New York

Michel Gondry

Deitch Projects

Michel Gondry, trailing a well-deserved reputation as one of contemporary filmmaking’s most innovative visual stylists, has made what must have seemed an entirely natural move from cinema to gallery. His whole professional trajectory, after all, has been built on a series of successful crossovers. First, the French-born former drummer and former art student parlayed a string of quirky animated videos for his own 1980s Parisian pop band into a career as an auteur of celebrated clips for the likes of the White Stripes, the Chemical Brothers, and Björk. Then, after directing commercials for a range of corporate clients, Gondry struck up a partnership with maverick screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. The pairing has so far produced two films, including 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which explored the same kinds of issues that have long fascinated contemporary artists—the ambiguities of perception, the indeterminacy of memory, the fragility of identity, the nuances of desire.

Given these bona fides, it was dispiriting to find Gondry’s New York gallery debut, “The Science of Sleep: An Exhibition of Sculpture and Creepy Pathological Little Gifts,” so haphazard and unpersuasive. Like that other well-known Björk-related auteur who’s also made gallery shows out of the stuff of his unconventional films, Gondry is an inveterate maximalist. Yet whereas the engine of Matthew Barney’s baroque imagination runs fast on big theory, deep archetype, and queasily hi-tech extrusions, Gondry’s chugs away with a sentimental, ramshackle can-doism that posits that anything can be made more interesting simply by making it dreamy. In Gondry’s current work, this approach appears to be synonymous with a kind of soft-bodied, lo-fi knickknackery that may seem very outré in the glossy métier of the film and TV projects he usually inhabits but is, for anyone even vaguely familiar with visual art, hardly groundbreaking.

Opened a few weeks ahead of the theatrical release of his film The Science of Sleep, the show was anchored by a manic collection of objects, models, and video clips from the movie, plugged into several sketchily immersive set pieces. Yet notwithstanding the suite of Gondry’s eponymous “gifts”—alarming little craft exercises like a necklace of fingernail clippings or an asymmetrical brassiere that, as promised, suggested vivid and not altogether healthy fascinations with four women in his life—the works in the show failed to provide any satisfying point of contact with the artist himself, so enmeshed were they within the specifics of another narrative. Marooned between their identities as former props and their aspirations as would-be works of art, the wildly heterogeneous selection of things on view, things often made by other artists—including a series of stuffed animals and objects credited to Laura Faggioni and a child’s toy organ jerry-rigged as a kind of knitting device, built by the director’s aunt Suzette Gondry; a cityscape made out of cardboard and toilet paper rolls; a bedroom tableau decorated with old toys, dirty socks, and a video-playing freezer; an office furnished with a bathtub desk, a trick piano, and a series of images from a “calendar of disasters”; and more—seemed indiscriminate and hopelessly intermediary, inevitably gesturing not toward the viewer but toward some inaccessible supplementary context. The end result registered less as nuanced and introspective than cryptic and charmlessly self-regarding—and did no favors for the film project as a whole, for its constituent physical elements, or for the otherwise spotless reputation of the inarguably gifted mind behind both.

Jeffrey Kastner