Bertrand Lavier

Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture

Bertrand Lavier’s work surprises by its sheer diversity, judging from just the few pieces presented here. The first work in the exhibition, installed in one of the museum’s most venerable halls of old paintings, was Privé/Mobi, 1987, a spectacular piece consisting of a corrugated metal grain silo, perfectly cylindrical, set on top of a bright yellow construction-site shed. Like several of his other sculptures of the past two years, it is a “superimposition,” a category of the artist’s own devising, and the title is simply the brand name of each object, one “over” the other. Despite its audacity, this monumental, site-specific work respected the spirit of the place while passing itself off as a classic monumental sculpture articulated as a figure on a pedestal. An anthology of Lavier’s works followed, arranged according to an extrinsic as well as intrinsic logic.

The next room presented two contrasting approaches to sculpture: one of Lavier’s best-known works, Gabriel Gaveau, 1981, which is simply a grand piano repainted by the artist (again, the title is the name of the manufacturer), and another of his superimpositions, Ikéa/Zanussi, 1986. Gabriel Gaveau is one of a series of repainted objects from the early ’80s that brought Lavier much art-world attention. Ikéa/Zanussi, which consists of an armoire placed on top of a freezer, responded in white to the piano’s black. In each case, Lavier has created a sculpture through the most limited intervention; because he has hardly changed the original identity of the objects involved, the effect is both ambiguous and paradoxical. In another room, three movie projectors projected slide images of three paintings by Max Bill, Francois Morellet, and Sam Francis onto the wall on which the actual works usually hang; while in two other rooms there were several more repainted objects and superimpositions, including Brandt/Fichet-Bauche, 1985—a refrigerator set on top of a steel safe—which was the first work Lavier did in that form. The works in the last room played on the idea of simulating traditional wall-hung abstract paintings, and, in fact, these works could easily be taken for simple abstract paintings. Sparty, 1986, for example, is nothing but a ping-pong table repainted in its original colors—green and white—barely transformed, except for the change in its surface due to the crude brushstrokes applied by Lavier. However, hung vertically like a painting, it undergoes an obvious but radical change of identity. Likewise, Tennis/Volley-Ball, 1986, which superimposes fragments of string from tennis and volleyball nets within the area enclosed by its frame, produces an effect of clear overall abstraction.

In just a few years this artist has proved that his repainted objects were but an initial manifestation of an ability to create other equally provocative paradoxes through a diversity of means. Lavier, whose first show dates back to 1973, is in command of an impressive repertory whose unity, in spite of its varied appearance, is always evident. Crudely repainting objects in their original color, straightforwardly superimposing perfectly recognizable objects, mediating the work of art through film or video, Lavier always brings together two autonomous entities that are normally mutually exclusive: the object and its representation, painting and sculpture, his own signature and that of another artist, figuration and abstraction, etc. Each time, the result is perceived as a new object created by Lavier that poses in its way the central question of art today—that is, the articulation of art and nonart.

Daniel Soutif

Translated from the French by Hanna Hannah.