The title of the exhibition is a quote from an essay by John C. Welchman written in 1999 about Mike Kelley’s works. He referred to the attraction of the recently disappeared artists to forms we call “popular” – or at least outside of the values system established in the art world –, to his ability to develop “narrative strategies” as absurd as erudite, and also to the vernacular appropriation. The Vernacular Alchemists here evoked can be placed in this lineage and will to “shut down traditional disciplines whose logic is based on authenticity and originality”, while seeking to reveal the hidden face of our society.
However, if they show a particular interest in popular culture, they have exceeded the dichotomy between high and low culture, as seen since the mid-80’s. They are thus fully aware that these forms of alternative or underground culture are now assimilated into contemporary society, from the mainstream industry to the most prestigious museums. While the advocates of High & Low, mainly part of the West Coast scene and some now legendary exhibitions, do not hesitate to confront heterogeneous ideas, concepts and references, calling a nonchalance and an “aesthetic of cool” one could consider as typically Californian, the artists presented here rather tend to adopt a critical stance vis-à-vis this brutalist/appropriationist approach, including freeing the counter-cultural logic of their post-punk peers. Their approach is closer from alchemy, an attempt of transformation, transmutation that goes beyond the “simple” manipulation of pre-existing elements.
Whether they revisit forms of vernacular culture, folk, pagan or paganistic traditions, call ancient or more contemporary rituals, study heterodox group practices or develop real mythologies, the elements and concepts these artists use and combine reach to transcend reality. Without talking about “occult” or “shamanism”, one can legitimately refer to the concept of cosmogony as a very personal new reading of the world evolution even a “marginal reality”. They offer a radical investigation of the way we look at ourselves and at the world in general, building an autonomous universe governed by its own laws and aesthetic codes. An approach that one could call “anthropological theater”, that echoes many rites and legends, from the American Spiritualist movement to St Nicholas through various singular parades. All those traditions ultimately express social truths: by inventing imaginary worlds, these individuals or communities hold true discourses about themselves, while representing belief systems enrolled in a fundamentally religious context.
 John C. Welchman, « The Mike Kelleys », in Mike Kelley (sous la direction d’Isabelle Graw, Anthony Vidler et John C. Welchman), Londres, Phaidon Press, 1999, p. 87
 Hal Foster, « Re : post (Riposte) », in L’époque, la mode, la morale, la passion. Aspects de l’art d’aujourd’hui, 1977-1987, Paris, Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 1987, p. 466