The Invisible Bikini... The title might herald the start of an improbable quest on the trail of a bikini mislaid in some exotic location. Or perhaps its subject is an attack on decency in a seaside resort crushed by the summer sun, or why not a superpower bestowed on an everyday beach accessory? The sense of intrigue conjured up by the title of the show seems to tap into memories of classic whodunnits as well as comic books, both those we consumed as children or the more underground varieties. Strewn all around the gallery, the creations by Hippolyte Hentgen rise up like so many clues or snippets of narrative, fuelling the mystery. Oversized hands, legs and feet, disembodied from any person or figure, float in the space, lie on the floor or dangle, exhausted, pulled down by their own weight. Their exaggerated colours, painted nails and precious aspect of their presentation on coppery supports, defuse the potential threat of these floating islands of body parts. They are transported by the fantastic and the ridiculous. These limbs in autonomous existence—grotesque due to their forms and slack abandon, precious for the attention given to their seams and details—seem to have been lifted straight from a cartoon, as if they had fled characters gleefully flattened, stretched and pulverised by Tex Avery. There is also something reminiscent of pop culture in these melted forms, emancipated from the two-dimensional fate reserved to them by animation and comics. It’s almost impossible not to think of the soft sculptures by Claes Oldenburg or the vinyl figures produced by his contemporaries Teresa Burga and Kiki Kogelnik when observing this parade of shapeless bodies and trivial objects such as cigarettes and newspapers. This pop reference is reinforced by the inclusion of hangings combining buxom pin-ups and onomatopoeia.
Central to the space and the intrigue, a large reclining bather shows off her faceless body. Sporting the famous bikini and boots, this Amazonian creature has the legs in exaggerated proportions reminiscent of the sexy heroines in comics from the 1960s and 1970s, like those imagined by Trina Robbins. Running counter to this flatness, chubby and even hypertrophied hands dance in the space, animating screens with their ballet of fingers. These clumsy Mickey hands mime an iconic image from contemporary dance: Hand Movie by choreographer Yvonne Rainer, filmed by William Davis in 1966.
Hippolyte Hentgen toys with this mix of languages, this hybridisation of universes never intended to come into contact. In this museum of the imagination, avant-garde creations, comic strips, animation, popular illustration and editorial cartoons mingle candidly, forming a fantastical and jubilant universe completely separate from the scoriae of hierarchies of genres. Artist Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux talks about the phenomenon of ‘pollinisation’ in the matter of what constitutes our visual culture. In this fertile world, the grotesque and the refined, the organic and the inorganic procreate giving birth to every possible variation of the drawing.
This invisible bikini exhibited at the MAMAC is, of course, a slightly sharp and unrestrained nod to the French Riviera and its languishing bodies and stereotypes; a prelude to a fiction that the visitor is free to compose themselves. But it is also an irreverent, shameless, screamingly pop and deliberately mischievous take on the works of so many great names which populate the MAMAC’s collections.
Hélène Guenin, Director of the MAMAC
Lina Hentgen and Gaëlle Hippolyte studied at the Villa Arson from 1998 to 2006. Their meeting developed into a four-handed collaboration under the name Hippolyte Hentgen.
Hippolyte Hentgen has carried out a residency at the prestigious Villa Kujoyama (Japan). Her work has been shown at many solo and collective exhibitions, including the Printemps de Septembre festival in Toulouse (2018); the Musée de l’Abbaye Sainte-Croix, Les Sables-d’Olonne; Delme Synagogue; the CRAC Occitanie in Sète; the MAMCO in Geneva, and the Villa Arson.
The Centre d’art des Capucins in Embrun is dedicating a solo exhibition to the artist this summer (4 July-1 September 2019)
Hippolyte Hentgen is represented by the Sémiose gallery in Paris.
Her works are included in French public collections such as the National Centre of Visual Arts (CNAP), Paris; Frac Haute-Normandie; Frac Champagne-Ardenne; MAC/VAL, and the Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, Vitry-sur-Seine.