Jean-Luc Mylayne | The Autumn of Paradise is the first solo exhibition of this French artist to be held in the Netherlands. For over forty years Jean-Luc Mylayne (1946) has focused on encountering birds in their natural environment and capturing their fleeting presence with his camera. In his images the birds are not only protagonists, but also equal conceptual partners. The exhibition comprises a selection of over forty works made between 1979 and 2008. Using analogue photography, making unique prints, concentrating on the same subject for decades, and devoting prolonged periods of time to the creation of each individual work, Jean-Luc Mylayne has created an artistic oeuvre that is as radical as it is poetic, and which remains unparalleled to this day.
The bird as an individual
At first glance Jean-Luc Mylayne’s photographs would seem to be randomly obtained everyday images situated in the transitional areas between unspoiled and rural landscapes. In addition to dominant nature, one can see traces of human civilization in the form of houses, streets, fences and walls in the distance or at the edge of the picture. Characteristically, there is a bird in every image. Just as the geographical context of the scenes remains indefinite, the specific features of the birds are at times barely discernible. When the animals are captured in action, they appear distorted and blurred. Sometimes one detects the winged protagonists only at second glance in the parts of the scenery that are out of focus or at the edge of the picture and partly truncated by it.
This seemingly non-hierarchical image composition does not conform to the perspectives of ornithological studies or classic nature photography which centre on the distinctive features of the birds or the unusual flora. Mylayne focuses on the one particular bird as an individual rather than as a specimen of a particular breed. His pictorial compositions are based on a precise choice and combination of lighting conditions, weather, time of year as well as the selection of the frame and the positioning of the bird. Each ‘tableau’ is carefully thought out; nothing, not even the smallest detail, is random. The images are intricately composed and always comply with the artist’s conceptual approach.
Months and years of preparation
So Mylayne’s photographs are a far cry from anecdotal snapshots. They are the result of months, sometimes even years of preparation. In the period of time indicated in a work’s title, the artist has explored the surrounding area, observed the selected animal and slowly gained its trust without feeding or taming it. This trust is the fundamental prerequisite for a relationship between the photographer and his subject and, by extension, for creating the image. When the moment has come and the scenery meets his expectations, Mylayne takes the photograph. Working with analogue technology, Mylayne’s photographs are unique prints (except for some small-format editions). Equally unique is the moment when the artist presses the shutter release button: a moment that will never return.
A focus on the ordinary
Together with Mylène Mylayne – his wife, collaborator and namesake – the photographer travelled through rural France and the American south-west. In 2003, the American Lannan Foundation first made it possible for the couple to spend the winter in New Mexico. Four back-to-back winters in Texas followed. Mylayne’s works of this ‘American period’ are characterized by the resounding blue of the sky contrasting with the golden-yellow landscape. The flying protagonists are usually smaller songbirds. No larger birds of prey are featured in Mylayne’s pictures. Here, too, his focus seems to be on the ordinary, with the uniqueness of the bird and the moment revealing themselves only on closer inspection.
With all its premises – the use of analogue photography, the making of unique prints, the focus on the same subject over several decades and, above all, the long time needed to produce each individual work – Jean-Luc Mylayne has created an artistic oeuvre that is as radical as it is poetic and, to this day, remains unparalleled.
A dedicated couple
The artist developed these working methods more than forty years ago together with his wife Mylène, whose first name they have both adopted as their surname to emphasize their symbiosis. Both were deeply involved in the creation of the exhibition in Huis Marseille. Their dedication and eye for detail are not limited to the creation of photographs: they have made the method part of their entire lifestyle, and their collaboration with the museum was marked by the same dedication.
For each location hosting this travelling exhibition, they provide a specific design tailored to the specific museum space being used. The artworks and the fourteen different galleries at Huis Marseille therefore complement one another. The sequence of the works, as determined by the Mylaynes, is deliberately non-chronological, but based on associative and thematic groups. A number of works have been added to the selection which were produced specially for Huis Marseille and which have never been seen before.
