Guillaume Leblon Back to the IAC
Work by Guillaume Leblon has been seen in group shows at the Institut d’Art Contemporain in Villeurbanne, but this is the time the institute has featured him in a solo exhibition (June 6-August 24). Conceived as a promenade and an artwork in its own right, this presentation once again demonstrates the pictoriality and diversity of his practice, often wrongly thought of as purely sculptural. In fact, he draws on many mediums and iconographic sources to make work in which different temporalities and dialogues with the visible produce a relationship with the world that may be poetic or rough-hewn, discreet or strongly declarative.
At the opening of the Guillaume Leblon exhibition at the Institut d’Art Contemporain de Villeurbanne, there was much talk about its enigmatic and confounding subtitle, À dos
de cheval avec le peintre (On Horseback with the Painter), borrowed from a W. G. Sebald poem. Why, and with what (obscure) motivation did this artist, whose place in the "French artistic landscape is so often given as "sculptor," want to attest to his attachment to painting? Such interrogations, not so say anguish, are testament to the eternal separation wall between artistic practices that is probably more problematic in France than in other countries, to an extent that, it must be said, verges on caricature in certain circles. Anyone who knows this artist and his work understands that painting, and, more generally, representation, has always been not peripheral but central to his concerns and thinking. He clearly understands the power of images, whether mental or derived from art history or a visual anthropology, sometimes recalled, sometimes residual; surfaces and how to occupy them, upend them and transform them; and the procedural and accidental qualities of pictures-inbecoming, and the possibilities of other mediums such as sculpture, cinema and photography to produce them. Not to mention the atmospheres, evocations and mises
en-scène of the visibility produced by this artist's pieces, and its iconographic and thematic resurgences. All these elements underline his dealings with a pictoriality, as latent, subterranean, buried and interfered with as it may be. Finally, we could mention his fertile intellectual bonds with painters like Miriam Cahn and Marc Desgrandchamps, whose work, in the eyes of a Parisian art world that is so taken with classifications and ghettoizations, seem incompatible— which is what makes it so interesting—with Leblon’s aesthetics, as indefinable and even less summarizable as they may be.
The Austrian composer Alban Berg once said that a curtain poorly opened or closed could ruin an opera. The same could be said for an exhibition meant to be an artwork in its own right. In designing the exhibition layout for the IAC, Leblon was able to dodge that risk by conceiving a display that is operational from the first piece to the last, liable to no criticism other than an excess of perfection. Few artists can boast such a penetrating vision of their own work, of its internal and organic logic. Few can so ap- propriately articulate the pieces to each other to generate a coherent and persuasive narrative, inserting bravura and caesura at just the right places and times, each ineluctably reinforcing the other. The fluidity of the progression in Leblon's exhibition is like that of the Richard Wagner score Thomas Mann praised for its Beziehungszauber (the magic of linked sequences or the miracle of connections). You are struck by this magic the minute you walk into the first exhibition room where the piece first made at Saint-Nazaire (
Faces contre terre, 2010) is literally topped by a plaster curved curtain. (2010) Both bear witness to the association with painting announced and pronounced by the exhibition's subtitle. The former— made of recycled elements whose common denominator is to have a flat surface, put together to make a kind of abstract patchwork quilt of separate items on the floor, covering the entire room—is an “impure” tip of the hat to certain trends, because of its horizontal position and site specificity, in Minimal and Concep-
tual art, with which Leblon's sensibility, in terms of genealogical reflexes, has clearly too often been associated, even if his manner of taking over exhibition and "institutional" spaces, to modify or alter them, sometimes discreetly and sometimes ostentatiously, could recall, for example, the interventions of someone like Michael Asher. The curtain, in turn, almost totally stripped of the faculty of hiding or separating, has been allowed to perfectly display its painterly qualities, showing through the folds of the undulating material. The heritage visible in it conveys its place in the rich history of sculpted drapery, a history that flows throughout the exhibition like a leitmotif.
