I confess I'm a sucker for art that includes text. Duane Michals' work was some of the first art to ignite my passion for photo collecting. Since then I've been excited by Augusta Wood, Graham Dolphin, Carl André, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, and many others. So, I was eager to see the Francois-Marie Banier show at Villa Oppenheim in Berlin (http://villaoppenheim.de/). The artist has led a remarkably varied artistic life. He has painted, made photographs, written novels and plays, and is a regular contributor to magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. He is well-known in Europe and has a social life that has included some very famous names.
His photographs are often of those famous people, but the photos are usually the least of the work. Mr. Banier writes on his photos. Now when I say he writes, I mean he covers his prints with lines and lines, and lines of swirling text. I am reminded of the scenes from the movie "A Beautiful Mind" where the schizophrenic math genius John Nash is shown to have covered every inch of his garage with obsessive, psychotic text. There is something obsessive and perhaps mentally unbalanced about Mr. Banier's photos. They are each one-of-a-kind works that display a kind of verborrhea one rarely encounters in stable minds. The viewer is assaulted by words covering, in some cases, every available space of the photograph.
I struggled to find my way with these photos. I am, as I said, attracted to art work that combines text with image. I also like work that has an obsessive nature. But my initial reaction was to be a little put off by the photos. Perhaps it was because many of them are in French and my francophone skills weren't up to the translation. Still, I wondered whether these words were meant to be read in their entirety. It would be a huge task to read an entire Banier photo. Even the ones in English were hard to decipher and had a rambling, stream-of-consciousness quality. Then I started to look at them as a graphical device. Now, a new door was opening for me. The text took on a visual rhythm that, in it's best examples, was synergistic with the image. The photo itself was maybe not so engaging, and the text by itself was not so engaging, but together they had undeniable power. Favorites of mine are a massive photo of a park bench at the edge of a lawn called "Jardin du Luxembourg" (2005), and a portrait of Vladimir Horowitz that is one of the artist's first written photos.
It has been said that great art asks questions. If that's true, then this is great art. It is impossible to see this work and remain neutral. It fills your eyes and brain with questions and a desire to see and learn more about the work. Check it out and let me know what you think. His website is http://www.fmbanier.com/. I would love to start a discussion of his work.