Well worth taking a Détour to the Glucksman for French art exhibition

Few artists have found inspiration as readily as Jacques Villeglé. A founding member of the Nouveau Réalisme art movement, his best known works were assembled from posters ripped directly from the public walls of Montmartre in Paris and Saint-Malo in Brittany, the two cities he lived in throughout his adult life. Villeglé produced work over nine decades, and only died, aged 96, in 2022.

“Villeglé was a very important artist for us in France,” says Étienne Bernard, director of FRAC Bretagne, the collection of contemporary art housed in Rennes, where Villeglé studied sculpture at the School of Fine Arts. “He had a very long relationship with FRAC, almost what you might call a companionship, and we have the most important body of his work in any institution.”

 Villeglé’s Rue de l’Echaudé, Saint-Germain, Paris, 1965 is one of forty artworks drawn from the FRAC Bretagne collection for Détour, the new exhibition at the Glucksman Gallery at University College Cork.

“FRAC, or fonds régionaux d’art contemporain, stands for regional funds for contemporary art,” says Bernard. “It’s an institution model that was created in the early 1980s in France. Back then, when you wanted to see contemporary art in France, you had to go to Paris, there was nothing in the regions. So, the government was persuaded to establish 23 art funds, one in each region of France. The collections are aimed to be spread throughout the regions in different contexts; in museums and galleries, but also in hospitals, schools and prisons.”

 Each FRAC region was encouraged to build a collection of contemporary art. “We are only allowed to buy work by living artists,” says Bernard. “We’ve been lucky in Brittany, because we have had very good financial support. Over the past forty years or so, the FRAC Bretagne collection has grown and grown. We now have about 5,500 pieces. At first, we did not have a permanent exhibition space, we brought the collection all around the region. But we now have a museum, built eleven years go, where we have about ten shows a year. At the same time, we organise about thirty projects throughout the region.” 

Also in Détour: Jacques Villeglé, Rue de l’Echaudé Saint-Germain, Paris, 1er janvier 1965 Picture: Guy Jaumotte
Also in Détour: Jacques Villeglé, Rue de l’Echaudé Saint-Germain, Paris, 1er janvier 1965 Picture: Guy Jaumotte

 The Détour exhibition came about after the Glucksman’s director Fiona Kearney and curator Chris Clarke visited the FRAC museum in Rennes in 2018. “They were very interested in our institutional model, and decided to make a big exhibition from our collection,” says Bernard. “Détour is really their project, but hopefully this will be the first step of a much larger collaboration between our two institutions in the future.” Bernard found it refreshing to have an outside curator select work from the FRAC collection. 

“It’s very valuable for us to have a new, and very precise and sophisticated, point of view on our collection,” he says. “Chris really created the show. Even if it’s not a central theme of the collection, we have a lot of pieces that deal with cities, and Chris read the collection through this idea of city, but in a wider way, dealing with architecture, street art, graffiti and so on. I learned a lot from this.” 

 It is, says Bernard, very important that the Détour exhibition features a Breton artist such as Villeglé. “It tells a lot about our collection and our history. Of course we are very committed to artists from Brittany, so there are a significant number of them in the collection. But one of the ways to support local artists in their career is also to put them in a debate with international artists. There are more than 800 artists from about 80 nationalities represented in our collection.”

Etienne Bernard, director of FRAC Bretagne.
Etienne Bernard, director of FRAC Bretagne.

 That diversity is also reflected in Détour. “It’s a very international selection,” says Bernard. “There are some very established artists, like Charlotte Moth, a British artist living in France, and the Swiss and German artists Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, who represented Switzerland at the Venice Biennale in 2019. Chris is from Newfoundland, in Canada, and he also selected an artist from that area, named Jackie Winsor.

“And there is also one work by the Irish artist, John Duncan.” Duncan is represented by Sinister and Dexter, a series of photographs of debris and refuse in the streets of his native Belfast. The title refers to the Red Hand of Ulster, and how it can be interpreted as meaning either hand; in heraldry terms, dexter is the right, and sinister the left.

“Duncan is the only Irish artist in FRAC Bretagne at present,” says Bernard. “But I will be visiting the Détour exhibition in Cork again soon, and I’m sure we will buy more work by Irish artists for our collection.”

  •  Détour runs at the Glucksman Gallery, UCC until November 7. Further information: glucksman.org

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