Grenoble

Isabelle Cornaro, Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires (version V) (Landscape with Poussin and Eyewitnesses [version V]), 2012, wood, concrete, found objects. Installation view.

Isabelle Cornaro, Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires (version V) (Landscape with Poussin and Eyewitnesses [version V]), 2012, wood, concrete, found objects. Installation view.

Isabelle Cornaro

MAGASIN - Centre National d'Art Contemporain

Isabelle Cornaro, Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires (version V) (Landscape with Poussin and Eyewitnesses [version V]), 2012, wood, concrete, found objects. Installation view.

Just as some of the best recent French art is made by artists who live or have lived outside France, many of its best exhibitions take place outside Paris, in the provinces, where regional institutions subject themselves to risks that their more venerable metropolitan counterparts are unwilling to undertake. Isabelle Cornaro’s stunning exhibition at Le Magasin is a case in point. Having passed through the École du Louvre before studying with Jean-Luc Vilmouth at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and, through an exchange program, at the Royal College of Art in London, Cornaro carries an artistic passport typical of her generation. And while it does not necessarily distinguish her work to say that it cuts across the media of photography, film, painting, sculpture, drawing, and installation, her way of doing so is absolutely unique.

The exhibition in Grenoble was a mini-retrospective spread across five galleries, each containing what at first glance appeared to be a completely different project: an installation, Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires (version V) (Landscape with Poussin and Eyewitnesses [version V]), 2012; two films, Floues et colorées (Blurry and Colorful), 2010, and De l’argent filmé de profil et de trois-quarts (Money Filmed in Profile and Three-Quarters View), 2010; another installation, this time of vitrines, Le Proche et le lointain (Near and Far), 2011; a room of wall paintings and reliefs, Reproductions and Homonymes, both 2012; and another film, Premier rêve d’Oskar Fischinger (First Dream of Oskar Fischinger), 2008. The enormous main gallery of Le Magasin, a former machine room designed by Gustave Eiffel for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris and subsequently reassembled in Grenoble for use as a factory, is a demanding—one could even say brutal—space. It is a testament to Cornaro’s artistic intelligence that the piece she exhibited there, Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires (version V), looks as if Eiffel could have had it in mind all along. The work itself is a series of bases of various heights, made of plywood covered with concrete, displaying an elegant industrial object that Cornaro had found in the vicinity.

My initial reaction while walking through this forest of plinths was to cringe at the way both Minimalist form and the readymade had been gussied up for exhibition. Were this its only point of interest, Cornaro’s piece would have been nothing more than a sad recapitulation of the fate awaiting all objects once they enter the museum. But when I stepped back to the correct viewing point, the installation clicked. Each object became an element within a Poussinian landscape, organized so that objects proportionally diminished in size and so that orthogonal lines receded to a common vanishing point, as the laws of perspective prescribe. Cornaro, by acknowledging the ultimate destiny of the work of art to be displayed as part of a collection, was thus able to create from it a productive series of tensions. Neither completely pictorial nor entirely sculptural, the entire construction has its own precise laws, but requires the viewer in order to fall into place. It alternates between an almost fetishistic presentation of the object and a more distanced, introspective space of reflection. In fact, it was not so much her virtuoso use of media as the way in which each gallery shifted between different registers of object-experience—between artfully presented vitrines and mere accumulations in Le Proche et le lointain, between the filmed recordings of objects in Premier rêve d’Oskar Fischinger and ghostlike casts of them in Homonymes—that gave Cornaro’s exhibition an unexpectedly stunning cohesion.

Paul Galvez