New York

Jacques Villegle

Jacques Villeglé’s collages teeter on the border between art and nonart, composition and chaos. The artist makes his work by tearing posters from the Paris streets and neatly mounting and framing the shredded, layered images. Unfortunately, Villeglé’s images lack both the distilled quality of more studied art and the ragged beauty of the posters in their original contexts—plastered to soot-darkened walls, subject to changes in light and weather, competing for attention with the grinding noise of cars and buses and the blinking of traffic lights.

Mimmo Rotella, and Raymond Hains, members of the nouveau réaliste movement, developed the décollage technique in the ’50s. Villeglé considers himself a collector rather than a creator, though in truth his role is closer to that of an editor: Villeglé isolates sections of posters already slashed by previous passersby. He does come up with some beautiful finds. In Rue Brisemiche, February 21, 1973, twin purist-inspired cinema posters are scored by a savage V-shaped gash; Rue d’Hautpoul, November 1974 is an allover pattern of scrambled red and white letters reminiscent of Kurt Schwitters’ abstract collages. The smaller, simpler works are the most successful, focusing on specific passages; the larger pieces, on the other hand, feel crowded, with too much going on and seemingly random cropping.

Curiously, Villeglé doesn’t exploit certain innate qualities of his medium. The juxtaposition of images from ads and from political, movie, and art posters does generate narratives or suggest landscapes (in Rue du Temple, 1968, a “lake” of turquoise paper stretches below a mountain-heap of movie stars, various objects, and shreds of pure color) and graffiti scrawls often serve as garbled signatures. But the metaphorical potential of formal givens, such as the repetition of strings of identical posters and the transparency and opacity of accumulated layers, are left unexplored. In presenting a clash of images, scales, and contexts, Villeglé has found an apt method for depicting contemporary urban experience. Villeglé’s salvaging of remnants from the urban environment is closer to documentary than to the imaginative leaps of the Dada collages. But his reluctance to manipulate his material further makes what once appeared to be a very radical art into something that today appears almost conservative.

Lois E. Nesbitt