Claude Closky

Musée d'art contemporain du Val-de-Marne (MAC/VAL)

For his retrospective “8002–9891,” Claude Closky showed nothing. Instead, visitors were provided with a floor plan and headphones: This was a show to be heard. An artist disloyal to any single medium, Closky forged his retrospective out of a common museum accoutrement, the audio guide. The visitor’s infrared receiver picked up sound files from transmitters suspended above the vast, empty, undivided, sparsely lit exhibition space. But in place of explanations, one heard aural renditions of Closky’s works. For instance, at the entrance to the show, a voice recited in French, “. . . the seventy-ninth time, the eightieth time, the eighty-first time . . .”—a professional recording of an actor evenly reading Plusieurs fois (Many Times), 1989, an A4 printout of typed text that goes from “la première fois” (the first time) to “la cent-dixième fois” (the 110th time). As mundane as the printed piece may seem, its spoken version immediately absorbs the listener in the reading’s prolonged and absurdly self-reflexive time.

From here, there was no predetermined path. “8002–9891” presented fifty-five invisible works arranged in a loose grid, most of them audio adaptations of works using words and numbers; eleven were originally sound pieces. Six periodically came over loudspeakers with the insistent volume of a museum closing-time announcement. But in Closky’s hands, the loudspeakers informed visitors of things like when it is not 3 PM and not 4 PM. Originally printed as billboard posters in 1995, Il n’est pas 15h and Il n’est pas 16h were announced alternately, forming truisms repeated every hour on the hour. Another loudspeaker piece, Week-end, derived from a French radio jingle singing “Week-end, week-end, week-end,” was already a sound piece on speakers in 1998. At MAC/VAL, however, it played on weekends only. The inanity of the tune is doubly glaring when it is Saturday or Sunday and one is interrupted by its injunction to be gleeful on weekends.

Through headphones, one could also hear a reading of 1000 choses à faire (1000 Things to Do), 1993–94, a collection of catchphrases cut out from magazines and flyers: “Donnez du caractère à vos idées.” “Ayez en tête le réflexe crème.” “Jetez le bruit par la fenêtre.” (Give your ideas character. Keep in mind the cream reflex. Throw noise out the window.) Eliminating the clippings’ typographical styles, the spoken words let us better perceive their preposterous content. In the artist’s book Tout ce que je peux faire (Everything I Can Do), 1992, “Je peux” (I can) is followed by every verb in the dictionary, thus forming one long sentence describing aimless action. In its audio rendition, Closky voices this sentence himself, adding “je peux” before each verb. The 2004 video work You Want You Have divides advertisement-like slogans between two screens. One screen introduces half the slogan with “You want,” while the other introduces the concluding half with “You have.” A synthetic voice reads them out loud as the text scrolls rapidly but often does not have time to finish the second half. At MAC/VAL, we hear two actors read the full phrases as one continuous sentence, which lays bare the lack of correlation between the desire elicited and the product advertised: “You want to think different: You have an Apple personal computer.” “You want raw passion in a bag: You have a bag of Florette salad.”

Closky, an unusually prolific artist, didn’t tell all in this retrospective. He emphasized just one key facet of his practice: the way he extracts and extends to their logical conclusion the words imposed on us daily and stock methods of classifying and attributing value. Revising his own past work, Closky holds up a remarkably unclouded mirror to our consumer society.

Jian-Xing Too