The connection with Van Gogh
The exhibition was created in collaboration with the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles, where it was first shown in 2018. The exhibition was then presented in the Aargauer Kunsthaus in Switzerland, the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai, and the Kestner Gesellschaft in Hannover, before travelling to Amsterdam.
The exhibition was curated by Bice Curiger, the Artistic Director of the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles. Her starting point was to emphasize the remarkable connection between Mylayne and Van Gogh:
‘How can one compare Vincent van Gogh and Jean-Luc Mylayne? Do we not associate these two names with lives and works that could not be more different from each other? We are certainly not instantly struck by any biographical or stylistic common ground or similarity of subject matter that would justify such a juxtaposition, but at the heart of these two artistic imaginations and the approach they take, we do find an abstract and, indeed, fundamental aspect that merits a closer look. It is the concept of time that crystallizes in their art via their chosen mediums, albeit each with a new ‘epochal’ twist – painting in Van Gogh’s case, photography in Mylayne’s. While Vincent van Gogh accentuated the speed with which he painted in an unprecedented way, Mylayne adds slowness, the prolongation of time to the process of taking pictures,’ says Curiger in her essay ‘Being and Time’ in the exhibition catalogue.
The exhibition was conceived as a visual portrait of the deep conceptual connection between the work of Mylayne and of Van Gogh. Now Mylayne’s work is making the same journey that Van Gogh made over 130 years ago, but in the opposite direction: from Arles to Amsterdam.
Huis Marseille and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam embarked on a unique collaboration for this exhibition. Simultaneously with the exhibition in Huis Marseille, the Van Gogh Museum will be presenting a number of works by Mylayne as part of the series Van Gogh Inspires, illuminating the link between Mylayne’s work and that of Van Gogh.
In close collaboration with Mylène and Jean-Luc Mylayne, a comprehensive catalogue has been published in cooperation with the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles. It includes a preface by Maja Hoffman. The monograph assembles essays by renowned authors Bice Curiger; Jacqueline Burckhardt, art historian; Christie Davis, Programme Director, Contemporary Art and Public Programs, the Lannan Foundation; and Leo Lencsés, curator and art critic; as well as the poem The Autumn of Paradise by Jean-Luc Mylayne. The 128-page catalogue with 100 illustrations was edited by Bice Curiger and published in Berlin by Hatje Cantz in 2018. It is available in Huis Marseille’s museum shop for €29.95.
Jean-Luc Mylayne was born in 1946. He lives and works in the world.
Mylayne’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions in a large number of leading institutes worldwide, including Jean-Luc Mylayne: Mutual Regard, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park, Chicago (2015); Jean-Luc Mylayne: Des Signatures du ciel aux mains du temps, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2010); Jean-Luc Mylayne: Tête d’or, Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon (2009); Jean-Luc Mylayne, Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York (2007-09); Jean-Luc Mylayne, Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2004, 2005, 2010); Jean-Luc Mylayne: les oies sauvages riaient et Dieu s’endormit tôt, Musée des Arts Contemporains, Grand-Hornu, Hornu, Belgium (2004); Jean-Luc Mylayne, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC, Paris (1995); and Jean-Luc Mylayne, Musée d’Art Moderne, Saint-Étienne (1991).
Mylayne’s work has also been included in the following group exhibitions: The Photographic I – Other Pictures, S.M.A.K., Gent, Belgium (2017); ILLUMInations, 54th Venice Biennale (2011); Terra Incognita: Alighiero e Boetti, Vija Celmins, Neil Jenney, Jean-Luc Mylayne, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen (1998); Jurassic Technologies Revenent, 10th Sydney Biennal (1996); and Zeichen und Wunder (Signs and Wonder): Niko Pirosmani and Recent Art, Kunsthaus Zürich (1995).