Bertrand Lavier

Bertrand Lavier’s first one-person exhibition in Austria presented the best installation to date in the Hercules Room of the Palais Lichtenstein. This central space of the baroque palace poses difficulties for the artist because of its marble and plaster decoration, and above all, the ceiling frescoes. These frescoes pull the viewer’s eyes uncontrollably to the ceiling, and the artist must take this propensity into account in constructing his work. Lavier’s success lies in his willingness to work with the space and not against it. He does not try to control the viewer’s gaze but, rather, offers it a place to rest or even a surface from which it can bounce like a ball.

Composition Bleue et Blanche, Détail (Blue and white composition, detail, 1992) is a seven-by-seven-meter rendition of an indoor tennis court. The white lines on the gray material look like a geometric composition. The translation of reality into art has less to do with the concept of the readymade than with the idea of image. Every traditional (representational) image is based on the act of separating a part from the whole. The abstract (geometric) image, on the other hand, is a whole in and of itself. Lavier’s “compositions,” which he has been making since 1987, are both parts and wholes, representational and abstract. And although this work is around 30 centimeters high, it is more painting than sculpture, presenting reality as facade.

The pieces in the side rooms—everyday objects and pictures—have more to do with the readymade. The diptych Rouge Bordeaux par by Novemail and Ripolin, (Red Bordeaux by Novemail and Ripolin, 1992) juxtaposes the bordeaux-red colors manufactured by two paint companies. Lavier’s use of nothing but pure paint is a radical reassertion of Frank Stella’s statement that paint should remain as fresh as when it comes from the tube. On the other hand, it also recalls Marcel Duchamp’s characterization of paintings as “aided readymades.” Lavier’s demonstration of the relativity of color-names has remained one of his primary interests since his early objects: he constantly questions the conventions of nomenclature.

If viewing painting as a readymade means a subversion of its nature, then Lavier’s objects and photographs confuse the concepts of sculpture and pedestal. Panton/Radiola, 1991, poses the question of whether the plastic chair or the refrigerator on which it rests is the sculptural object. It is not simply the institutional frame work that determines whether an object is received as an everyday object or an artwork, but it is also the manner of presentation. But Lavier’s presentation is less an institutional critique than a comment on perceptual sensibility. The isolated presentation of objects, according to the artist, should allow the forms to become forms.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.