Visitors are invited to walk down a specially set-up corridor running alongside the IAC that seems to be an extension of the curtain's curve, and then, once they come inside again, find themselves face to face with the truncated cube called National Monument (2006-2014). By means of a very specific dynamic process, it reflects the imbrication of time and space, time across space, and (hidden) volume and surface. The clay cube has been sawed into two different-sized parts, which are placed in adjoining rooms and wrapped in drapery that absorbs and oozes the humidity given off by the watered clay. Many of the pieces in this show are based on the clash between two- and three-dimensional vectors and the entanglement of spatial and temporal data. They include de- and recontextualized ready-made elements, as well as objects made by the artist or delegated to subcontractors. The mostly cheap materials he uses or misuses are often contrasted with one another and form a broad spectrum of combinatorial and stylistic possibilities. Anthropo- and zoomorphic, moving or immobile, these pieces are infused with a syntax that can be "figurative" or abstract and/or dependent on the fluctuating laws of geometry, chemistry or physics, or atmospheric or hygrometric conditions. These pieces are invariably heterogeneous, privileging, instead of the certainty of a comforting stability, the precariousness and unpredictability of vulnerable or procedural situations steeped in doubt, despite the air of assurance they give off, and defy any fixity that could lessen their potential for expansion and mutation. This principle of heterogeneity also marks the strategies of anamnesis that superimpose disjointed temporalities on all forms of instantaneousness and amnesia.
Leblon's work is full of memories and reminiscences. Some of these memories and reminiscences refer to the history of these pieces and, as a corollary, the venues where they were first shown, like for instance, Four
Ladders (2008), reinstalled in the same place where the IAC had shown them before. But there are also memories and reminiscences of fleeting, evanescent images that are now crystallized in scenarios that are often improbable and always surprising, like, for example, Manteau (2014), inspired, according to the wall text written by the artist, by "a woman in Vancouver crossing the street in the rain, her coat over her head. Giacometti went back to his studio in the rain, his head pulled down between his shoulders." The exhibition layout is full of snatches of memory, recollections and lingering moments. Some pieces are so discreet as to almost slip away and disappear, with the deliberate risk that they might go unnoticed. Others have a powerful hieratic presence, such as Lost Friend (cheval) Lost friend
(chien), one of Leblon’s latest works, conceived on site. These pieces could be considered concentrations of the contradictory vectors that drive Leblon’s practice. The two plaster imprints of animal mannequins perched on a metal armature represent several theoretically irreconcilable narratives. This piece gives off an air of mystery. The same is true of Chrysocales (2006-2013). Closed in behind interwoven reflective copper, zinc and tin alloys are objects taken from Leblon's daily life and now hidden from view. These containers of life evoke and convoke yet another narrative, this artist's life, thus demonstrating, as if it were necessary, that his work cannot be detached from private autobiographical factors. Between visibility and invisibility, roughness and sensuousness, proximity and distance, public and private spaces, before and after, his work today commands an indisputable authority.
Translation, L-S Torgoff
Erik Verhagen teaches contemporary art history at the Université de Valenciennes.
De haut en bas / from top: « La grande seiche ». 2014. Plâtre, mousse, encre polyuréthane, peinture au spray. 202 x101x14cm. (Court. galerie Jocelyn Wolff ; Ph. F. Doury). Plaster, polyurethane foam, spray paint, cuttlefish ink « Lost Friend (chien) » ; « Lost Friend (cheval) ». Vue de l’exposition « À dos de cheval avec le peintre ». 2014. IAC, Villeurbanne. (© B. Adilon)
« Chrysocale (Double Bed). 2013. Matelas, cuivre, étain, zinc. 188 x 140 x 30 cm (Court. galerie Jocelyn Wolff ; Ph. Art Evans - Mass Moca). Mattress, pillows, comforter and alloy of copper, tin, zinc