In 800 Signs

It’s growing increasingly difficult to discuss contemporary art without mentioning Bertrand Lavier at one point or another. A little bit like the coats rack that Marcel Duchamp kept stumbling upon to the point he finally decided to nail it to the floor. The afore mentioned object, Trébuchet (Trap) is currently exhibited at La Monnaie in Paris where only a few months ago Bertrand Lavier’s solo show Merci Raymond took place (read on in French).

Why some keep on denying him France’s representation at the Venice Biennale remains to this day an unravelled mystery. Let’s move on to the meagre consolation that the artist will only be more available to fully explore other creative leads.

More Signs

There are several ways to explore his show, A cappella, at Almine Rech’s Gallery in Paris until April 15th.

Let’s opt for a first tour of the premises, rough and ready, devoid of any codes. It consists in wandering randomly through the works, driven by chance within the limits of our own intuition. Here, the coarsely shaped plaster statue, a corpulent silhouette in-between a Niki de Saint Phalle and a golem. There, two 170cm high stone columns, rather common except for two majors details both anachronic and antinomic: are those incrusted car lights?!

The following room is home to the first two copies of a strange series made of sinusoidal lines. We find out it’s Walt Disney Productions, a lineage started in 2017. Facing a triplet of monochromes (a heresy? a rupture in style?) signal panels announcing nearby points of interest : Paysages Aixois (landscapes of Aix) and Sombernon. If one can wonder whether in real life (meaning outside of MuCEM) they are likely to bump into a real signal for a paysage aixois, they get even more puzzled that a town with such an obscure name might exists except for a failed pun (“Sombre” meaning “dark” and “nom” meaning “name” in French). But still…

Let’s dare to take another look: the plate available from the gallery’s reception desk turns out to be a precious tool. Indeed, the Holy Graal reveals the titles of the exhibited works, an essential component of Bertrand Lavier’s art. And then we hear it: our own laughter reverberating on the white immaculate walls of the gallery.

The third walk-through takes us to the next level –if it were still necessary. The one where the passenger can fully enjoy the ride.

The statue of the lady with questionable proportions is la Venus d’Amiens, which Palais de Tokyo had already showcased in 2016 seizing the opportunity to interview the artist about the genesis of the piece. The original Venus, found in Amiens’ Rénancourt neighbourhood, is 24000 years old. It was found in 19 pieces. The fact called out to Lavier : « I could have stepped on it without noticing there was a sculpture ». Compelled by the photograph of this statue on the verge of becoming « a small heap of pebbles », he sets his mind on conducting an experiment and confront the archeological discovery with sculpture. He made it bigger and amplified selected details. To get it done, Lavier first contemplated a very contemporary material, something that would be very 21th century. Seeing a sculpture by Courbet whilst he was visiting Ornans’s museum made Lavier change his mind: his Venus would be made of plaster. All of a sudden it seemed like stating the obvious; plaster was the sole material that would make his Venus a model just like classics such as Milo’s Venus, whilst making it unarguably contemporary. The selected material enables a «compression in time of 24000 years» Lavier says. «It’s an upside-down world. Great sculptures end up in plaster, the Venus of Amiens starts in plaster».

Bertrand Lavier, La Venus d'Amiens, 2016
Bertrand Lavier, La Venus d’Amiens, 2016

Here is the visitor faced with the columns again: Colonne Lancia and Colonne Ford. Inspired by ready-made and archeology excavations, they stand for a response to the whilst establishing a dialog with hypothetical extraterrestrials looking for tokens of life on Earth. The two totemic figures recall pagan cults as much as the brand mythology phenomena. Once again, this compressed notion of time tackles the issue of the rise of religions, the articulation of their symbols and their rooting into collective consciousness.

Bertrand Lavier, Colonne Lancia et Colonne Ford, 2017
Bertrand Lavier, Colonne Lancia et Colonne Ford, 2017

Here come the monochromes : Bleu de Cobalt Foncé, Jaune de Cadmium, Vert de Cobalt. The complete series is a 2017 production. From a distance, they are just monochromes in thick layers of paint, a typical Lavier pattern except that the underlying object is missing. Take a closer look and there is no such thing. Underneath the paint applied in coarse layers, there are, ab initio, the customary painted objects. Bertrand Lavier has indeed painted over the  original photography of the painted object, in the very exact tone of its ascendance, thus creating the ultimate trompe l’œil, self-produced by the magic of the synecdoche effect -or through a Russian doll phenomena, according to individual taste.

Bertrand Lavier, Bleu de Cobalt foncé, 2017
Bertrand Lavier, Bleu de Cobalt foncé, 2017

Echoing back to them are the painted-over signal panels sweetly titled Paysages aixois (2014) et Sombernon (2016). The latter town does really exist and is a small bucolic and picturesque municipality of the French Côte d’Or, an area slightly bigger than 13 km2 where a bit less than 1000 living souls reside. By giving it a front-row seat, Bertrand Lavier questions once again our capacity to see as much the details as the big picture. He managed to create an iconography whereby the detail is extended so much that it leaves no room to the indifferent or jaded eye. Each of his works establishes a little deeper the accuracy of his outlook on the world and his great indecency to explore what falls through the cracks of more and more vulgar news headlines and the sanction of raised thumbs on the web.

Bertrand Lavier, Sombernon, 2016
Bertrand Lavier, Sombernon, 2016

Bertrand Lavier’s work stands for what brings contemporary art closer and farther away from the public altogether. Greatly profound, its depth is declined in an infinity of readability levels and puts the neophyte off but has an irresistible ingredient to retain the hesitating yet curious character and turn him into an addict: humour. It is empirically proven that Bertrand Lavier’s art makes people happy. Betraying a perfect command of the history of art, a great technical confidence and a sharp intelligence, the work is merely the reflection of its creator: humble, generous and beaming with contagious joy.


Bertrand Lavier, A capella, at the Almine Rech Gallery in Paris until April 15th 2017

Visuals courtesy Galerie Almine Rech