Mathieu Mercier

On the occasion of his exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, French artist Mathieu Mercier has reinvested in a concept one might have thought long since worn out by critics and art historians: postmodernism. The works brought together for his first large-scale retrospective, “Sans Titres 1993–2007” (Untitled Works 1993–2007), function essentially according to postmodern principles of anachronism and stylistic miscegenation, and the exhibition itself, laid out by the artist, follows a varied itinerary that produces often dubious or brutal juxtapositions. For example, Mercier displays meticulously lacquered Greek columns (Untitled, 2007) and a disproportioned and grotesque bronze, Homonculus, 2006, side by side with the “poor” materials (melamine, drywall, nails, and fluorescent kitchen lighting) that have traditionally haunted his formal vocabulary. For a long time Mercier was thought of as our resident DIY man, the guy who reconsidered domestic values and Sunday leisure activities and assayed depreciated motifs such as the suburban house. In 2003, for instance, as the winner of the Prix Marcel Duchamp at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, he presented Untitled (Pavilion), 2003, a show house without doors or windows that could be looked at from the outside only—a developer’s model meant not merely to sell real estate but to represent the entire way of life that goes along with it.

In Drum and Bass 100% Polyester, 2003, various red, yellow, and blue household products (towels, cans, folders, candles) are placed on black shelves on a white wall: “Mondrians made out of Duchamps,” comments art critic Michel Gauthier in a 2006 essay. Gauthier underlines Mercier’s erudition, how he so easily navigates the twists and turns of art history from constructivism and the ’20s avant-gardes to contemporary design. The artist seems to be amusing himself by questioning the legacy of notions such as economy of means, standardization, and recycling; he tinkers and customizes standards of mass consumption; he moves back and forth, as Gauthier writes, “between an art that would like to become utilitarian (design) and the utilitarian object that dreams of becoming a work of art (the Duchampian readymade).” An overlooked everyday object such as a coat hook is distorted and dislocated to become a sculpture (Sans Titre [Untitled], 2006) while an object as humble as a simple dowel becomes a pictorial unit in a mural, Mur de Chevilles (Wall of Plastic Pegs), 1994, which recalls the systematic alignment of Niele Toroni’s monochrome brush-marks. If Mercier occasionally loses the viewer in his wanderings, he compensates for this tendency with an acute sense of form and the uninhibited humor that underlies his contemporary conceits.

Claire Moulène

Translated from French by Sarah Crowner.