Documentary on French artist Guy de Cointet has its SoCal premiere in Riverside

Kevin Hoang/ HIGHLANDER

Marie de Brugerolle is an art curator and professor at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, France. In the past, she has curated retrospectives on Allen Ruppersberg, Larry Bell, prolific conceptual artist John Baldessari, as well as host the first global exhibition on Guy de Cointet.

If you’re like me and not accustomed to the world of fine art, you might wonder who is Guy de Cointet? That is the question that de Brugerolle seeks to address in her documentary film, “Who’s That Guy? Tell Me More… About Guy de Cointet.” This past Wednesday, Feb. 22, saw the Southern California premiere of the film which, given her adoration for Southern California artists, seems overdue. Nevertheless, the film, which was screened at the Barbara and Art Culver Center in downtown Riverside, attracted a large group of attendees – many of which were graduate students in the art department.

De Brugerolle prefaced the screening by giving a few words on the context by which it was brought up. On top of being a passion project which took a whole decade to release, “Who’s That Guy?” was not intended to be a documentary film at its onset but rather a display of appreciation for artists who, as de Brugerolle said, “pushed the limits of art.” The circumstances de Brugerolle detailed surrounding its lengthy production period emanated a sincerity I absolutely adore seeing in art; notwithstanding its amateurish nature (read: Charm) exemplified by the title menu’s misspelling of de Cointet’s name, de Brugerolle’s love for this obscure French artist got me hooked.

Then the film started. And it ended. It was, well, something else. “Who’s That Guy?” definitely speaks to artists and lovers of the fine arts the most, but for those with an undeveloped palate such as myself, it was an obscure trek that I will remember for quite some time. The film was typical documentary fare: Interviews of many people who knew de Cointet as well as videos of the works he directed composited a conceptual image of the artist that ultimately served to further his veil of mystique. De Cointet was undoubtedly a unique artist, one whose influence in the world of art is boundless. In lieu of his name being as recognizable as, say, Andy Warhol, de Cointet has this underground wonder that seems to have tapped into the hearts of individuals like Baldessari, Richard Jackson, de Brugerolle and as a result, myself and the attendees of this premiere.

Describing de Cointet’s oeuvre can best be done by drawing comparisons to “Days of Our Lives” meets Jackson Pollock meets “Finnegans Wake.” It was at times humorous, seeming to replicate the campiness of “Days of Our Lives,” which he would watch on the TV in his Los Angeles studio, at other times an impenetrable avant-garde fortress that hurt me to decipher. It exemplified the “pushing of language until language becomes the object until the object becomes the actor,” as she put it, something uniquely intriguing and beyond my level of comprehension. But I learned something that night about de Cointet, which was his mindset in creating his art. Like de Brugerolle said, “the person who must believe in your work must be you.” Now, it may sound like a cliche but that is only because it is absolutely true. The way de Cointet played with his art within the established norms, gathering intrigue and frustrated attempts to decipher his abstractions (absurdities some would say) only further spoke to the intent of his art.
De Brugerolle punctuated the screening with a secret she promised at the beginning, an inspirational quote of sorts that I hope speaks to whomever reads this, as confused as you may feel, “You have to live your dreams awake.”

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