Alain Séchas

Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain

WHETHER IN THE FORM of sculpture, installation, or video, the work of Alain Séchas always retains a sort of primary allegiance to drawing. Using the style of comics and cartoons to put across his bony worldview, this French artist has populated his exhibitions with a playful and appealing bestiary for more than fifteen years. Yet despite its bright colors and superficially cheerful allure, Séchas's world has nothing childlike or sweet about it. If there were a Disney World à la Séchas, it would no doubt feature, in the manner of Paul McCarthy, a guided tour of all our fears, anxieties, and frustrations.

Evidence of this was offered in the spectacular work at the center of this show. Sliding along a rail attached to the ceding was a cat-headed spider, controlled like a giant marionette by a system of cables and counterweights and moving on padded feet. An enormous mobile, an amusing and anxiety-producing machine, L'Araignée (The spider), 2001, dominated the space around-it, forcing spectators to watch its passage as it pushed ahead in a way that was both lithesome and despotic. With its bowler hat and its crossed eyes, The Spider, vaguely echoing the paintings of George Grosz or Chaplin's Great Dictator, acted as both fairground attraction and allegory of terror.

Not far from the spider, Les Suspects (The suspects), 2000, made just as strong an impression as it had made a few months earlier in the exhibition “Au-delà du spectacle” (“Beyond the spectacle”) at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Here again, the arrangement was at first rather amusing. On a pedestal-like platform, several characters—an elephant, an anxious cat, a man, a Martian, a stork, and a dog—each held a number while facing the exhibition's visitors in a dark room, their eyes blinded by the white light of an empty projector. In the background a little night music played—“Silent Night” revisited by Alfred Schnittke—and gradually got on one's nerves. But what are these creatures of various species suspected of? Of having intruded into the art world, comic-book characters that they are? Or are they spectators themselves, as Jean-Pierre Criqui suggests in the exhibition catalogue, viewers mounted on a pedestal, summoned as both actors in and targets of contemporary works?

Séchas's anthropomorphic sculptures (and the drawings and graphic works that accompany them) cover a wide range of emotions, from worry to excitement. And he knows how to play on our anxieties, as in the magnificent installation Professeur Suicide, 1995: Gathered around a screen on which the image of a needle skillfully popping inflatable balloons is being projected, a circle of students is taking a class in suicide (and cinema) from an august professor. Séchas knows, too, how to highlight the unsettling power of animated images. Perhaps to avoid pathos, he also showed Le Petit Serpent, 2000, a small snake on a leash; Martien joyeux (Happy Martian), 2000, Martien voyageur (Martian traveler), 2000, and a third alien letting a few erotic drawings slip from his Martien carton à dessin (Martian portfolio), 2000; and the neon sculpture Chat Basketteur (Cat playing basketball), 1998, a striking mix of Bruce Nauman and Tom & Jerry. That is to say, he refuses to fully take on the burden of gravity. Maintaining the balance between the tragic and the comic, seriousness and lightheartedness, Séchas is a master of suspense.

Jean-Max Colard

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.