Critics’ Picks

View of “Toni Grand,” 2014.

View of “Toni Grand,” 2014.

Geneva

Toni Grand

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCO)
10, rue des Vieux-Grenadiers
October 16, 2013–January 12, 2014

Audacious and original, the French sculptor Toni Grand has a devoted following in his own country but remains little known abroad, even after his work appeared in the 1982 Venice Biennale and Documenta X. As a result, Grand’s current retrospective in Geneva—“Nature et Artefact” (Nature and Artifact)— becomes all the more valuable: It systematically documents the many influential series that make up his oeuvre, beginning with his early sculptures created in the late 1960s when he was associated with the Supports/Surfaces group. These pieces—tree trunks and branches—all bear the signs of simple actions (sawing, planing, gluing) that are meticulously enumerated in their titles. The artist had an obvious affinity for the poetics of his time: His work encompassed elements of anti-form and Minimalism (Richard Serra’s famous Verb List, 1969, comes to mind). And yet his choice of rough wood—an organic material laden with symbolic references—immediately signifies a unique stance.

Grand’s practice reached a turning point when he began to employ synthetic resin, first in conjunction with wood and then, more audaciously, with stones, animal bones, and, finally, even eels, all of which he dipped in the substance and then arranged into structures up to fifteen meters long. These works explicitly manifest Grand’s career-long interest in the dialectic between nature and culture, between the human gesture that appropriates and transforms and the materials to which it is applied. Grand’s take often seems pensive, if not critical; in his creations, it’s hard not to see heteroclites of monstrous grafts—perhaps genetic experiments gone awry. (The impression of a meddling human presence is heightened in the sculptor’s last creations, for which large industrial hoists function as unusual pedestals and support.) And yet the artist steadfastly denied that his works were driven by any narrative or symbolic intentions—a claim that renders his art all the more enigmatic and fascinating. As he once wrote in a letter: “The absence of meaning, or its most apparent removal, that is happiness.”

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.