Paris

Didier Vermeiren

Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot

The first thing one noticed, when looking at the four sculptures that make up this exhibition, was a radical modification of the regular gallery space: Didier Vermeiren chose to occupy only the ground level, leaving the mezzanine to function as a belvedere. It was, however, only a virtual modification, in that nothing was actually changed in the architecture of the place; the site took on the general disposition of the works—like chesspieces, they defined the area they occupied and continually submitted it to a new and specific perception. (The floor, for example, with its usually unnoticeable slope, here constituted a primary given.)

The presence of three untitled sculptures, conceived as variations on the theme of a 1985 work by Vermeiren—a vertical parallelipiped of around 1 meter 65 centimeters high, placed on four castors, a model that has undergone numerous transformations —immediately made it clear that this current piece is about relationships and about dynamics. Placed along one of the rooms’ diagonals were three “carts,” which gave the space an air of potential motion. The first and the third, both from 1992, were identical—a metal armature served as base for the pieces, which were crossed diagonally by a strip of plaster, smooth on one side, rough and uneven on the other—but oriented in such a way as to reverse the faces of this white panel that functioned as an internal division. The second “cart,” sitting between the other two, as if in quotation marks, repeated the 1985 model, except that it was fixed to the floor with four black strap fasteners connected to its wheels. Here again the theme of movement was dealt with as sculpture has always treated mobility—simultaneously a supreme ambition and a curse, as is reflected in the Ancient Greek practice of tying down the statues of gods.

The fourth and largest work in the show was very different from the others, but also emphasized the singular and subtle bond reflected in the history of Vermeiren’s own art. L’Appel aux armes (The call to arms, 1992) takes its title from a sculpture by Rodin, cast in bronze in 1870, then made in enlarged form in plaster in 1912. It is the pedestal of that enlarged piece, which can be seen today at the Musée Rodin in Meudon, that Vermeiren (after having meticulously measured it) reproduces in plaster, according to a principal that he invariably observes, which consists of rendering the pedestals of statues in the same material as that of the works they support—a totally personal version, as it were, of the absorption of sculpture into its pedestal so often touted as one of the dominant characteristics of Modern art. Vermeiren often borrows in this way from Rodin, but also from Canova and David Smith. On top of this image of the pedestal, which in technical terms is called a “positive,” is placed, back-to-front, an element of the same shape, but inverted: the “negative.” A temporal reversal that takes the process backwards and places the “before” on top of the “after.” Double-dealing time, in the sense of an account of the fabrication of the piece before our eyes. That Vermeiren, like Constantin Brancusi, is a passionate photographer, and that the practice of photography informs his work as a sculptor, should not come as a surprise.

Jean-Pierre Criqui

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.