Washington, DC

Richard Texier

Art, commerce, collectibles, silicon chips, and the bicentennial of the French Revolution: there could hardly be a better recipe for disaster than the makings of Richard Texier’s La petite suite des Droits de l’Homme (The little human rights suite, 1989). And yet, as Galileo once said, it moves. The piece is a limited edition of seven prints, issued by L’Avant-Musée to commemorate the French declaration of human rights of August 1789. The images themselves are derived from an equal number of monumental tapestries that Texier was commissioned to design earlier in the year. But this little version is no mere spinoff, or at least not one primarily suitable for framing, insofar as it is printed on the pocket-sized telephone credit cards known in France as télécartes.

Admittedly, the link between the bicentennial and the télécarte is not obvious, but it does exist, metaphorically and otherwise. The télécarte, a Japanese invention, made its way to France in 1984. Since then, it has, so to speak, revolutionized pay phones; not only do they work without change, but without change, they work, since the monetary incentive for vandalism is now gone. But as the télécarte caught on, so did the private sector, and the phone company’s blue-and-white striped standard issue came to be joined by a host of subsidized models that doubled as calling cards, Christmas cards, and as PR devices for businesses of all kinds, from Renault and Dow Chemical to Cacherel and the Rotary Club of Toulouse. Paralleling these promotional ventures, L’Avant-Musée, a nonprofit showcase committed to the marriage of art and business, introduced the télécarte d’art, which incorporated the phone company's logo and silicon chip into an original silk screen signed and numbered by the artist. These art télécartes benefit from corporate patronage as well, and two very large editions issued in 1987—one of them designed by Texier—were sold at the same price as the phone company’s version.

The price runs somewhat higher for these prints, but it is hard to think of this handsomely boxed edition as just an expensive set of télécartes. Texier's idiom of floating forms and embedded objects accommodates the obligatory insignia of the télécarte, and his penchant for anomalous colors and shapes precludes any glossy advertising esthetic. Like his paintings, La petite suite des Droits de l’Homme is a collection of fragments—of the original tapestries (instead of attempting to adapt or reduce the original designs, Texier chose to work with details); of the original declaration of human rights (mainly passages dealing with freedom); of images and signs from an arcane vocabulary of his own making (funnels, T-squares, comets, hooks, astrolabes); and of his own handwritten words. What the fragments add up to is a universe of ambiguity, a cosmic meeting ground of free-floating ideals and apprehensions, where all that is measured and certain are the 50 units of the silicon chip and the card’s directional arrow.

Ironically, of course, the very artfulness of Texier’s télécartes practically guarantees that precious few of them wi ll ever see the inside of a phone booth. (As it is, even the garden-variety cards have become collectors’ items.) At the very least, this work reminds us that progress doesn’t have to be ugly and that it can even be art.

Miriam Rosen