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1975

J'expose Madame Soleil en chair et en os

Musée Galliera Paris, June / September 1975.
For Fred Forest, bringing Madame Soleil into a museum while she was still alive was in a way to offer a 'live' exhibition of a sociological and media phenomenon of our time. 

Sociological  Communication 

Paris (FR)

Typology: Animation, Dispositif

1975

Madame Soleil et Pierre Restany

1975

Madame Soleil parle à Galliera

Madame Soleil et Pierre Restany
1975
Madame Soleil et Pierre Restany
Madame Soleil parle à Galliera
1975
Madame Soleil parle à Galliera

1975 Madame Soleil en action à Galliera

For her exhibition at the Musée Galliera, Fred Forest arranged the space in the Grand Galerie in such a way that she was able to demonstrate the full extent of her talent as a perfect actress as well as her eloquent pedagogy. Opposite the entrance to the auditorium, he set up a sort of podium, which she took possession of each time with real pleasure. Slowly placing her pair of white gloves on the desk, the audience approached as if moved by an irrepressible attraction. All to complete the setting set by the artist, officiating in front of a double curtain of red velvet. On the walls of the central gallery were large photos displaying her biography, in which we learned that Germaine Soleil bore her real name, which had clearly been the origin of the sunny character she was in life. She did a hundred jobs before becoming an astrologer: typist in an import-export company, head of department at the Ministry of the Economy, she even opened a hosiery business in 1945 and travelled around the Paris fairs in her caravan, before joining Europe 1 radio where she exercised her talents for 23 years. These talents made her one of France's best-known personalities. Also displayed on the walls are numerous documents devoted to her by the celebrity press, as well as astrological charts of famous people that she has drawn up, such as that of Brigitte Bardot.

