Critics’ Picks

View of “Terra-mare” (Land-Sea), 2010.

View of “Terra-mare” (Land-Sea), 2010.

Avignon

Miquel Barceló

Collection Lambert en Avignon
5 rue Violette
June 27–November 7, 2010

In a temporary installation in Avignon’s fourteenth-century Palace of the Popes, Miquel Barceló’s unglazed clay masks dot the denuded stone walls of the gothic Grand Chapel, but the humility of the Spanish artist’s material in this context translates as merely trivial. Better to see his oeuvre where its earthiness can also register elegance, at the nearby Collection Lambert, Yvon Lambert’s eighteenth-century hotel particulier devoted to contemporary art. In “Terra-mare” (Land-Sea), over three hundred of Barceló’s paintings; sculptures in clay, plaster, and bronze; and works on paper made in the past twenty years give the impression that they span more than twenty thousand years. His mixtures of oil and dirt, paper, and even foodstuffs on large-format canvas pose as primal and primordial surfaces. Canvases transform into craggy walls on which Neolithic-looking antelopes hop in silhouette—in works like Black Market, 2000, or Very very far away, a very long time ago, 2004, which evokes a segment of prehistoric earth blown with white dust and treacherous with stalagmites.

His work in clay often skews toward messy and playful, exemplified by Paso doble (Two Step), 2006, a performance at the Avignon Theater Festival in which he gouged into a wet clay wall with a wire loop at the end of a pole, eventually tilling a gaping monumental mask from the once vertical plot. Despite their rough surfaces, Barceló’s paintings represent with an often stunning precision—in Skull in Red, 2007, the eye finds the delicate curves of conch shells and clams intact, a polished still life projected across a prehistoric morass.