Raymond Hains

Is Raymond Hains’ art an “art of coincidence” or “a rebus of esthetic dimensions,” as Allan Weiss contends in the exhibition catalogue? Coincidental events, word associations, homonyms, and witticisms pervade Hains’ artistic practice. One of the founding members of the Nouveaux Realistes, Hains infuses his photographs and found objects with a Dadaist’s sense of language and a firm grounding in structuralism.

This retrospective-style exhibition entitled “Les Trois Cartiers—Du Louvre au 3 Cartiers” (The 3 Cartiers—From the Louvre to the 3 Cartiers) presented endless mental twists and turns, taking us through Hains’ childhood in Brittany by way of his acquaintanceship with Jean Nouvel, architect of the new building for the Cartier Foundation, all while relating the saga of the famous jeweler. In tracing these stories, Hains’ photographs, videos, objects, and films seem to construct an edifice that is perpetually evolving: it is from the old work that new work is produced. The chain of associations is formed by links such as the following: six monumental photographs of the site of the Louvre Museum’s expansion—in which one sees red plastic pipes, “sidewalk sculptures,” scaffolding and metal fencing—are connected by Hains to the found objects of the Pop artists and the Nouveaux Réalistes via the image (Fernand Léger’s Les Constructeurs) that appears on the cover of a book discussing both movements. The metallic supports of the scaffolding evoke the Modernist architecture of Nouvel (who also participated in the competition for the Louvre’s restoration) as well as that of the Cartier Foundation. And here we run into the linguistic slippage between the words palissade (“fencing”) and lapalissade (“a statement of the obvious”). A great lover of puns, Hains pays homage here to the Marquis de Bièvre, a late-18th-century writer noted for his puns and wordplay—who was quoted by Freud in The Joke and its Relation to the Unconscious. Six photographic panels relate the story of this amusing marquis who lived near the former site of the Cartier Foundation, in Jouy-en-Josas, not far from Paris.

Hains’ final found object in no way provides a means of understanding the principal coincidences related in the exhibition: an engraved stone from the original American Center in Paris—which once stood on the present site of the Foundation—is inscribed with a statement that conveys the desire on the part of Chateaubriand’s descendants to preserve the cedar tree that he planted on the site. During his childhood, Chateaubriand played on the beach at Saint-Malo (in Brittany), and it is to this period that the brise-lames (large wooden posts) installed in the exhibition as if they were sculptures make reference. Saint-Malo was also the native town of Jacques Cartier who discovered Canada in 1534 (his name is perfectly homonymous with a member of the Cartier family, the Jacques Cartier who, in 1940, welcomed General de Gaulle in London). So this play on names becomes a wink at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Allied landing in 1944. . . . But who is the third Cartier? Apart from the wordplay on the name of the Parisian department store Les Trois Quartiers, Hains evokes the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson without which this visual labyrinth might never have been conceived.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.