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L’Interstice, Arles

Brave and fearless

June 14th 2021
Josette Sayers, L’Interstice Founder and curator


L’Interstice is a new addition to the growing art world based in Arles. A city that I visited with John Gibson in the early 1980’s for the first time, when he was making his usual southern tour to stop and see collectors and museum directors with his Citroen CX filled to the brim with 30×40 black portfolios that zipped up full of conceptual art. Twice a year, we made six-week swings across Europe to place works in collections. These trips allowed the income the gallery needed to get through another six months.

“Grand Moulin 2”, 2019 from the “Memory Lane” series, Lith print, 50 x 60 cm, Ed. 1/8.

We made our way circuitously to Arles after he stopped to see Marie-Claude Beaud then director in Toulon. Arles was grey and cold; it was March if I remember. It was like something from a film noir. The streets were empty in the middle of the day, we were spending two days to rest before driving to the Camargue to visit Luc Hoffmann at Tour du Valat; he was a longstanding client of John’s, unusual having left his larger well-known family in Switzerland to set up an ecological foundation.

I have snippets of memory, children playing in the open spaces of Arles following me when I left the hotel to find something in a small market near the hotel. It was the first time I had come head on with what was then called gypsies. The sense of menace I felt was not from these children, it was more from the dusty emptiness of Arles in winter.

“Four Hands”, 2018 from the “Urban Jungle” series, Lith print, 40 x 50 cm, Ed. 2/8.


By the time we drove to the Camargue, the sun returned and we made our way past the salt marshes, saw the flamingos and the wild horses both of which Luc Hoffmann was protecting with his conservationist research center. I remember Luc Hoffmann as a kind of handsome and warmly curious man; I was in my early 30’s and trying to fit into this already established art world. He was obviously very interested in a British artist living in New York who used nature as his primary material, Peter Hutchinson, but too Dennis Oppenheim who at this time had been making ground-breaking work about glaciers. All of this work was photo-based.

“Open Window”, 2020 from the “Urban Jungle” series, Lith print, 40 x 50 cm, Ed. 2/8.

Four decades and his daughter Maya has revolutionized Arles as we all know with LUMA Foundation, a center of research, artistic practice and exhibitions. In many ways the family history has given this corner of France a richness beyond anything we might anticipate. In the midst of this complex and ripe corner of the world a fearless Josette Sayers decides to take a small corner shop and turn it into a new gallery.

This small mighty outpost will become a stellar light in this new landscape that is Arles; Irish born, and dual French/American national, Sayers is, as I have written before, a well-known art world player who has been a high-profile headhunter in art, high-tech, retail luxury and museums. L’Interstice offers a fresh voice putting forward exhibitions of international artists with an accent on photo-based work, with a quick pop-up sensibility. The pleasure of sharing interests, bringing together players from a variety of art world niches is a big part of what the gallery will do.

“Grand moulin 1”, 2019 from the “Memory Lane” series, Lith print, 50 x 60 cm, Ed. 1/8.


The opening, a collaboration with Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière, Paris, is a splendid show of L.A. based French artist Guillaume Zuili, known for his deep fascination with high contrast, sober dark black and white images that have a purposeful and resounding reference to great American work made during the Depression by people like Paul Strand, Dorothea Lang, Imogen Cunningham among others. He also has a taste for the dramatic side-lit images of Orson Wells.

“Asphalt”, from the “Urban Jungle” series, Lith print, 95 x 116 cm, Ed. 4/8.

This is my first exposure to Zuili, the work is grainy and dense; in his short ARTE film, he walks around Corbeil-Essonnes taking photographs with a small box camera. Of course, this is territory we know from the iconic work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, the great artists and legendary teachers of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. But in Zuili’s lens we see not the monolithic industrial architecture but a shadow play of back-lit flat shadows, he is caught up in the oblique as he says himself, “lumière frisante”. This is not minimal art, his works are not serial in any way, they have inner pull and feel closer to the early years of photography as social history, both in their compression of space and time.

“Untitled (The Limo)”, from the “Urban Jungle” series, Lith print, 29 x 35 cm, Ed. 5/8.
“Grand Moulin 3”, 2019 from the “Memory Lane” series, Lith print, 50 x 60 cm, Ed. 1/8.

They have the power of political photography of say John Heartfield mixed with the twist of Edward Steichen. But Zuili’s eye is not American and this is a saving grace. He is connected to the subtle empty stillness of nineteenth century French photographers Atget and Le Gray. I hear a lyric double base sound in his profound use of shadow like Robert Longo who pulls black from the very white paper it is drawn upon. It takes a mature artist to be so comfortable in this darkness. One is especially sensitive to this right now coming as we are out of these historic months of Covid. In some way, Zuili is making work about how we see the lightless. He is masterful in leading us just to this moment he refers to as “Dieu dans le labo.” Giving us magic even if there is a resonance with something we have seen before; heat comes from the deepest planes absent of light, he builds a photograph on these notions.

Screenshot from a reportage by Arte, “Photographie : une nostalgie contemporaine”, 2019.

Selection of works from the “Smoke & Mirrors” (2006-2016), “Urban Jungle” (2017-2021) and “Memory Lane” (2019) series.

More info:

L’Interstice, Arles

Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière, Paris