Nicolas Party, who’s not yet even 40, reminds us that the artworks which mark us are never those we imagined. On the contrary, those that leave a trace do nothing to reassure our aesthetic convictions, but instead lead us a little bit further forward in the history of form. Party’s show at Glasgow’s Modern Institute this summer proved this once again, ahead of upcoming exhibitions at Brussels’s Xavier Hufkens in November and L.A.’s Hauser & Wirth next February. An unexpected record at auction this spring was perhaps the crowning moment in the rapid ascent of an artist who makes no concessions to mainstream taste, risking everything for freedom and his “deviant” intuitions.
Screaming colours, unabashed gradations, unbridled ornamentalism, over-the-top decorativeness, the figurative pushed to the heights of naivety with kittens, fruit and teapots, faces like Fayum mummy portraits that have been violently solarized – yes indeed, Nicolas Party does not do what it supposedly takes to gain the interest of a discipline that is now far more interested in conformity than incongruity. Landscape (2015), estimated by Phillips at $100,000 to $150,000, went for $608,000, six times the lowest estimate, a record in terms of wrong forecasting, even though there had been precedents: in 2018, Sunset (2018), was estimated at $60,000 but went for $330,000.
Nicolas Party wants to design his exhibitions as a patient work of layering that defies rapid consumption, a unique and unexpected universe whose influences range from Egyptian sarcophagi to Félix Vallotton, René Magritte and Giorgio Morandi.
His show this summer at Glasgow’s Modern Institute was titled Polychrome, which indeed it was, with its bright-yellow walls and architectural pedestals in red and violet carrying body fragments: a green foot, a violet bust, a blue finger, alongside pastel-on-canvas works showing strange characters that seemed to marvel at being surrounded by butterflies. Party divided the space into several rooms linked together by little arched doorways, designing his show as an experience that surpassed the academic exercise of showing objects for sale. It’s putting it mildly to say that you enter a “world” which the artist devised himself and which he likes to make complex, drowning the viewer in a flood of visual information that forbids a simple interpretation (in other words he takes us seriously). While he quotes Gauguin (“I only want to make simple art”), he also says he wants to design his exhibitions as a patient work of layering that defies rapid consumption, a unique and unexpected universe whose influences range from Egyptian sarcophagi to Félix Vallotton, René Magritte and Giorgio Morandi.