Artist Thierry Alet has been on the global art scene for over fifteen years. He occupies a space reserved for few, as both artist and creative producer. As a proverbial son of the Caribbean, he stands on the shoulders of many intellectual heavies in this region, who have explored the notion of cultural identity in their literary works; many finding identity more in flux than fixed. During my interview with Alet he inquired, “Have you read Frantz Fanon?” and continued, “I’m reading this book by Maryse Condé and she’s discussing a quote by Frantz Fanon. He [Frantz Fanon] doesn’t say this explicitly but what is implied is that people tend to confuse culture and custom; custom is straightforward and culture is always moving.” Alet’s work has traces of identity, but rather than identity relative to skin color, his work draws from the contexts of European art history, global literature, and memory.
The Caribbean is Condé’s place of origin and was also home to Fanon and Aimé Césaire, who shares Alet’s birthplace of Basse-Pointe. The literary works of these authors have greatly influenced Alet, but they do not dictate his intellectual thought nor serve to locate his work primarily in the space of identity. Instead, there seem to be parallels between Alet’s visual work and the way that Condé blends and mixes her characters voices to shift between genders. For example, many of Alet’s drawings are not gender specific, and one body can have both male and female genitalia.
In tandem with his daily practice as an artist, Alet is also founder of the not-for-profit agency, FRèRE Independent that produces multiple exhibitions and medium scale global art fairs. FRèRE Independent, most notably produces The PooL Art Fair of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Miami, and New York. PooL is a salon style art fair that features emerging artists from the U.S. and internationally. PooL provides an opportunity for artists who are not represented by a gallery to show work in two major art hubs: New York and Miami. Alet is also carving out a space for Guadeloupe and Martinique to become destination art fair locations. When it comes to the exhibitions he produces Alet shuns the word “curator” indicating that he prefers the term “impresario”. “Ike Ude called me that a few years ago,” he said.
Art fairs and biennial’s are part and parcel of the art world; fairs being the high gloss spaces of high-end commercial exchange and biennials much less of an immediate public sell, but can also be a bit glamorous. Most often the biennials are by invitation, organized by curators that are selected by the host city or museum. Fairs on the other hand are often fleshed out by artist submissions and/or open calls sent out by organizations (such as FRèRE Independent), or they feature the work of artists represented by particular galleries. The primary goal of the art fair is to sell art, a secondary goal, depending on the organizer or producer, is to provide an exhibition space and platform for emerging artists.
When asked why he develops elaborate art fairs rather than a biennial, Alet still seems to be soul searching, “ego, maybe? no?” he said, and continued by stating, “what makes a person is not what they do, but their intention.” While it is questionable whether ego plays a major a role in Alet’s production of art fairs, his earnest desire to provide a platform for art and artists exists at the core. It is clear that Alet’s intention is to be an active participant in the global contemporary art scene as both leader and creator. To that end, his actual work ethic seems to precede him and affirms his identity as artist and impresario.
In the latter half of 2012 Alet was simultaneously making art and organizing exhibitions. In September, he produced the Sketchbook Show at Galerie Protégé in New York, where he also exhibited work, and participated as an artist in the FNB Joburg Art Fair. He received the prestigious Andy Warhol Foundation Grant and received the high honor of becoming a Chevalier of the Order of Arts & Lettres of the French Republic. In addition, he produced several exhibitions out of his gallery T & T Jarry in Guadeloupe, and concluded the year with PooL Martinique in November and PooL Miami in December at Art Basel, Miami.
When asked how he self-identifies, Alet says that he associates most comfortably as an artist. He received his initial training at the Institut Régional d’Art Visuel in Martinique and continued with his Masters degree at Pratt Institute in New York where he studied painting and drawing. Alet creates text-based and site specific installations, large-scale paintings, and drawings. Speaking passionately about his drawings he said, “When I draw, I don’t try to imagine something to draw. I look at the paper and I see the figure manifest on the page [of paper] and I just draw it, I draw what I see, and I feel like those are old spirits who want their picture taken.” The “old spirits” that Alet refers to come from stories told by his grandmother of a Japanese religious practice where there are people living between the human world and the afterlife. In the afterlife, the spirits take on the form of the body that they had when they left. Therefore, if a person was disfigured or dismembered in their primary human world, he or she will live in that same body in the secondary life. These images and characters appear throughout Alet’s drawings, whereas the texts found in his installations are taken and repurposed from books.
The full spectrum of Alet’s visual work would require greater study and a proper critique to deconstruct and discuss the themes of sexuality and uselessness, the significance of repurposing text in installations, and other motifs. What remains most compelling about Alet is his dual identity as an artist and impresario, and his continued ability to traipse the globe while sustaining these practices simultaneously. His studio space in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood reflects both of these practices. It is almost equally divided. Upon entry, his visual work on canvases and other objects line both walls. Moving through the rectangular space it opens up into the area where he makes work and hold his. These spaces are divided by a table; the hub of discussion, ideas and more.
In the context of major global biennale’s and art fairs, Alet’s dual practice as an artist and producer of exhibitions and fairs, situates him in a unique position. Both Alet and his organization are relevant to culture and customs yet somehow remain unbound by either. In creating the PooL Art Fair he has established a custom of hosting yearly global art fairs. As an artist he remains fluid by being in motion. Through his active participating, studying, and producing he is somehow unobtrusively hyper-visible. Alet will remain as one to watch in the years ahead as he and his organization have room to grow, and leave an enduring imprint in global art history.
Una Kariim A. Cross is an artist and freelance arts writer. She has been published in Ebony.com, Loop21.com, Global Grind, The Huffington Post’s Black Voices. In 2009-2010 she was a Whitney Museum of American Art Education Fellow in the institutions Teacher Exchange Program. In 2010 she was an Artist- in-Residence at the Wexner Center for the Arts.