For the return of the child prodigy of 2010s art in France, Cyprien Gaillard is consecrated with an exhibition in two parts, at the Palais de Tokyo and at Lafayette Anticipations. A solipsistic meditation around time, ruins and renovation, imbued with the defeatist melancholy of the end of the century.
It is from a bygone artist’s bill. Not very talkative, draped in mystery, without being locked up in his studio: Cyprien Gaillard has no social networks, refuses the game of media appearances, and we imagine him walking his wiry silhouette of skinned alive along these immense shadowless spaces removed from the course of time, which he has made his subject and his material.
Deserts, fossils, ruins and soul-searching. Obviously, by the disappearance, an aura precedes him and has, more than any other French artist, transformed him into a character: he is the prodigy son of the art of 2010, period Purple and soulless skateboarders. Anachronistic? Maybe. If it’s only his business, it’s precisely time, that which cannot be measured, flows cyclically and returns spectrally.
This fall, Humpty Dumpty therefore signs its big comeback, preceded by a few warning signs – the video Vie de Nuit (2015), presented at the Biennale de Lyon, the LUMA Arles Foundation or the Vuitton Foundation in Paris, or this other, Ocean II Oceanpresented at the Venice Art Biennale in 2019.
Fossils in the Underground: Cyclic Time and Memories
At the Palais de Tokyo, the Humpty section poses an inventory of the sediments of history, of the becoming-dust of all human architecture. Along the route are articulated the first works of the artist (The Lake Arches2007), resonating with historical loans (Giorgio de Chirico, Robert Smithson, Käthe Kollwitz), recent milestones in his career (the immersive video Formation, 2022, the ready-made Gargoyles spitting lead [1973-1914]2022) and the invitation of a peer (Daniel Turner).
What is taking shape is a meditation on memories, the archaic resurfacing for those who know how to perceive it in the midst of everyday urban life. Like a recent video, tracking ammonites flush with marble from Soviet-era metro stations (Ocean II Ocean2019).
The title of the two proposals comes from a nursery rhyme popularized by Lewis Caroll in Alice in Wonderland : Humpty Dumpty is an egg character who shatters into a thousand pieces, failing to reconnect with his full and complete form. There is question, in the spatial distribution of the two sections, of an impossibility to cross the threshold and of a mythological texture which could be that of a Persephone in the underworld kidnapped by Hades.
Paris covered with scaffolding, at the risk of obliteration
At Lafayette Anticipations, a threshold is nevertheless crossed, although hampered, like the materialization of an impossible maintained as a quest. There, the corpus switches to a contemporary Paris, the very one that sees the city covered with scaffolding for the urban renewal launched on the eve of the 2024 Olympic Games.
From this vast operation of selecting traces of the past and their ideological burial, from this targeted preservation according to criteria of value, Cyprien Gaillard draws an example that he places at the heart: sculpture The Defender of Time by Jacques Monestier, installed since 1979 in the Quartier de l’Horloge in Paris, an automaton striking the hours represented by a figure of a fighter coming to life to fight mythological animals.
Since 2003, the automaton has been paralyzed, returned to its programmed erosion. The intervention will then be to repair the master of time: make it move, ring, come back to life, punctuated by the pop hits punctuating its years of operation and by the atmospheres of noises from cafes, taxis and other background sounds calling to buried memory.
The Defender of Timesounding the lost illusions
At the end of the exhibition, the reactivated sculpture will return to the neighborhood in question. A tiny repair that shows the impossibility of reversing the course of things and time alone, while exhibiting a grandiloquent tenacity to tackle it nevertheless.
It is a struggle lost in advance, drawing its beauty from the impossibility of the task, a solipsism of dark romanticism with lost illusions that only an art world can produce today, welcoming a melancholy of ends, consisting in enjoy the collapse and feast on the decline.
As if all was lost in advance, as if creation could no longer say anything new, nor attempt to invent other operating modes and that only a Huysmanian aesthetic attitude would persist, at least in the imagination, at the end of century and neurasthenic.
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For his big return to France, the artist Cyprien Gaillard takes the time head on – Les Inrocks
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