Guillaume Leblon

Galerie Jocelyn Wolff

Guillaume Leblon’s art is in transition, but it doesn’t show the growing pains that render the phrase “in transition” a charitable way to disparage unsuccessful new work. Whatever his newest sculptures have lost in elegance they have gained in texture and expansiveness. Indeed, his exhibition “Réplique de la chose absente” (Replica of the Absent Thing) seemed to recast maturation itself as lush, autumnal decay rather than patchy springtime blossoming and, as a result, his transition looked altogether melancholic and profound.

If his earlier work was characterized by an almost phlegmatic engagement with architecture, monumentality, and the use of weathered materials, Leblon’s recent sculptures appear more daring but less coherent. Réversibilité (Reversibility; all works 2009) is an assembly of models, materials, tests, and remnants from the artist’s studio, gathered on three short shelves. Allusions to other pieces, like a grubby green cloth swaddling an unidentified object that recalls the sinister, room-size Volume d’intérieur, 2004, and samples of others, like the cement-and-mussel-shell aggregate from Leblon’s recent exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean in Luxembourg, suggest a boîte-en-valise of former projects. But there are just as many uncharacteristic elements. A thick sheet of paper painted in sunset colors adds a chromatic accent to the work’s earth tones; the bottom half of a leg molded from gray clay and impaled by a rusted banister brings to mind Thomas Houseago’s plaster-and-iron Frankensteins or Matthew Monahan’s dislocated totems, or again the dummies and meticulous pileups of Mark Manders. For Leblon, the inclusion of these referential elements contributes a bit of welcome open-endedness to his once sternly self-contained sculpture. This irresolution speaks to an artwork’s capacity to upset, or reverse, the representational status of the things within it. For while the objects arrayed on Réversibilité's shelves appear to be replicas, in the absence of any real thing out there in the world, they become something more like icons of obscure worship arranged in Leblon’s frontal, altarlike composition.

Réplique,” however, can also mean “retort”—in this case, the niggling of absence in the form of the memento mori. The exhibition’s sole sound piece, 16h, Frévent, occurs hourly: the terrific peals of a church bell at four o’clock, the hour marking the transition from day into late day, a sad hour. Septembre is the frame of a lounge chair with glass panes laid atop it, effectively sealing off its summertime function under a custom glass casket. Pomme suspendue (Hanging Apple), a black clay fruit, dangles on a rope hung loosely from the ceiling, as if waiting for someone to toll the death knell.

Leblon’s formal leaps were perhaps best synthesized with his morbidity in the show’s eponymous work: three large MDF planks with about half a foot of vertical space between them, garnished with blooms of green, black, and white mold. A rusty white banister runs along one side, suggesting a staircase that the platforms have successively boarded up. Out of this urban decay (or its replica) rise two truncated, inverted cones of gleaming steel, one of them capped off, the other holding a coiled sheet of brown paper. Another way to transition from one level to the next—not step by step, but by spiraling outward.

Joanna Fiduccia