“Double Mixte”

The tile of the exhibition “Double Mixte” (Mixed doubles), curated by Jean-Pierre Criqui, is a pun that refers to the original function of the Jeu de Paume where court tennis (a precursor of modern tennis) was played in the 19th century. Two men, two women American Barry X. Ball, Frenchman Pascal Convert, Canadian Lynne Cohen, and Englishwoman Rachel Whiteread—divided up the space, not in a spirit of antagonism but in a climate of collaboration. The words “mixed” and “doubles” evoke the complex way in which themes volley back and forth among these works.

These four artists all fabricate objects that demand a deep knowledge of materials. In Ball’s composite sculptures, the “Not Painting Collection,” 1991–93, the association of palladium, pigments, and letters covered in gold leaf makes them into some kind of precious icons, displayed alongside specially made crates. Though Ball draws an explicit connection between these reliefs and 13th- or 14th-century Sienese panels, such a link seems somewhat farfetched. A similar attempt to establish an art-historical lineage for A Profusion of Loss, 1993–95, served only to emphasize that the interest of these works does not lie in such references. A Cioran relief composed of black and white, banded fragments, framed in rococo-style silver and scattered over the wall, was emblematic of the material and conceptual sophistication of these works, their whimsical approach to art history and their flirtation with kitsch.

Convert’s Keshiki, 1993–95—huge plates of engraved glass whose vegetal exuberance is explicitly inspired by Japanese decorative art—reflected a similar obsession with fragile materials and with achieving an impeccable finish. This work reveals an intimate, almost inward-looking, esthetic that plays on reflections and changes in light. His self-portrait in Sèvres porcelain, hung above the Keshiki landscapes, as well as his strange silver moldings of hands and legs, set into the walls and barely visible, left a discreet but disquieting space for the viewer.

In this context, Convert seems to be the only one to manifest an esthetics of presence. For if Rachel Whiteread’s universe is equally dominated by the metamorphosis of private spaces, the compactness of her works makes for strong associations with funerary architecture. Lynne Cohen’s black and white photographs—especially the photographs entitled Classroom, which depicts rooms in a police academy empty but for the dummies used in virtual crime scenes—also register the absence of the human, the prevalence of the simulacrum.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Warren Niesluchowski.