Jean-Luc Moulène La personne at Centre Pompidou
Another exclusive from the Pompidou center. Well, it would have been more so if this post appeared yesterday but we got distracted by some unforeseen and unplanned emergencies (drinking beer and complaining about life in a first pub next to Pompidou center). Anyhow the exhibition was inaugurated yesterday and we were there at the opening. So our impressions about the show.
Jean-Luc Moulène, Voyelles/Vowels, 2015.
This time around, the overall opinion is not overtly good nor bad. It is somewhere in the middle. Let’s talk about the positives first. The artists has an interesting practice of composing the so called meta-works of art, meaning that many different stand alone installations, sculptures, photos etc. come together to form a meta (or a supra, if you will) work of art that transcends the singular piece. This is interesting, further more because he brakes down the same process in the creation of a singular work of art as well. His trademark (or one of his defining treadmarks) is composing a singular piece out of several different fragments. Meaning, he takes three different statues, chops them up and glues them together to form a singular work. So it becomes a single statue, although it is intentionally quite clear that it is made out of threads and fragments (sometimes clearly mutilated in the process) of the previously existing works. He does the same with the integral objects as well, bringing them together to form unexpected alliances.
Jean-Luc Moulène, Os mauve, 2016.
Furthermore, he develops the notion of bringing things together by forming sculptures that are made out of a singular piece of material (resin plastic, or stone) but are composed shapes – like a mixture of a female body and a car (aptly named Voiture Fille or a Car-Girl) or a digitized, polygonized rendition of a weather worn bone. He is interested in building visual metaphors through the process (what a car represents and what a naked female body represents – those notions are fused together, made to interact). Now, this, is at the same time a good thing and a bad thing – we’ll get to that later. Onwards with the positive aspects of his work.
Jean-Luc Moulène, Indexes, 2016.
Most of these works, and this is very commendable in the context of contemporary art, are openly visual. Meaning that he doesn’t distance himself from the visual medium – he doesn’t abandon it for the sake of the concept. Some of these works have a very clear and a very developed visual ambition, as they are clearly carefully composed. Visual harmony, however incomplete, is plain to see. Now, it seems to be the very point and the very intention of the artist – he deliberately (such was our impression and subjective judgment, at least) fails to achieve beauty and harmony. He deliberately leaves these objects aesthetically incomplete, in order to provoke a sentiment of unease and a visual frustration, as slight as it may be. Here is his link to the context of contemporary art (making the audience feel uneasy rather than aesthetically please them). Yet, he does that very subtly and the effort is appreciated.
Jean-Luc Moulène, Pythie/Pythia, 2016.
Now, for the negatives. We already mentioned that his fusing of forms is a good and a bad thing at the same time. Building a visual metaphor is a tricky process that often backfires. Applied arts, specially posters and logos, use it mercilessly and beat the notion into the ground. So much so, in fact, that the saturation of that particular practice has long ago devolved into a gimmick. We get it – you found two shapes that visually may connect but symbolically and functionally are apart so you brought them together to make it interesting. We get it, and we got it a long time ago. In many (and we mean many) occasions this just feels gimmicky, cheap and tired. This goes for applied arts but even more so with “high” arts. You simply expect more than a “catch”, however interesting or funny it may be. It is pretty similar to our reaction to Magritte’s work. He’s been doing his thing more than fifty and sixty years ago and it felt tired even then. Is is even more tired now. It’s a dead horse, stop kicking it already.
Now to be just, it is fair to say that these works do posses a strong visual aspect and cannot therefore be written off as pure gimmicks. They are more than that. But they would be even more if this aspect, obviously important to the artist, would be taken out of them. Where he really shines is when he builds abstract objects that are on the very edge of an aesthetically pleasing form and an absolute mess. But when he gets into fusing shapes together, that is when his art is at its lowest in terms of originality.
There is a Guardian article on the exhibition he had in London’s Thomas Dane gallery from April to May. There, an enthusiastic journalist gleefully comments on the decadence of the French art and their (national sport) of taking delight into watching their culture dissolving into obscurity. They feel that it is the most important aspect of Jean Luc-Molène’s work, a danse macabre of the sorts. Frankly, apart from the mentioned slight visual disharmony and a reappropriation of fragmented (and mutilated) old sculptures, you cannot really feel that anywhere in his work. Cultural appropriation has been a subject all over the postcolonial world, and neither France (which really is a broad generalisation) nor Jean Luc-Moulène’s art seem to have any special connection to it. The feeling we got was much rather a sophisticated unease than anything else – and if something is a defining trait of a French culture, and a very (very!) vital one, that is exactly that – a sophisticated sentiment of unease, a hair-thin feeling that things are not at their 100%, and that they can never be. We would define his art by a famous quote from William Blake’s poem Auguries of Innocence (because no one really bothers to read past those notorious first four verses) – “To see the world in a grain of sand”. That grain of sand that is missing, that hair thin aspect that is lacking in his visual harmony, there is an entire world of uneasiness to be found there. For embodying that, this exhibition and Jean-Luc Moulène’s work is worth visiting, getting familiar with and discussing. For his gimmicky hack-and-slash compositions, it’s not.
P.S An advice for the penny pinchers out there : the exhibition is at the first floor so it’s quite easily visible through the massive windows of the Pompidou Center. We’re expecting a lot of people glued to those massive glass pannels interested in the show but reluctant to pay the admission fee.
Jean-Luc Moulène, Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou,
19th October 2016 to 20th February 2017