The silence of the angel
The art world is high–profile visual artist Théo Mercier’s oyster. Yann Siliec
— With his angelic looks that could set reels of film on fire, and his sensual, haunting voice, Théo Mercier refuses to be drawn on the theory behind his work. He perpetuates the mystery behind his vocation. But it doesn’t matter. It’s up to the readers, spectators and collectors of his otherworldly creations to appropriate it. “My mission as an artist is to challenge or disturb without being provocative. In a society that serves up a mishmash of information daily, leaving little room for the people watching, listening or sifting through it to take it in, the work of art exists precisely to stimulate the way they look at it, their minds and their freedom to interpret it.” Imagine a garage, the roar of a monster motorbike revving up, a masked Daft Punk stuntman […]. In the distance you can hear the sound of a harpsichord playing baroque music. Then you see a transgender body, bust thrust forward, claws out, perched on high heels, turning on the charm in a number that could shift tectonic plates. Anyone who didn’t have the good fortune to see this performance should jot down the future dates of Radio Vinci
Park in their diary — a chance to understand the venom and the honey, the chiaroscuro games and urban mythology stirring up the depths of their own fantasies, summoned by every tour de force Théo Mercier pulls off. The artist and sensation of the moment is unclassifiable. He doesn’t belong to a movement, and never looked to others to trigger his lightning rise to fame. Born in 1984, the enfant terrible of the art world grew up in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, surrounded by parents with a great interest in the arts and four beloved little sisters. At home on the Rue Lepic, he didn’t play with anything, choosing instead to begin a career as a serial collector, accumulating over two hundred E.T. figurines, precious stones, marbles, frogs and a catfish. Far from the preoccupations of kids his age, he found inspiration in this strange clutter, that stirred a fascination for underground cutlure, which continues to haunt him to this day. A cross between a tarantula dealer and a pirate, scouring Truffaut garden centres or the Saint –Ouen flea market, Théo Mercier finally chose a world rather than a career. This world combined all his aspirations, which, once he had graduated from the ENSCI school of industrial design in Paris, and the arts university in Berlin, would catapult him into working with Bernhard Willhelm on his stage costume collection for Björk.
In 2008, he went to New York to assist Matthew Barney on his River of Fundament opera project. Now a true blue blood of fascinating design, the multi–talented young artist sent his planets spinning, and the critics sat up and took notice as soon as they saw his first solo exhibition, in 2009, at the Hunting and Nature Museum in Paris. One year later, the “shooting star ” had the international press at his feet when he created The Loner ( Le Solitaire ), a monumental sculpture made entirely of woven spaghetti, displayed at the Paris Modern Art Museum, until it was acquired by the Antoine de Galbert collection. Sex, death, everyday life, mixed hybrids, ruins of the future, and diverted objects constantly invade a human comedy that is part macabre, part sublime, a blackboard becoming raw flesh, showing skeletons and phantoms, strangely bewitching and insidiously petrifying. It would nonetheless be simplistic to see only theological material belonging to others in Théo Mercier’s perspective. His earthly power is that his work cannot be categorised. He has the ability to question the natural process of art and time, resuscitating archaeology as a work of fiction, overturning the codes of space and time, spurning contemporary fashion obsessions and preferring the remains of fantasised civilisations. His
The Thrill Is Gone exhibition, for example, at Marseille’s Contemporary Arts Museum in 2016, meshed his own sculptures, authentic 18th–century jars, Mesopotamian art, fake fossils, reproductions of ceramics and PVC tubes. Behind the mix of skeletons and American football masks exhibited as though they were Palaeolithic remains, the 30 – year – old artist never ducks issues, throwing himself headlong into the very flesh of his art, solar and optimistic or bloodthirsty and dark.
Between his studios in Mexico City and Belleville, Paris, Théo Mercier walks the tightrope of history and is now represented by the Paris–based Bugada & Cargnel Gallery. He doesn’t set himself boundaries, appearing in a string of exhibitions and performances, and he also works frequently with musicians Philippe Katerine, Connan Mockasin and the Sexy Sushi, who’s all the rage at the moment. Does art now warrant its sacred reputation as a temple to the serious? Whether the fundamentalists of discipline like it or not, no one can describe a disconcerting work — one that should command the utmost attention and interest — better than the artist himself: “My work as a visual artist revolves mainly around a game. I always try to preserve a sense of derision and of keen, specific humour. This allows me to take on some terrifying subjects. Thanks to humour, art enables you to talk about the best and the worst, in a word, everything.”