Pierre-Olivier Arnaud, Untitled (abstract), 2013, silk screen on paper, 68 7/8 x 47 1/4". Skopia.

Pierre-Olivier Arnaud, Untitled (abstract), 2013, silk screen on paper, 68 7/8 x 47 1/4". Skopia.

Pierre-Olivier Arnaud

Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain

Pierre-Olivier Arnaud, Untitled (abstract), 2013, silk screen on paper, 68 7/8 x 47 1/4". Skopia.

Close-up photographs of lush blossoms—flowers at their most seductive—were a highlight of Pierre-Olivier Arnaud’s recent show at Skopia. And yet this seductiveness seemed to come at us from a distance, muted by the photographic medium itself. Although the size of the prints—many are quite large—gives them a real presence, they have an almost faded, washed-out look to them, like afterimages asserting a merely transient effect on our retinas or as if we had glimpsed the blossoms by the light of long-extinguished galaxies in the night sky. A reduction of all contrasts turned surfaces and lines into grayscale patterns that are difficult to distinguish. Their backgrounds are almost entirely blocked out and are only vaguely reminiscent of the photographic process of light transfer that created them. The French artist’s pictures are thus halfway between photographs of things in the world and autonomously conceived images. They exist in an in-between realm where various senses of reality overlap and cancel each other out. Likewise, these images are neither unique objects nor files that can be reproduced ad infinitum, since each is in circulation in a limited print run of one hundred that makes it viewable by the public in various forms. Pasting them directly on the wall like billboards, Arnaud seems to suggest that the individual print is only transient.

Arnaud’s use of text also recalls billboards and posters. One image, from 2008, shows a sign in a shopwindow with the words NO SHOW TODAY, and in another, dated 2007, we read the words THE PREVIEW WAS TOMORROW; one of his neon works, from 2005, suggests we try THE NEXT SHOW. The temporal paradox of the already-completed preview to be held tomorrow or the show missing altogether hints that photography itself is no longer putting in an appearance here as a large-format, colorfully glossy pronouncement, but instead operates in a belated or premature mode, if not one denied to us altogether. Anachronistic motifs produce further displacements in the temporal continuum: In the thirty-six-part Hotel Kosmos, 2008, for example, one of the images shows an abandoned hotel from the late-modern period situated somewhere on the outskirts of Eastern Europe with an illuminated gray sign looking like something out of a county fair.

One photograph at MAMCO (part of a group called Untitled [nouveaux horizons II], 2007) displays the legend PROGRAMM lost in an empty stretch of wall. Modernism might once have taken place in this blank space; or, in a version that is still unresolved, it might still be on its way. All that is overtly present is the gap, a latent state of art that might erupt at any moment. This stance reminds me of Stefan Brüggemann’s text-on-wall pieces, including one containing the phrase NO CONTENT in parentheses. The age of “post”-consciousness is past. All possibilities, including that which has never before been seen, are announced in our eager anticipation of these exemplars, these avant-images, these prototypes.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.