Jean Clareboudt

Galerie Farideh Cadot

Since the title under which the sculptures here are grouped, “S’Tables,” serves them as a kind of matrix, the work calls for a semantic reading. Jean Clareboudt seems to see the space of his plastic investigation as an imaginary semantic field. His thoughts stem from a very delicate and intense position in language; for him, the undertaking of a new series of works involves the attempt to exhaust all the formal potential contained in a generic word—it becomes a kind of “seed word,” like a Tantric mantra. In this show Clareboudt develops one aspect of an idea sketched out two years ago in his “Plats/Fonds” series (literally, “Flat [or ‘smooth’]/backgrounds [or ‘depths’]”; phonetically, “plafonds,” the French for “ceilings”) and reapproached in such site installations as Windberg. In each instance the titles fracture meaning, presenting a superfluity of figurative or phonetic interpretations. “S’Tables” implies both the object “table” and the architectonic stability ascribed to a table, while informing these ideas with a sense of dislocation.

Yet these three-dimensional works and drawings do not function as illustrations or commentary on the title; rather, they are deployed as a visual resonance of what it implies. Clareboudt constructs large steel discs, most often placed like crowns on iron girders or on stone blocks. The apparent symmetry of these contrivances, which are only slightly raised from the ground, is almost always disturbed: a stone may be placed off center in the hollow of a crown; in S’Table 1 a rock fragment pushes a steel section askew; in Elevation ll a perfect circle is disharmonized by the four rough pieces of stone that support it.

The group as a whole, then, cannot be understood in simply geometric terms. For if geometric forms are consistently suggested, they are ultimately belied by the shapes of the objects themselves; they are distorted by Clareboudt’s play of complex interrelationships, constantly modified by the medium in which they appear. The universe that Clareboudt manages to define with astounding precision is primarily an abstraction, seeming self-contradictory at first: as the artist’s thought seeks to grasp the function of the creative act, tracing it to its most primitive, rough beginnings, it also demonstrates the transformation of natural elements, showing them on a spiritualized plane.

All the same, Clareboudt’s approach is far from mystical. If he deliberately avoids the materialist obsession, inspired by structuralism, that dominated abstract art in France during the ’70s, his main objective is the creation of an experience in which the work of art becomes the representational hypothesis of a mental sphere. These ponderous sculptures are yet extremely subtle objects which seem to belong to an interior landscape without boundary or contour. This may explain Clareboudt’s obstinate tracing of intersections, coordinates, and benchmarks, as if to trivialize that map of the unconscious which is supposed to materialize in those esthetic “moments” that are anchored in perceptible reality.

The large drawings that accompany these installations are a compendium of Clareboudt’s notebooks—the journal of a graphic process that results in formulations in three dimensions. The sculptures seem to gain in enigmatic presence as a consequence of the showing of this preliminary work; speculative as they may appear—and as the artist wishes them to appear—they become charged with matter-of-factness. From the vocabulary that forms them and in which they assert themselves, they reveal a searching exploration of the terra incognita beyond the visible—a landscape which they attempt to express in visible terms.

Gerard-Georges Lemaire

Translated from the French by Jamey Gambrell.