Finally, 2 TV monitors show videos in cont

Germaine Soleil, Astrologue

What will my director at the Ministry of Culture say to me now? That's what Mme Danne, Chief Curator of the Musée Galliera, asked me, with a note of anxiety in her voice, after accepting my proposal to exhibit Germaine Soleil, known as Madame Soleil, in the flesh, in her museum in the heart of Paris, on avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie...
Germaine Soleil, born on 8 July 1913, was undoubtedly the most famous celebrity in France until her death on 27 October 1996. Receiving exceptional media coverage, she monopolised media interest for decades. Her name became so popular that it entered common parlance to mean, when it was impossible to predict something "that you weren't Mme Soleil!" This line is often attributed to Georges Pompidou, responding to journalists during one of his press conferences at the Elysée Palace. Germaine Soleil (that was her real name, and you can't make it up...) ran an astrology practice at 51 place du Commerce in the fifteenth arrondissement, where the 'tout-Paris' of politics, the arts and show business flocked. I can testify, myself, that one day when I was in her office, while her assistant was on the phone with Bruno Coquatrix himself, the 'grand manitou' of the Olympia, she turned him down. He had personally insisted that she attend an Yves Montand premiere. She would have none of it. As an aside, after her assistant had gone into the next room, taking the wire and telephone with her, she told me point-blank: 
-" You'd think I'd have something better to do than hang around the Olympia". 
I've seen politicians of all stripes and celebrities from the world of entertainment arrive at his door for consultations in a black limousine with tinted windows, only to leave three-quarters of an hour later with the same discretion, their spirits lifted, and a few tickets left over. It was an incessant ballet. Once a week, she flew to Rabat on a private jet. It wasn't for tourism, but for a weekly private consultation that she gave to his majesty Hassan II. She had told Pierre Restany and myself, who had come to make a video in her consulting room, that His Majesty the King of Morocco, to thank her for a foiled attempt on his life that she had warned him about in time, had offered her a colossal sum that would have enabled her to go on holiday for the rest of her life. A sum that she claimed she had refused for reasons of both ethics and personal morality.
I can say here that this famous but much-maligned and even mocked woman was a formidable woman. Not only with enormous common sense and an unparalleled generosity of spirit and heart, but also with an innate, natural and rare intelligence.
She immediately agreed to take part in my exhibition on a completely voluntary basis. People who had previously approached her for business had assured me that she would demand exorbitant fees. He didn't know her well. With her Vichy dresses (probably bought from Tati?) she was the charismatic and central 'object' of this exhibition. She was to take pride of place as a kind of media icon in action, staged under a canopy of double red velvet curtains. Her popularity was so great at the time that she received bags of mail every day, clogging up the corridors of Europe N° 1. A national radio station where she exercised her talents as a radio clairvoyant for more than twenty-three years without interruption. To prepare our exhibition, she gave me carte blanche to use her image in public. I met her often, sometimes with Pierre Restany, to conduct interviews to be broadcast inside the Musée Galliera. On one occasion, she even agreed to show us round her private flats. Her consulting room was a small room with bare walls, hung with coasters and naive landscapes that she had no doubt picked up from the calendar the postmen gave out for Christmas presents at the end of the year. This really unpretentious consulting room even seemed a little cramped. It could just as easily have been the office of an estate agent as that of a local nurse. There wasn't a single crystal ball, or any of those equivocal objects that make you feel uncomfortable, and which are generally part of the folklore of the profession. So one day, after crossing a private courtyard, which was also on the ground floor, like a small suburban bungalow, she gave us the honour and privilege of visiting her living quarters. Her husband was, as usual, taking a deep nap on the sofa in the living room. No doubt, and rightly so, he had blind faith in Germaine to provide for the needs of a household with a very modest lifestyle. As she had a very large family, I'm sure that she maintained a whole population of brothers, sisters-in-law, cousins and perhaps even neighbours without the slightest financial problem? And, why not, since she had a hundred times the means, former colleagues, known when she had a job as a secretary at the Ministry of Housing, or fairground workers later, when she had started out in the profession in her own caravan. She showed us, not without pride, her glass-fronted mahogany bookcase with her favourite books. She didn't indulge in any kind of social life, but read them in the evenings, with religious fervour, on a narrow extension lead hidden away on the side of the bookcase. She had pulled out the slide for us, hidden at first sight, like someone showing you a secret passage. All of them, without exception, were books dedicated to Napoleon, her favourite hero. In her bedroom, with its green velvet curtains of uncertain colour under the neon ceiling light, the Norman wardrobe (which she no doubt inherited from her family) took up almost the entire space. A room that consequently seemed tiny, with no prospect of circulation, for more than two people. But Restany and I were able to make our way, with difficulty and elbow-to-elbow, through the 'Ruelle' between the wall and the bed, right up to the bedside table. A 'Ruelle' where Mademoiselle de Scudéry would obviously never have been able to accommodate her favourite writers and academics, so numerous were they. But Germaine was not Mademoiselle de Scudéry, so that was of no importance here. At the end of our journey, Germaine Soleil's bedside table, with its inevitable Quimper lace doily. A handmade, crocheted doily. A narrow piece of furniture, cluttered with a multitude of photos of all her grandchildren, without exception. Germaine spoke of them with such love and the twinkle in her eye that no one could mistake her sincerity. So she was, at one and the same time, this pythia that the Paris of fashion, show business and politics came to consult at a high price, but also, in an intimate way that this world was unaware of, a grandmother cake and a woman of the heart. The aim of Madame Soleil's exhibition and its sociological framework was to demonstrate, by displacing the living, media-friendly, popular myth that she embodied, that the cold, scholarly culture of the Museum would not withstand this intrusion. That it would shatter under the pressure of an emerging culture that reflected the changes of our time. The success of this event, and the comportement of visitors to Galliera in the face of the 'media psychic', fully validated our presuppositions. Madame Soleil must, I think, but without ever letting on, have been destabilised at times by our relationship. All the people who approached her in everyday life were always trying, consciously or unconsciously, to use her as an oracle. The avid desire to know our future destiny is a common feature of human nature. She had long experience of this, and lent herself to this game, where she immediately positioned herself in this role. The role took precedence over the person, although in the long run it ended up being an intrinsic part of her too. On more than one occasion, she had the opportunity, quite spontaneously, by a sort of professional reflex, to steer our conversation in this direction. I'm not very different from the others, but on this point, I'm not interested in what anyone can predict, considering that I alone am responsible for what will be a destiny that only I can choose and build. I agree that there is something both naive and arrogant in this statement. But it's a luxury that I allow myself and that I accept. Although Madame Soleil was perhaps sometimes disappointed (and it remains to be seen...) by this attitude, she never interpreted it as a provocation towards her. She also knew only too well how grateful I was to her for agreeing to play the game of distancing initiated by this exhibition, and how much I admired her natural generosity and her simple, brilliant, practical intelligence. Pierre Restany asked her in an interview:
- Why did you agree to take part in the proposal by this artist, Fred Forest, who in comparison with yourself is just a famous unknown? "

