Critics’ Picks

Cyprien Gaillard, Cities of Gold and Mirrors, 2009, 16 mm film transferred to DVD, 8 minutes 57 seconds.

Cyprien Gaillard, Cities of Gold and Mirrors, 2009, 16 mm film transferred to DVD, 8 minutes 57 seconds.


Cyprien Gaillard

Atelier Hermès
Maison Hermès Dosan Park B1F
November 27, 2020–January 17, 2021

In his peripatetic oeuvre, Cyprien Gaillard traverses fossil remains in the marble walls of subway stations in the former Soviet Bloc; a deserted landscape in the Babylon region of Iraq with heaps of abandoned cars and half-demolished buildings guarded by armed soldiers; and the moldering remnants of a Rodin sculpture in Cleveland that suffered a bomb planted by the Weather Underground in 1970. For “Dwelling in the Ruins,” his concise, piercing exhibition at Atelier Hermès, the artist returns to the conceptual backbone that unites such disparate localities: the poetics of ruins.  

Reinforcing the subject are two early films, installed at the center of the exhibition on opposite sides of the same screen. Two young men daringly plunge into a lake against a withering cityscape in the outskirts of Paris in The Lake Arches, 2007, only to rush out momentarily as one bleeds, the concrete ground beneath the water proving deceptively shallow. In Cities of Gold and Mirrors, 2009, Gaillard broaches the disturbing mélange of capitalism and colonialism in the city of Cancún, stitching together footage of drunken spring breakers chugging tequila, a mysterious man in a head-to-toe red outfit dancing alone amid the ruins of the Maya civilization, and the slow-motion explosion of a glittering glass edifice that leaves behind an uncannily alluring cloud of dust. Surrounding the screen are two series of double-exposed polaroids in which erratic, unpredictable elements are condensed into a single frame. An amethyst crystal from the American Museum of Natural History in New York is superimposed on nondescript urban structures in “Sober City” (2015/2020), and invasive species overwhelm a convenience store beer fridge in “Everything but Spirits” (2020). Throughout, Gaillard hints at the perils of human hubris that obliterate indigenous cultures and natural ecosystems, as well as turn his very subjects into objects of decay. It’s only fitting that the artist revisits the moral imperative behind his expansive visual archeology, near the end of a peculiar year in which such dangers were more palpable than ever.