Bertrand Lavier

Bertrand Lavier has become known for his “repainted objects” and his “superimpositions”—sculptures made with manufactured objects or appliances in which the artist’s intervention is simple and direct: covering an object with a thick coat of paint (the same color or colors as the object itself), or placing one object on top of another without altering the ready-made form of either in any way. Taking advantage of one of France’s largest exhibition spaces outside of Paris, Lavier recently put together a show—which he called “Exposition personnelle” (Personal exhibition)—featuring several radically new works together with some familiar works, or works that he made according to those methods with which we are by now familiar.

The exhibition opened with Lita, 1987, a marvelous piece that consists of four sets of white-enamel-finish track lights arranged in a square on a white wall, with all 12 lights projected toward the interior of the square. (As with most of his sculptures, the title is just the brand name of the manufactured object used in the piece.) Lavier has made a sculpture by transposing to the wall what is normally on the ceiling. The effect is like that of a monochrome painting, here a monochrome of “absence” produced by the white lights shining on a “framed” section of empty white wall. Nearby was another work in a format that is new for Lavier, Relief-Peinture No. 1, 1988, a rectangular structure made of four pre-fab glass-and-enameled-metal window units, hung on the wall as if it were a geometric painting. His only other intervention to the given structure, which features two fixed and two movable windows, was to slide open the rightmost window halfway, causing its two panes of olive green glass to overlap and exposing an equivalent vertical section of bare white wall. Such a work both continues and goes beyond the particular esthetic that Lavier has pursued since the ’70s. Here, the manufactured object plays its ambiguous part by the artist’s simply having hung it on the wall. The Duchampian question of the status of the art object is thus short-circuited by Lavier, for he is playing with the status of forms. Although these new works are readymades, and keep their original identities as such, they also function as abstract paintings. This is also true of a very large work called Composition rouge, jaune, et blanche (Red, yellow, and white composition, 1988)—only in this case it is sculpture as well, for it consists of a wooden platform on the upper surface of which is painted a section of a basketball court.

The other works in the show, with one exception, are of the two types mentioned earlier. Composition No. 1, 1987, for example, is a red-blue-and-white enameled-aluminum road sign indicating a dead end, which Lavier painted over with Liquitex. Sambre et Meuse/Atal, 1988, consists of an anvil on top of a beige, five-unit vertical file cabinet, while Philips dans Rue de Passy, 1987, is a full-size vertical kitchen freezer unit that fits exactly between the arms and back of the plush multicolor armchair in which it “sits” (Rue de Passy is the name of the upholstery pattern). Works such as these, juxtaposed with Lavier’s newer kinds of works, gave viewers an opportunity to gauge the continuity of Lavier’s overall project and his ability to extend it without repeating himself. The depth to which he explores his basic idea is exemplified by the sculpture that ended the exhibition, BBOOJJ, 1988. What looks like an unusually tall, contemporary-style formica-clad armoire exhibited as a readymade is actually two identical cupboards (manufactured by BOJ) that Lavier has cut apart and reassembled as one. I look forward to the works that this new, unsettling, and ambiguous type of intervention will undoubtedly generate.

Daniel Soutif

Translated from the French by Stephen R. Frankel.