Sète, France

Philippe Ramette, Sculpture pré-déboulonnable (Pre-Dismantable Sculpture), 2011, painted resin, wood, 11' 10 1/2“ x 2' 7 1/2” x 2' 7 1/2".

Philippe Ramette, Sculpture pré-déboulonnable (Pre-Dismantable Sculpture), 2011, painted resin, wood, 11' 10 1/2“ x 2' 7 1/2” x 2' 7 1/2".

Philippe Ramette


Philippe Ramette, Sculpture pré-déboulonnable (Pre-Dismantable Sculpture), 2011, painted resin, wood, 11' 10 1/2“ x 2' 7 1/2” x 2' 7 1/2".

This exhibition might have surprised some viewers, since rather than the photographic multiples that are the most familiar part of his oeuvre, Philippe Ramette presented mainly sculpture, dating from 2005 through the present. The sole photograph was a unique print, not editioned. Titled L’ombre (de moi-même) (Shadow [of Myself]), 2007, it depicts a black suit and a pair of polished shoes placed on the ground as a projector casts the shadow of the body that we do not see. Has the modern dandy’s dark suit, which the artist has donned since the end of the 1980s, become, through its use, a uniform too heavy to wear? Sans titre (la silhouette) (Untitled [silhouette]), 2011, a black resin sculpture, presents Ramette’s body, naked, his right hand hiding his eyes. A metaphor for blocked inspiration, the famous blank page? Has the artist become his own shadow? Or perhaps it is a metaphor for death and disappearance? The artist admits that, like so many of us, he thinks about mortality every day. But let’s sidestep any psychologically inflected analysis in order to examine the shifts in Ramette’s oeuvre around 1988, when he initiated his investigations of the mirror. With Miroir à humilité (Mirror for Humility), 1988, Ramette aimed to overturn the traditional narcissistic function of the mirror and to shift its purpose to humility. And however out of fashion humility is, it is still undoubtedly the term that best characterizes the theme of this recent exhibition. Take, for example, the enigmatic presence of Sculpture sécable (Scored Sculpture), 2011, an oversize blue pill made of resin, which evokes the typical modern remedies for those with anxieties both big and small.

Humility, luckily, is not incompatible with Ramette’s very particular humor. Portrait tragi-comique (Tragicomical Portrait), 2011, a bust of the artist in resin, offers three different expressions depending on whether you look at it from the front or from the left or right side. With Eloge de la clandestinité (Hommage à la Résistance) (In Praise of the Underground [Homage to the Resistance]), 2011, the artist dresses for a photograph as a terrorist. Is Ramette considering a move to armed struggle—within the context of art, of course? For a theatrical punch, the artist returns to the great Marcel, overturning the intention of Étant donnés, 1946–66: In Sans titre (Le voyeur) (Untitled [Voyeur]), 2011, a statue of Ramette himself is hidden behind a white curtain and observes us, from afar, through an opening at eye height.

Despite the shift from photography to sculpture, there are important continuities across Ramette’s twenty-five years of creative work. Hence, the remarkable Sculpture pré-déboulonnable (Pre-Dismantable Sculpture), 2011—a figure of Mao Tse-tung, splittable like a tablet—which opened the exhibition, expands on the reflections on totalitarianism in his early Potence preventive pour dictateur potentiel (Preventive Gallows for Potential Dictator), 1993, or more recently, Karaoké pour dictateur potentiel (Karaoke for Potential Dictator), 2002. La traversée du miroir (image arrêtée) (Through the Looking Glass [still image]), 2007, expands on an investigation launched with several earlier mirror works from 1989 on. So Ramette can, without blushing, say what Michel Foucault once said: “I’m not where you expect me to be.” That’s precisely what we should expect from a major artist.

Élodie Antoine

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.