures in the painting are life-size, giving the visitor on the ground floor somewhat the sensation to actually walk on the square in front of the cathedral. What is however somewhat unfortunate is the staging with an overly theatrical light show on music by Eric Barak, using the crinchworthy argument “when designing spaces to tell stories, you have to use all available tools to bring your ideas to life”. Clearly also directed to a large audience as are the Atelier des Lumières-projections, this denies the viewer’s imagination, instead answering an apparent but questionable (contemporary?) need for the spectacular.

Notes

[1] The festival runs until 15 November and presents a combination of classical impressionist exhibitions as well as contemporary views on impressionism. See https://www.normandie-impressionniste.fr/en.

[2] See https://www.atelier-lumieres.com/fr/home.

[3] See https://www.panorama-mesdag.nl/english/.