L'énigme Linda Naeff

11th January - 9th February 2014

Linda Naef’s work is abundant.  It includes paintings on paper, canvas, wood and recycled materials; clay sculpture, assemblages, books, writings…. and there is much more.  When we try to comprehend this outpouring, we are confronted with a dilemma: most of the works are impossible to see because they are buried under this prodigious production.  Carefully wrapped in plastic, hundreds of works are piled on top of one another in the artist’s home.  In order to select the items for this exhibition, we needed the skills of an expert at pick-up-sticks to prevent the piles collapsing, and those of a tightrope walker to navigate the jungle of hidden treasures.  While this retrospective shows a wide range of Linda Naef’s work, you can be sure that there is as much again to see.

The mountains of diverse work take up more space in the apartment on Boulevard Carl Vogt than the occupant, almost as though they are holding it up.  This density, invasive and impenetrable, reflects the contradictions with which Linda views her own work.  There is a chasm between her private universe on the one hand, and a clear wish to communicate with people on the other.  There are messages calligraphed on all kinds of supports, and the spirit of this elderly rebel who does not spare her words is legendary.  This double existence also explains her wish to share her creation with the public, and the feeling of physical amputation when she is separated from her works as though their structural function applies not only to her apartment but to her own body. 

The ambiguity which constitutes both the strength and fragility of Linda Naef makes her particularly endearing. It also makes her fundamentally unclassifiable.  Nevertheless, the urgency to create which we can sense in her work, leads us to compare her to artists close to the heart of Jean Dubuffet.  The French painter, responsible for the concept and collection of Art Brut, and Michel Thévoz, the first director of the Lausanne Collection de l’Art Brut, were confronted by artists who were not wholly “brut” nor wholly cultural.  In the 1980s they thus created an annex to the collection entitled “Neuve Invention”, a kind of intermediate zone between the two extremes.  In this context, Linda Naef’s work is in good company. 

Another factor links Linda to these artists: the emergence of her creative powers at the age of 60.  For her as for the others, it is comparable to the eruption of a long-dormant volcano, or the bursting of a dam which transforms a quiet river into a torrent. 

The themes which Linda Naef addresses in her paintings and through other techniques, lead us to her broken childhood, her abused youth and the injustice she suffered in silence for a long time.  Even though she has managed to recover and to lead a more peaceful life, half a century later the explicit cruelty of the images reveals the persistence of the extreme anxiety of her past.  While the figures, moods and scenes she presents in her paintings are brutally shocking, this mutinous artist invites us to celebrate with her the joy and the power of creativity through the choice of unusual and surprising supports and a range of glittering and festive colours.  We willingly allow ourselves to be engulfed by her divided universe where passionate feelings and a moral discourse finally find their freedom of expression in a form which contains them. / Teresa Maranzano (Art Historian)

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