Raymond Hains

For several decades now, the work of Raymond Hains has been an exercise in patience, offering a means of slowly deciphering the world. Since his travels with the New Realists in the ’60s, Hains has shifted the focus of his art to language and its metaphors; his practice is now more “conceptual” or poetic than formal. All of Hains’s works consist of operations on the real and represent a collection of gestures and actions (cutting out, tearing up, displacing). His is an art of digression and wordplay that exposes the mechanisms behind the construction of meaning.

Hains’s recent show follows his participation in two Guggenheim Museum exhibitions in New York last fall—“Rendezvous: Masterpieces from the Centre Georges Pompidou” and “Premises: Invested Spaces in Visual Arts, Architecture, and Design from France, 1958-98,” both of which were conceived in conjunction with the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris—and is a reminder of the artist’s growing importance. In 200I, he will be the subject of a large solo exhibition at the Pompidou, which will include a diverse range of his humorous and quick-witted work, including books, photographs, objects, and installations.

Titling the Galerie Templon exhibit “Castelli, les Jardineries du Sod” (Castelli, the garden superstore of the south), the artist tackled his subject after learning of the existence near Nice of a nursery called Castelli. He used this discovery as an occasion to revisit the life story and historical role of art dealer Leo Castelli and, more broadly, the relation between French artists and the American art world. The works evoke the great names in the history of modern art (from artists such as Piet Mondrian and Roy Lichtenstein to the eponymous dealer himself) through a combination of image composition and wordplay. Thus a photograph called Castelli promotion, 1998, features a sign bearing those words with a man standing behind it in the plant-filled nursery. This anonymous smiling figure becomes a surrogate for the dealer, the flowers become metaphors for art objects (highlighting their status as economic goods), and the role of the unseen artist is suddenly that of a gardener.

Along with color photographs like these, Hains presented what he terms machintosages, a type of virtual collage that he creates using Macintosh computers. For these works, he takes photographs, transfers them to a CD-Rom, creates digital composites out of the various images, and then prints out the final work on an ink-jet printer. Weaving rhymes of form and meaning, the resulting pieces, while still addressing the history and status of contemporary art as a form of ecology, also serve as a reflection on the possibilities of his chosen medium. Placing the history of modern and, contemporary-art in a playful new setting, Hains appropriates for art the culture of the greenhouse and the garden, the anonymous yet fruitful space of supermarkets and seed shops.

Pascale Cassagnau

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.