Max Coyer at Harm Bouckaert Gallery

“The Recovery of Jean Cocteau,” the title of Max Coyer s recent exhibition, alludes to Cocteau’s treatment for opium addiction at a hospital at Saint Cloud in 1929. As part of the treatment program, Cocteau kept a journal and made a series of drawings, several of which may be taken as self- portraits in extremis. “The Recovery of Jean Cocteau” can also be taken in the sense of the current rejuvenation of Cocteau’s artistic reputation.

Coyer’s use of Cocteau’s work in his series of paintings is another step in his recycling of the past. Coyer has spoken of the present age as a synthetic period: he feels that, in the best Hegelian manner, the seeming opposites of academic and modernist art have become a common field from which today’s artists can pick.

Coyer has ranged far and wide in this field; his past work has drawn from the Renaissance and from Surrealism, as well as a variety of architectural styles. Such a program puts Coyer into company with much con- temporary art. At its most facile, such an approach results in a stylish eclecticism- everything by turns, nothing for very long. At its best, this approach can be the painterly equivalent of Hesse’s glassbead game, where elements from an almost infinite variety of sources are assembled in thought-provoking juxtapositions, then disassembled and further reconstituted.

The Death of Vitellius is a typical example of Coyer’s method. The toga-clad figure dominating the painting is taken from one of Cocteau’s opium drawings. In the middle of the figure can be seen the outline of a bound hand, taken from the 19th-century painter Jules-Eugene Lenepveu’s painting of the same title. The architecture at the left is from Tintoretto’s Finding of Saint Mark. Barely visible is the hind leg of a horse from an equestrian portrait by Velasquez.