Alexandre Singh: A Gothic Tale
Legion of Honor / September 7, 2019 – April 12, 2020
SAN FRANCISCO (June 26, 2019) — A Gothic Tale, a newly commissioned film and installation for the Legion of Honor by Alexandre Singh, draws inspiration from the Gothic literary tradition of 19th century Europe, as well as San Francisco’s place in the cinematic history of film noir (such as Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai, 1947, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, 1958). Opening on September 7, A Gothic Tale is Singh’s first solo presentation in a West Coast institution.
Staged in the Legion of Honor’s galleries of medieval art, A Gothic Tale introduces Singh’s imaginative universe through his debut short film, The Appointment, a playful thriller that unfolds with the fatalism of film noir. Embracing the twisted and fantastical traits of Gothic literature from E. T. A. Hoffmann to Roald Dahl, the film is a darkly comic tale of doubling and mistaken identity. Henry Salt, an enfant terrible of letters, wakes from a nightmare to find a disturbing entry in his diary: “12 o’clock at the restaurant La Folie”. But whom is Henry meeting, and why doesn’t he remember making this appointment? When no one shows, Henry becomes obsessed with solving the mystery. Charging through a series of surreal encounters, he discovers that the truth is more disturbing than he could have possibly imagined.
Conceptualized and designed by Singh with art historian Natalie Musteata, A Gothic Tale begins with a selection of works from the Fine Arts Museums’ encyclopedic collection that embody one of the key tropes of the Gothic tradition: the doppelgänger. In this eerie presage to the film, works that appear to be duplicates, such as prints of Roman tombs by Giovanni Battista Piranesi and biblical scenes by Albrecht Dürer, will be exhibited in a striking scenography of mirrored walls, in which the works of art, and viewers alike, are endlessly reflected. Together, these works resonate with the founding and history of the Legion of Honor, itself not only a copy of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris but also a funerary structure, located atop a former cemetery, and built to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the First World War.
“A Gothic Tale’s installation of works from the collection pays tribute to the legacy of the Legion of Honor’s groundbreaking curator Jermayne MacAgy,” states Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “In the 1940s, MacAgy revolutionized the practice of exhibition making through her innovative installation designs, that emphasized transcultural and transhistorical narratives.”
The film’s captivating score, written by the Dutch composer Gerry Arling, will be performed at scheduled intervals on the Legion of Honor’s historic Spreckels organ, filling the museum’s halls with the film’s haunting melody.
A Gothic Tale is on view at the Legion of Honor from September 7, 2019, through April 12, 2020. The exhibition is organized by Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It will coincide with the exhibition James Tissot (October 12, 2019 through February 9, 2020), which explores, in part, the 19th-century obsession with mysticism and connecting with the departed through séances.
About Alexandre Singh
Born in 1980 in Bordeaux, France, Alexandre Singh works in a wide range of media, including installation, performance, literature, collage, and video. His theater play The Humans was developed and premiered as part of Performa 13, 2013. Singh’s work has been the subject of solo presentations at White Columns, New York; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; and The Drawing Center, New York, as well as numerous group exhibitions throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, including the Whitney Biennial, Lyon Biennial, and Manifesta 8. Singh’s collaborations include Hello Meth Lab in the Sun at the Ballroom, Marfa, Texas, and UNCLEHEAD, with Rita Sobral Campos, at the Museu da Eletricidade, Lisbon.
About Natalie Musteata
Born in 1986 in New York City, Natalie Musteata is an art historian and curator whose work focuses on the history of artist-curated exhibitions, film, and performance art. She holds a doctorate in art history from The Graduate Center, CUNY. Recent publications include essays on Andy Warhol’s 1969 exhibition “Raid the Icebox 1” in The Journal of Curatorial Studies, and the 1972 installation-cum-exhibition “Womanhouse” in The Artist as Curator: An Anthology. In collaboration with EMU Films, she produced Singh’s surreal mystery The Appointment (2019).
Contemporary Art at the Legion of Honor
Overseen by Claudia Schmuckli, the Fine Arts Museums’ Contemporary Art Program launched in 2016 to present the work of living artists in dialogue with the Museums’ unique buildings and encyclopedic collections. In its first three years, installations by Carsten Nicolai (known as Alva Noto), Hilary Lloyd, Leonardo Drew, the art collective DIS, and Ranu Mukherjee transformed the de Young’s Wilsey Court. At the Legion of Honor, Urs Fischer, Sarah Lucas, Lynn Hershman Leeson, and Julian Schnabel each presented exhibitions in dialogue with the unique building and the landmark collection of works by Auguste Rodin.