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Christian Milovanoff - Suites - At Musée du Louvre
Guerrier en armes deux fonctionnaires 1 (Iraq, 33°20' N - 44) ©Christian Milovanoff.

PARIS, FRANCE.- Following upon the invitations extended to contemporary photographers Patrick Faigenbaum in 2004, Jean-Luc Moulène in 2005 and Candida Höfer in 2006, the Louvre’s selection for 2007 is Christian Milovanoff. Milovanoff has chosen the museum’s Department of Near Eastern Antiquities as the focus of his attentions, concentrating in particular on works from Ancient Persia and Mesopotamia. This work thus allows the artist to reconnect with his earlier studies on the history of art, the documentary form, appropriation and montage.

Between 1980 and 1986, Christian Milovanoff shot forty-five black-and-white photographs for a series entitled The Louvre Revisited. For this first experience at the Louvre, the artist had decided upon a quasi-archaeological approach to photographing painted works, limiting his frame to fragments of canvases. Now, some twenty years later, Christian Milovanoff has turned his gaze to Near Eastern antiquities, a period he has not previously explored. His first project in this spirit was a series of detailed views of Assyrian bas-reliefs (lions, human figures, writing) at the British Museum. The Louvre then decided to invite the artist to continue his work by wending his way through the extensive galleries of its own department devoted to this period.

For this new series, entitled Suites, Christian Milovanoff records details of Near Eastern bas-reliefs and sculptures: hands, feet, cuneiform writing, decorative motifs. His work enhances our appreciation of the fascinating iconology, mythology and history shared by the prestigious Near Eastern civilizations from the 5th to the 1st century B.C. The captions on the photographs specify the geographic locations of the works. This information reminds us of the upheavals currently plaguing these regions.

The originality of Christian Milovanoff’s approach is based on a tight framing of shots not centered on the main subject. The artist captures gestures, symbols and rituals. Through this process, he invites us to consider the work from another angle, to displace our point of view, thus instilling objectivity. The presentation of the photographs in the exhibition is sequential, inspired by the principle of the frieze. While certain motifs are repeated in binary or ternary patterns, the framing of the shots shifts laterally on a constant basis. These images therefore call to mind the photographer’s roll of film as well as the filmmaker’s reel. Amidst this presentation, the role of the visitor is implicitly assimilated with that of a film editor.

Suites is the logical extension of the explorations carried out by Christian Milovanoff since 1980. Comprised of some twenty color photographs, this series enacts the encounter between art of antiquity and contemporary art, at the intersection of several disciplines: photography, painting, sculpture and film.

Christian Milovanoff was born in 1948 in Nîmes. Since 1983, he has been a professor at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles. He has also published two works of fiction and several articles on contemporary art and the documentary form in photography and film.

Between 1980 and 1986, Christian Milovanoff captured detailed views of Old Master paintings at the Louvre, photographically deconstructing these works to increasing levels of abstraction. This framing technique revealed the existence of pictorial motifs that have been the focus of considerable development in modern art. The artist thus brought to the fore one of the sources of inspiration for Klee, Mondrian, Newman and others. From 1984 to 1986, he participated, along with twenty-seven other international photographers, in a special project for the DATAR (the French ministerial delegation for territorial planning and regional action). He chose office spaces as the subject of this work, with reference to 17th-century Dutch paintings of interiors. He thus brought together nearly seven thousand photographs, which he then categorized and mounted on cardboard. Consequently, archiving and montage remain primary concerns for the artist. Building on this approach, the artist created the series entitled Return to Antiquity, which he presented in 1988 for the exhibition Painting and Architecture: A Conversation with Hubert Robert. In this work, the ruins juxtaposed in an arbitrary manner by the celebrated painter are set against the veracity conveyed through photographs of archaeological sites in Rome, Arles and Nîmes. In this same year, the artist responded to an invitation by the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. Pursuing the same line of exploration related to painting and ancient ruins, in connection with the issues of appropriation and fiction, he proceeded with an extreme dissection of the work of Giovanni Paolo Pannini and moved his quest into the realm of color photography. This was a turning point for Milovanoff’s work as an artist. In 1994, the Saint-Etienne Museum of Modern Art presented his Supermarket series, comprised of photographs of packaged consumer goods, stocked and stacked on the shelves of large retail chain stores. These photographs call to mind the paintings and installations of the Pop Art and New Realist movements. In this work, the artist presents a melancholy view of the widespread dissemination of art, from its recovery to its decline, a sentiment exacerbated by the hanging of black-and-white advertising images and photographed fragments of paintings and sculptures belonging to a bygone era. A voice-over narration in the exhibition space was included to evoke loss, through a series of anecdotes. At the Frick Art and Historical Center in 2002, Christian Milovanoff exhibited his Conversation Pieces, named after the informal group portraits popular in the 18th century, particularly in England. Taking these paintings as his inspiration, he conceived a series of forty-eight color photographs, combining the reproduction of details from paintings with urban views taken during his trips to Pittsburgh. Here again, the artist offers a crosscutting reading of the history of art, putting on the same level modern architecture, conventional portraiture and everyday life.

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