17 East 82nd Street, Manhattan
Through Aug. 29 2015
via Review: The Writer Raymond Roussel and His Legacy, at Galerie Buchholz – The New York Times.
The German dealer Daniel Buchholz, long a fixture on the contemporary art scene in Cologne and Berlin, has opened a gallery in Manhattan and, for his debut show, given us something wonderful that we haven’t had before: a retrospective of the French writer Raymond Roussel (1877-1933).
Born into the Parisian beau monde, as a child Roussel had Marcel Proust for a neighbor; as an adult, he befriended Jean Cocteau when the two were patients in drug rehab. Rich, gay, habitually solitary, Roussel developed a literary mode in poetry, fiction and drama based on linguistic ingenuity and the use of super-realism to lift off into fantasy. Although his work was met with public scorn at the time — Roussel was crushed and died by suicide — it has been hugely influential to artists and writers since. Marcel Duchamp and Michel Foucault claimed him as a liberating hero. Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell revered him. The poet John Ashbery has written brilliantly about him.
This show — organized by Mr. Buchholz, the art historian Christopher Müller and the Roussel scholar François Piron — is an archival exercise in literary and art-world ephemera. It pieces together Roussel’s elusive private life from rare surviving images (photographs of his adored mother; a unisex childhood portrait of the writer) and personal effects (treasured editions of Jules Verne novels; a cookie that he saved from a landmark literary lunch and enshrined like a relic). It traces the path of his writing career through often self-financed publications and calamitous stage presentations. And it concludes with a section demonstrating his continuing influence, on Mr. Ashbery’s poetry and collages, and on artists like Zoe Beloff, Lucy McKenzie and Henrik Olesen.
The selection is scrupulously annotated, and every scrap of information is worth reading. (Although a contemporary art specialist, Mr. Buchholz comes from a background in antiquarian book selling.) If this show were at the Museum of Modern Art, you’d pay to see it and still feel rewarded. At Galerie Buchholz, it’s a free introductory welcome to a new space, which should feel strongly encouraged to enliven New York with comparable offerings in seasons ahead.