Vincent Fecteau, Untitled, 2015, acrylic paint, dowel, paper, 8 1/4 × 14 1/8 × 5 1/8".

Vincent Fecteau, Untitled, 2015, acrylic paint, dowel, paper, 8 1/4 × 14 1/8 × 5 1/8".

Vincent Fecteau

Vincent Fecteau, Untitled, 2015, acrylic paint, dowel, paper, 8 1/4 × 14 1/8 × 5 1/8".

This exhibition, Vincent Fecteau’s largest yet, featured a selection of sculptures that date back to 2000, allowing connections to be drawn between several strands of his oeuvre. The San Francisco–based artist frequently remarks that his is a slow process; he usually works on several related efforts at the same time, so that maintaining a cohesive ensemble becomes a constraint that guides his creative thinking.

As the visitor entered the nineteenth-century Kunsthalle Basel’s expansive skylight hall, she encountered seven papier-mâché sculptures, produced between 2000 and 2006, that were poised on plinths arranged throughout the room. Surrounding them on the gallery walls was a new series of thirteen theatrical miniatures set in black boxes (all 2015), three-dimensional collages with which Fecteau reprised his early work in the genre. In some cases, the artist integrated images he had snipped from architecture and design magazines in the 1990s and set aside for later use. To see these photographic fragments—mostly shots of interiors intended to recall the faux splendor of a bygone era’s aristocratic residences—one had to closely approach the works. As though to probe the relationship between sculptural form and surface that is always dynamic in the medium of collage, many of the pieces feature images of pillows sheathed in iridescent fabrics, their plump softness contrasting with the boxes’ hard edges. Scraps of corrugated cardboard, wickerwork, twigs, and other found objects, all coated in light-absorbing black paint, served as additional compositional elements that both abstracted and bridged the richly textured world of the photos and the matte black space of sculpture.

The wall objects shared a palette with the freestanding sculptures, which were more recognizable products of Fecteau’s idiomatic attention to form: torus-knot-like serpentine volumes fractured by severe geometries. To make each of these latter works, the artist first covered foamcore with papier-mâché; he then cut up the form and rearranged the resulting pieces to produce a body riddled with holes and folded into pockets. A coat of acrylic paint, sometimes in two colors, was then applied, and finally, the piece was enhanced with various appliqués, such as balsa wood, burlap, rope, or seashells. In effect, these two final steps heighten or mitigate the strain of the tangled sculptural surfaces: Matte and glossy paint makes for pulsating contrasts, diagonal wooden slats somehow transform a flat plane into a taut membrane, and a rubber band hanging limply from a nail demonstrates that the artist sometimes prefers flaccid inertia to tension.

Occupying (indeed, consuming) the two small galleries that branch off the main space were three large sculptures—one from 2006 and two from 2012—whose intricate curves and nested spaces confound orientation in a way that recalls the unguided exploration invited by the tiny scenes in the wall-mounted collages. Unlike the collages, however, these mammoth efforts have no front side. From whichever angle one approaches them, they seem to turn away, to withdraw into themselves. In fact, many of Fecteau’s efforts seem haunted by a paradoxical melancholy: Rather than condemning the artist to idleness, the sentiment is channeled into the work of his hands.

Maja Naef

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.