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Finding beauty in urban chaos at the Pompidou

October 8, 2008 |  4:30 am

7lafemme1966_2While Los Angeles folks are bemoaning the visual pollution of digital ads that have replaced old-fashioned billboards and grousing about super graphics that have smothered buildings all over town, visitors at the Pompidou Center in Paris are contemplating posters as art. A new exhibition, "Jacques Villegle: La Comedie Urbaine," on view through Jan. 5, surveys the work of a French artist who made a career of creating huge collages out of posters ripped off Parisian walls.

Thick, crusty and loaded with clues to movies, plays, cultural events, social issues and political movements, the collages resemble archeological digs or urban excavation sites. Villegle plowed through layers of posters applied to outdoor walls and reassembled the pieces into abstract or figurative compositions. Finding beauty in urban chaos, he used ready-made commercial art to fashion his own view of the world around him.

His early works seem to grow out of Cubist and Futurist explorations of fractured forms or the assemblages of Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst. In the 1960s, his large, brightly colored collages put him in league with the brash sensibiltity of the Pop movement. In "Rues Desprez et Vercingetorix--La Femme," a splashy piece made in 1966, a gorgeously attired woman emerges from a tattered landscape of peeling posters. Political works, made later in his career, often include graffiti and outpourings of rage against war and social injustice. 

But Villegle's years as a poet of street art were numbered. By the early 1990s, the regulation of poster advertising in Paris forced him to go to other cities in search of raw materials. He made "Sainte Famille--Cours de la Somme" in 1998 from posters found in Bordeaux advertising musical albums and performances. Eventually, as pickings got slimmer, he gave up and turned to other kinds of art-making. Now 82 and living in a new age of advertising, he isn't likely to have a successor.

Another image below:

--Suzanne Muchnic

Photo Credit: Centre Pompidou