- It's quite simple," she replied, "I immediately perceived him as I do myself, a being fundamentally linked to communication and its human dimension. I realised that in his various artistic endeavours, he is always motivated by a search for meaning and a selfless ideal. I could do no less than accept, knowing that the experience we would have together would be mutually enriching".

After our exhibition, where she came every day for a month from her podium to spread her good word freely and generously from 4 to 6 p.m., I never saw Germaine Soleil again. One day, some friends who read Le Figaro cut out for me a press clipping in which, in an interview, Germaine predicted an extraordinary destiny for me as an artist. In the end, the oracle had spoken, and I gladly accepted the omen.

Concept

For Fred Forest, bringing Madame Soleil into a museum while she was still alive was in a way a way of offering a 'live' exhibition of a sociological and media phenomenon of our time. Asking her to be present, every day, on a podium, under a canopy of red velvet... it was in the practice of Sociological Art, creating the opportunity to question the power of the mass media capable of forging a modern 'myth'. A modern myth belonging to popular culture. It was in the person of Madame Soleil that this myth was exhibited, for three months, in the designated place of elite culture: the Museum, to propose a decoding and a second-degree reading of it.

Device

Every day, with the regularity of an office worker, Madame Soleil occupies her podium from 3 to 6 p.m. sharp, giving her free public consultations. These consultations are well attended by the media (daily announcements on Radio Europe n°1).

In addition to the localised space in which Madame Soleil is presented, the artist has placed on the picture rails an environment made up of press articles enlarged on giant panels. This information allows us to retrace the astrologer's 'career', and provides keys to a divinatory practice as old as the hills, which has suddenly found its way into the mainstream media.
On the walls, astrological themes of various personalities such as Brigitte Bardot or Edgar Faure...

Lastly, videos made by the artist with Pierre Restany in Madame Soleil's home, surrounded by her family and in particular her grandchildren, are shown. These were shown simultaneously with her actual presence in the museum, raising questions about her true personality: pythia or grandmother-cake?

In any case, Madame Soleil will never be "chosified" and converted into a ready-made object. In the museum, despite her sacralising power, she remains in her role, in her function, in her attributions. It is the Museum that is "hijacked". The myth of Madame Soleil is proving to be more effective than that of elite culture!

  • Catalogue du Musée Galliera : " Le Collectif d'art sociologique ", 1975, Paris
  • " Madame Soleil au Musée ", Hélène Demoriane, Le Point n°148, 1975, Paris
  • " Madame Soleil est-elle une œuvre d'art ? ", Otto Hahn, L'Express n°1252, 7 juillet 1975, Paris
  • " Les limites de la dérision ", Tahar Ben Jelloun, Le Monde, 28 juillet 1975, Paris
  • " Plein soleil au Musée ", Dominique Torres, Le Quotidien de Paris, 21 juin 1975, Paris
  • " Galliera en vedette ", Galerie Jardin des arts n°149, 1975, Paris
  • " Madame Soleil à Galliera ", Le Canard Enchaîné, 18 juin 1975, Paris
1975 Le quotidien Mme Soleil
1975 Le quotidien Mme Soleil

 

 

LONG BIOGRAPHY OF FRED FOREST

Fred Forest has a special place in contemporary art. Both by his personality and by his pioneering practices which mark his work. He is mainly known today for having used one by one most of the communication media that have appeared over the last fifty years. He is co-founder of three artistic movements: those of sociological art, the aesthetics of communication and ethics in art.

He represented France at the 12th São Paulo Biennale (Communication Prize) in 1973, at the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976 and at Documenta 6 in Kassel in 1977.

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