Paris

Alain Séchas

Palais de Tokyo

“Jurassic Pork II” is the second installment of Alain Séchas’s comic-book story of a cat named Siegfried “on the trail of Jurassic Pork” hidden deep in a forest. Viewers were given adjustable-beam flashlights to examine the story’s cartoon cels, which wallpapered a large, machine-fogged room in which the only other sources of illumination were the flashlight eyes of a big, black, bat-winged, polyester-resin prehistoric pig, suspended in the center of the room between white resin sculptures of Siegfried and a larger-than-life Artemis, goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, and wild animals.

Up to twenty visitors at a time could lamp-scan Séchas’s black-on-white, poster-size, impeccably cartooned scatological narrative of Siegfried’s encounters with real people and invented cats: Hermès, his cat guide; Salvador Dalí and Jacques Lacan like Scylla and Charybdis at the bed-ide of a feline Cyclops; Count Zaroff and his modernist sculpture garden; Countess Pornault-Cratesse (the pornocratess whose herd of pigs chases Siegfried and Hermès off a cliff); and Artemis, whose bevy of cat nymphs disguise themselves as Jurassic Pork, trap Siegfried, then threaten him with torture while teasing him to erection. Throughout, and despite all the Mad magazine–style parody, the show is all a mask for Séchas’s deeper art.

Séchas, born in 1955, is a grandchild of Freud and Disney, child of modernism and Pop art, a first-generation TV baby, artistic cousin of Mike Kelley and Charles Ray, and one of France’s best artists. His primary medium is drawing, which he uses to transform his daily observations into cartoons. His resin sculptures are the carved heroes from his cartoon world, their style recalling the seats and tables from the milk bar of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). But Kubrick projected a world overrun by predatory adolescents, while Séchas echoes a place where adulthood is in recession—more like our world.

Of course, Séchas’s Siegfried could be a slapstick character by Tex Avery, Charlie Chaplin, or Buster Keaton. Hugh Kenner called such characters “stoic comedians,” figures caught in an economic impasse, failing to accomplish or afford adulthood, accepting their fate. Slapstick and Dada were pre–Depression era art forms; forms of rebellion against a time when adulthood was modeled by classicism and authority. Séchas’s cartoon hunter plays a similar role of the awkward innocent, but where that old world order has been washed away by the entertainment age’s irony, innuendo, role playing, and pornographic style. Siegfried is thwarted yet thrilled by this world, and compelled to continue.

Modern art objects were made to stand for themselves; individualism was the social counterpart to modernism’s self-standing object. Now celebrity heroes became cult objects in magazines and films. Pornographers turn subjects into objects. Séchas’s existentialist Siegfried is a comic Odysseus and naive Quixote, frustrated by maltreatment and lured along by pornographic nymphs. At tale’s end Siegfried rests up in a hotel, then goes home to his wife, perhaps ready to venture forth again. The funny thing about Séchas’s art is that it leaves you feeling like the patient Penelope at home, waiting for the next installment.

Jeff Rian