Jean-Luc Moulène

Jean-Luc Moulène’s 2005 project Le Monde, Le Louvre (which lent this show its title) took the form of a color supplement to the Parisian daily Le Monde and a small presentation at the Louvre. Stacks of Moulène’s supplement lay in front of the excavated walls of the medieval “Ancien Louvre,” as pointers to an adjacent exhibition space. Here, prints of the photographs reproduced in the paper were exhibited along with a video, Plus d’ordre, moins d’ordre (More Order, Less Order), 2005, that functions like an absurd making-of documentary: a ballet of hands with white gloves carefully handling artifacts to be photographed. Each of the resulting photographs shows one smallish object from the museum’s holdings, seen in isolation standing or lying on a neutral background. In Le Monde, all the photographs were printed in exactly the same size; in the gallery, there were small differences in dimensions due to variations in the cropping of the empty background around the objects. Most of the pictured objects are statuettes, the majority of them representing deities ranging from the ominous Mesopotamian Pazuzu to Christ.

In museums, such small cult objects are either parts of a cluttered display, in which they tend to drown, or languishing in storage. By isolating them and enlarging or reducing their size, Moulène’s imaginary museum functions in the manner described by André Malraux in his paean to the liberating potential of industrial reproduction. However, while Malraux exalted the cropping of photographs as a way to abstract stylistic characteristics from concrete works, Moulène claims that he does not so much deal with “extraction” as with “incarnation,” focusing on the physical integrity of the objects, showing them in their entirety and giving a clear frontal view. In this respect the images are related to his series “Trente-neuf objets de grève (Thirty-nine Strike Objects),” 2001, and the work Produits de Palestine, 2002–2005, which depicted “deviant” commodities made by factories during labor strikes and goods produced by Palestine’s crippled economy, respectively: minimalist advertising photography for dysfunctional products.

In Le Monde, Le Louvre, Moulène’s “straight” approach recalls the visual documentation museums use for their inventories. However, by presenting them on full pages of Le Monde (or approximations of that size in the show), Moulène stresses the physicality and texture of the objects, while the juxtapositions pry them loose from their “scientific” categories and establish new relationships among them. The pictures seem to have been placed side by side for a variety of reasons, ranging from similarities in the materials or size of the depicted objects to visual characteristics such as staring eyes or a similar posture. In the Le Monde supplement, two texts pay literary homage to Bubu, the regressive, polymorphous house deity of the ’20s crypto-Surrealist journal Le Grand Jeu; Moulène’s combinatory exercise creates a kind of miniature pantheon, the museified and catalogued artifacts taking on a life of their own again.

This combinatory magic echoes the magical way in which—according to Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism, derived from Charles de Brosses’s theory of African fetish worship—goods seem to derive their value from their “social” relationships with other commodities. Aside from the use of photography for purposes of documentation, then, advertising photography still serves as a referent. Like the “strike objects,” these little-known objects from the Louvre collections may not be commodities in any normal sense, but in a visual culture in which the commodity is itself the model of meaning, any kind of significance can only be attained in a dialogue with this model.

Sven Lütticken