Olivier Foulon

Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean

Olivier Foulon’s work seems made precisely to frustrate interpretation, because the scruples that ought to govern the act of putting a work into words are already the focus of his artistic thinking. How is a work perpetuated and transformed in light of critical reception? How do the role and stage assigned to the artist shift? In short, how does art history play itself out? These are some of the key issues of his practice.

The exhibition “Prisma Pavilion” is immediately surprising because here the expanse of mudam’s main gallery has been used for displaying objects that would seem to call instead for the dimensions of a cabinet of curiosities. A succession of twenty-three small, colored rectangles hang at regular intervals of about eight and a half feet at eye level. From afar, one thinks of Niele Toroni, because this wall (its proportions, edges, and flaws) is revealed. But when one approaches, one notices that each rectangle is different: These small sheets of graph paper are the ground for variations on the pictorial stroke (Untitled, like most of the works here; all 2009). Using oil, watercolor, ballpoint pen, pencil, confetti, glue, or glitter with obvious pleasure, the artist has worked these bare means to investigate the history of painting in each minimal component. The pages follow a sequence like slides supporting a presentation that is at once ambitious and cryptic.

Then one notices a canvas covered in green paint slipped in between two sheets of paper. There is also a second one, a bit farther away: The canvas, Ten O’Clock (Whistler)—French Version (Mallarmé), is unpainted, with nine photocopies from a book glued on, sideways, in a checkerboard pattern. By tilting one’s head, one can read the “‘Ten O’Clock’ of Mr. Whistler,” a discourse on Art with a capital A and its evolution since the cave age. With the text arranged in this fashion, reading proves difficult; the book therefore goes from readable to visible, linking up with the sequence of formal experiments constituted by the sheets of graph paper. In consequence, this transfer from one state to another underlines the appropriation of which this discourse was already the object, since we owe the translation, here before our eyes, to Mallarmé himself.

The sequence of pages continues in a small adjacent room and ends with a pinned-up painting, its layer of white paint applied unevenly, sometimes revealing tartan motifs. Finally, a last gallery to the left of the entrance makes things even more ambiguous. Only one of its walls has been used: A first sheet presents two parakeets—a nod to Marcel Broodthaers—while a large blank canvas is followed by a second one, a quarter the size of the other, on which tiny fig seeds cling and behind which a sheet of paper is hidden; then, hanging from two clips, a “painting” executed in collaboration with Ella Klaschka, made
from the fabric of a common umbrella and with a title (Stoffbild [Blau] [Fabric Painting (Blue)]), that recalls Blinky Palermo; and finally, San Giorgio a cavallo (Raffaello) (Saint George on Horseback [Raphael]), a sheet of paper whose upper half is covered by a reproduction of a drawing representing Saint George battling the dragon. Beautiful and enigmatic, this last wall comes across as a restrained but dizzying exposé of art’s resources. It fully captures Foulon’s audacity—his capacity to take hold of art history as a whole and redistribute its terms.

Olivier Mignon

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.