Wed, Mar 02, 2011 - Page 15 News List

Broiled buttocks?
Or perhaps a pair of braised breasts?

Though All Cannibals examines a gory topic, the exhibition takes a measured approach to its morbid subject matter

By Jorg von Uthmann  /  Bloomberg

Yasumasa Morimura, Exchange of Devouring.

Photo: Bloomberg

The tastiest parts of the human body are the breasts and the buttocks.

So says St Jerome, the church father, in his treatise Against Jovianus, in which he describes the dietary preferences of the Attacots, a tribe living in Roman Britain.

They were, of course, not alone in eating their fellow humans. All Cannibals, an exhibition at the Maison Rouge in Paris, starts with a 1593 print depicting Brazilian women and children sitting around the severed head of a man, happily munching the rest of his body.

Whether this edifying scene is a case of exo- or endocannibalism, the consumption of an enemy or a deceased relative, isn’t clear.

The title of the show, which displays works by about 30 mostly contemporary artists, is a quote from anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss: “We are all cannibals. After all, the simplest way to identify with someone is to eat him.”

Gruesome Goya

From Brazil the show jumps forward to Francisco de Goya and the morbid symbolists Odilon Redon, Felicien Rops and James Ensor. Goya appears in different guises: Next to his Caprichos, there are prints from his Disasters of War, altered by the Chapman brothers.

Saturn Devouring His Son, one of Goya’s most gruesome canvases, has morphed into two photographs: One shows an assemblage by Vik Muniz, who recreated the painting out of junk. The other is a self-portrait by the Japanese “appropriation artist” Yasumasa Morimura, who specializes in substituting faces and bodies in famous pictures with his own.

Cannibalism, we are told, is a popular theme in contemporary Japanese art. Issei Sagawa, a mentally disturbed student who killed and ate a Dutch girl in 1981, became a celebrity after he had been found legally insane and even became a food critic.

Jeanette Zwingenberger, the curator, says in the press material that she turned down works that smacked too much of gore. In fact, even the fainthearted aren’t in danger of being overcome by twinges of nausea.

Michel Journiac’s Mass for a Body, a sacrilegious performance during which he distributed sausages made with his blood, is only visible on a video. Adriana Varejao’s painting of guts spilling out of a tiled wall looks almost abstract.

DARK HUMOR

Gilles Barbier’s photomontage displaying six clones of himself butchering each other or Renato Garza Cervera’s Genuine Contemporary Beast, the skin of a tattooed man splayed on the floor like a bearskin rug, are nice examples of black humor. (Cervera has said that he was inspired by gang wars in Los Angeles.)

Much is made of the female breast and the feeding of babies. That seems far-fetched.

On the other hand, the rich world of vampires is only mentioned in passing.

If you expect a systematic and thorough examination of a fascinating subject, you’ll be disappointed. But as an introduction, the show is worth a visit.

All Cannibals is at Maison Rouge, Paris, through May 15. On the Net: www.lamaisonrouge.org

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