New York

Ben Vautier

John Gibson Gallery

Visible at the entrance of Ben Vautier’s show was a large red banner which proclaimed, “Life Is Made Out of Details.” It was a title of sorts for works around the walls supposed to represent or otherwise embody a few of those details. There were photographs of Vautier doing or holding something, accompanied by white scripted captions. The idea was that these works presented odd and incidental facts about the world, such as: Vautier happens to look like this, his house in Nice happens to look like that, or a piece of glass photographed from the proper angle allows us to see not only Vautier behind it, but the reflection of a fig tree as well.

Some other works consisted merely of the writing with no accompanying photo. One of these said: “What bothers me about this writing is its esthetic side.” This statement is typical of Vautier’s particular cul-de-sac of paradoxes: he wants his products only to be things, free of significance, free of art, and yet they are art. “To get glory with anti-glory ideas,” says another poster. Paradox has overwhelmed Vautier and left him merely with ideas. He approaches the point where to review the show will simply be to quote it; where the work, as Tom Wolfe would say, is indeed “painted word.” “It is only a joke”—another banner. But most of this art is humorless, or badly humored when it attempts to be funny. Vautier’s paradoxes are not especially personal—he might be glad of that—but they are egotistic nonetheless. He is, after all, in most of the pictures.

His work finally fails to treat the details of which the world is supposedly made—only verbal generalities like “life is made out of details.” His work has become almost wholly literary; it fails not only to include something which makes its way in silence but, perhaps more importantly, it fails to include anything which makes its way in laughter.

Phil Patton