New York

Michel François

Curt Marcus Gallery

Belgian artist Michel François is all over the place, moving with vivid ease from photography to sculpture to video, from representation to construction to invention. Better known in Europe, where his work was included in the last Documenta, his first solo show in New York looked like a room temporarily deserted by a gifted child who had neglected to turn the television off. Strung with fistfuls of pasta-colored clay, the giant Necklace, 1993, roped off much of the floor. In French lavatory fashion, a gargantuan lemon of soap cantilevered off one wall; a belt denoting the territory of My Waist If I Was Pregnant, 1991, projected off another. Above a queue of plaster casts, made from the pockets of work pants, hung black and white photographs—stills from the video, Casablanca, 1992–93. A continuously playing cacophony of sights and sounds, this piece showed children shrieking, water gushing, hands clawing a hole in dirt, an inch worm inching across a map, roller skates clattering over the pavement, pigeons pecking practically in your face. Despite its compulsive energy, this installation was refreshingly well-plotted. Marked by voids and the conflicting impulses to both fill and create them, it was imbued with a pervasive sense of hunger.

Sometimes, this hunger is just a craving, one easily filled, as in the simply expressed Rings, 1993, in which two balls of twine are coated inside and out with apple-red sealing wax. At other times, it’s a desperate urge—much more difficult to satisfy, a sensibility that seems to manifest itself primarily in clumps of clay, which appear throughout the work, but is also fed by images of hands. In the video a man furiously grabs at his head which is completely covered in clay; in an ensuing clip, a dung beetle naturally keeps its shit together. In yet another sequence, the Magrittian Hat, 1994, is filled with dark plasticine marked with the impressions made by mindlessly drumming fingers. What is a giddy children’s game in Casablanca becomes part of a sober monument in Warm Hands, 1994, in which a photo of rough little hands slapped down on top of each other to form a stack is juxtaposed with balls of plaster choked with twine. This disquieting picture is a more effective evocation of famine than Africa, 1993—a stack of plates bored through with holes in front of a blacked-out map—with its overtly didactic message.

François’ approach is not unique in its range or techniques. It is close to that of Gabriel Orozco, for example, who also switches media in order to meet the needs of his economic visual poetry. There are more incidental echoes too. Children gnaw and drool on a giant block of chocolate reminiscent of Janine Antoni’s sculptures, or prance nude with a childlike eroticism à la Sally Mann. What makes this art so compelling is not so much the restlessness of François’ eye, but its ability to satisfy, both perceptually and conceptually, its own voracious appetites.

Ingrid Schaffner