New York

Jean-Luc Vilmouth

Barbara Toll Fine Arts

If Woodrow brashly frames his objects against a postindustrial context, the French sculptor Vilmouth, who has lived in London since 1975, displays a humanist’s nostalgia. A somewhat silly sentimentality characterizes these works, all constructed (like Woodrow’s) from forms found in the New York streets. The freestanding sculptures are largely ensembles of large, curvilinear objects made of papier mâché dyed grass green and cerulean blue. In one, a fabricated broom is supported by cinderblocks, while another sculpture sports a domelike shape. In a third, pots, pans, and wrenches are entombed in a simulated vacuum cleaner in a way suggesting a coy play on Woodrow’s early practice. The rounded amphora forms and general vessellike shapes imply that Vilmouth is engaged in constructing, through a kind of reversal, the sort of objects he finds and employs in his more important wall-bound works. The latter are installations of appropriated objects, including coffee pots, watercans, teapots, scrub brushes, appliances, and a fish serving board. These things of the world—all useful, everyday objects—are mostly retained in their natural, industrial hues, but Vilmouth transforms them to suggest their anthropomorphic origins. The objects become faces: teapots are inverted so that spouts become noses, while each form is impressed with staring cutout eyes.

In the “pièce de résistance” of the reliefs (there were three in the show) Vilmouth adds figurative forms, superposing a football player over an ironing board, the whole surrounded by the object montage. Here the title, They Are Looking at You, 1983, belies Vilmouth’s animistic perspective, and indicates some of the worst in this work. For if these sculptures have, at their best, a kind of decorative appeal, if they traffic in wit, whimsy, and other dubious sculptural terrain, they also seem to reinject into sculpture a kind of retrograde humanism wholly contrary to the work of the past decade. Ignoring industrial facture, Vilmouth would phrase a sentimental discourse on the relations binding object to man, viewing the former as a projection of the self, and rehearsing a sterile anthropomorphism that misses the contemporary beat.

Kate Linker