[Critique] “Beginnings”: the artistic life of Catherine Millet

After making a scandal with The sex life of Catherine M. (Seuil, 2001), in which a 53-year-old woman, an influential specialist in contemporary art, recounted frankly and without affect, with disconcerting sincerity, how she had become « a girl who sleeps with a lot of people », Catherine Millet continues his autobiographical enterprise.

Twenty years later, in the wake of day of suffering and D’A dream childhood (Flammarion, 2008 and 2014), which made less noise, Beginnings this time goes up the thread of another vocation.

The one who became an influential art critic and exhibition curator, co-founder of the magazine Art Press in 1972 (of which she is still the editorial director), tells us about her simultaneous discovery of working life and the visual arts.

Carried by the circumstances and by the time, « immersed by chance in an environment », it is in a way the story of a birth and that of a long improvisation session that Catherine Millet tells us this time, from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s.

Overnight, in 1966, it was therefore a « thoughtless teenager » who left her childhood room in Bois-Colombes, a town located north-west of Paris, to move in not far from there with her lover, Daniel . Two years later, they will migrate to a maid’s room in rue Bonaparte and the frenzy of the capital, where Daniel (Templon) had just opened a small art gallery in the unused cellar of an antique shop. of Saint-Germain-des-Pres.

Portrait of an era

In the midst of political and cultural ferment — think Cecil Taylor, Pierre Guyotat and As isBarthes and Foucault —, a little also by contagion, Catherine Millet, who knew nothing about art but who had wanted to write for a long time, became an art critic in 1968 for French lettersa cultural weekly directed by the poet Louis Aragon.

It is therefore a kind of apprenticeship novel without fiction, where the autobiographer tells us about his « reverse » discovery of the history of art, initiated by the conceptual art which was in vogue in the early 1970s. This is what allowed this studious to “do her humanities”, she who has never attended university. “My artistic knowledge was so meager that I had no more idea of ​​what a modern work of art was than I had moral a priori about what should or should not be done. do with men. »

In Beginnings — note the plural — there is also a lot of talk about others. And if Catherine Millet is shameless, she is not narcissistic there. Comrades, colleagues or artists, lovers of a time or always, those who crossed her path during these crazy years, who sometimes learned everything at the same time as her, receive her attention, her generosity and her acknowledgement.

“We were so novices that we did not have time, as converted as we were to the minimalist and conceptual aridity, written with lucidity Millet, to become sectarian. » Lyrical abstraction and conceptual art, countries, lovers, artists, everything blended in the bath of an immense vitality specific to this period and of which his career testifies marvelously.


★★★ 1/2

Catherine Millet, Flammarion, Paris, 2022, 320 pages

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