Mulhouse, France

“Les Sculptures meurent aussi”

Kunsthalle Mulhouse

The third and last in a cycle of exhibitions curated by Lorenzo Benedetti at the Kunsthalle Mulhouse, “Les Sculptures meurent aussi” (Sculptures Also Die) looked like a primer on recent European sculpture, however predicated on such sculpture’s extinction. A twist on the opening lines from Chris Marker and Alain Resnais’s 1953 film of the same name—“When men die, they enter into history; when statues die, they enter into art”—Benedetti’s title evoked a familiar endgame while suggesting that there might be a more concrete, or at least pithier, solution: Maybe dead sculptures enter purgatory, a place in which to perpetually reckon with their inability to return to the world of simple statuary or, still less, that of simple objects.

Such a resting place was impishly inaugurated with Alex Cecchetti’s photographic series “Untitled,” 2009, documenting the Paris-based Italian artist’s interventions on statues, all of them the worse for wear, in a park in the environs of Paris. In one image, a punctured bag of water, suspended from a statue of which only the legs remain, spurts an arc of water onto the ground like an improvised Manneken Pis. Similarly devilish in anecdote but grand in appearance is Mandla Reuter’s Fountain, 2010, five massive shipping tanks containing water from the Trevi Fountain. The work manages to be at once monumental and monumentally deflating; thus displaced, the water seems as short of cinematic mojo as it is abundant in volume. The show’s densest work, Michael Dean’s cast-concrete “Analogue Series,” 2010, echoed this evacuation: four coal-black, faceted tablets whose contours resemble the imprint of a now-absent code, a sort of sublimated language. Viewers were invited to take up these burdens and carry them around the space as if charged with ferrying their own headstones.

The suggestion of the memento mori became even more evident in Francesco Arena’s Strutture con immagini (Structures with Images), 2009, dozens of freestanding sculptures, each crowned with an ink-jet print showing one of the artist’s political or cultural heroes. Kitchensink cenotaphs built from odds and ends—stools, rolling carts, pieces of wood and clay, metal, and bric-a-brac—their political subtext was almost completely diffused by their formal similarities to Ida Ekblad’s ebullient junkyard sculptures nearby. Both were upstaged in turn by the elegance of Guillaume Leblon’s plywood, sand, and mussels installation Standing Plate, 2009, whose upright, weathered boards seem to sleepwalk through the space.

The works may not all be equally convincing, but the disparities among them emphasized Benedetti’s interest in provoking questions and even disagreements—such as whether sculptures can in fact die. Or whether they instead participate in a never-ceasing end in which the last rites of forms must be carried out in perpetuity. From reflections on the non-site (Leblon, Reuter, or Oscar Tuazon) to those on the cast (Dean, Cecchetti), the works here seemed haunted by the same ghosts of art history that have made leaving the museum or white cube effectively impossible, keeping sculpture today in a purgatorial production that nevertheless can look, in this case, pretty lively.

Joanna Fiduccia