Claire Salles

"Martin Barré’s Pentimento Paintings: Dissolution and Objecthood"

Friday, December 15 // 15.00h // JGU Fakultätssaal Philosophicum


By the early 1960s, the French painter Martin Barré produced three paintings using a
“pentimento” technique which consists in rubbing out the oil colour with turpentine (59-120x110-B,
61-T-35, 61-T-39). In so doing, he chose to keep the greenbergian painting surface theory but
subverted its “flatness”. Interestingly and paradoxically, Clement Greenberg's thought was
introduced in France by the very friends and commentators of Martin Barré:Yve-Alain Bois, Ann
Hindry, Jean Clay. Thanks to the pentimento, the upper slice of colour is pushed back almost behind
the surface. The surface is thus activated; the allegedly essential flatness of painting is dissolved;
and the objecthood of painting is destabilized. The viewer is thereby taken into the “thickness” of
the surface that Jean Clay opposed to its “flatness” in an article about Robert Ryman and Martin
Barré (1).
The hypothesis I will develop about these three paintings will summon Jacques Lacan's
Seminar about the art as “raising an object to the dignity of the Thing” (2)– “raising” understood as
sublimating. Martin Barré stayed into a conventional frame by keeping the canvas, but thanks to the
pentimento he was able to play with the pictural medium in its autonomous and literarily un-usual
objecthood. This is exactly what enables the viewer to get close to “das Ding”: the thickness of the
surface puts up resistance to the viewer's perception of the unity of the surface. It offers him an
ephemeral experience of desubjectivisation and re-subjectivation (something that perhaps can only
be reached through art and psychoanalysis). I will thus put under scrutiny two aspects of the
concept of sublimation: its application to highly-valuated cultural activities (painting as a
convention), and the use of dissolution of matter rather than of volatile materials.

(1) CLAY Jean, transl. BREWER Daniel, “Painting in Shreds”, SubStance, volume 10, n°2, 1981, pp. 49-74. Online:
(2) LACAN Jacques, L’Éthique de la psychanalyse (séminaire VII, 1959-1960), Paris, Le Seuil, 1986, p. 132.


Claire Salles:

. French student at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and at the École Normale
Supérieure (Département d'histoire et théorie des arts).

.PhD Project: Image and truth. Receptions of Jacques Lacan in visual art theories since 1966, in French, German and English thought
. Master's thesis supervised by Mr. Georges Didi-Huberman: “Le sujet instauré par le tableau.
Penser les années 1970 de Martin Barré avec la psychanalyse” (“The Subject Set Up by The
Painting: Thinking Martin Barré's 1970s Paintings with Psychoanalysis”) (July 2017).
. Foundation and organization of the students' seminar “Art, psychoanalysis, society” (École
Normale Supérieure, 2016-2017).
. Conference “Visualités, textualités. Phénomènes de transfert en psychanalyse et
Medienwissenschaft”, EHESS, 2-3 décembre 2016, Paris. Communication: “La peinture en séton :
dire l’oeuvre abstraite de Martin Barré”.
. The International Consortium of Art History: “Imagination”, École de Printemps, 8-13 mai 2017,
Genève. Communication: “La perspective au risque de l'imaginaire lacanien”.
. [to be published, September 2017]: exPosition (online), “Le polyptyque 60-T-45 de Martin Barré :
convoquer le mur d'accrochage pour dévoyer le sujet”.
. Languages: French (mother language), English, German.