View of “Georges Adéagbo,” 2020.

View of “Georges Adéagbo,” 2020.

Georges Adéagbo

Barbara Wien

Georges Adéagbo is a one-trick artist. But the outcome of that trick is endlessly variable. His method consists of making assemblages of objects: mostly books, magazines, newspaper articles, record covers, and wooden sculptures, but also the occasional pair of underwear. These items are pinned to the wall, as in a teenager’s bedroom, with what looks like a contrived messiness: Everything’s askew, with no apparent relation between one thing and another. So open does Adéagbo’s structure appear that for a second you might think you can just pick anything up, perhaps even take it home. But then it is art, after all, and so you start to look for distance, permanence, design.

The exhibition’s title, “‘L’Abécédaire de Georges Adéagbo: la civilisation parlant et faisant voir la culture’ . . !” (“The Alphabet of Georges Adéagbo: the civilization is talking and making culture visible” . . !), was a reference to Labécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, Claire Parnet’s landmark 1989 series of television interviews with the French philosopher. Over nearly six hours, Deleuze worked his way through the alphabet, offering his two cents on A for animal and B for boisson and so forth. In C for culture, he explains his hatred of the subject, saying he engages with it only in the hope of encountering an idea that allows him to get out of it again. Escaping art through art also seems to be the point of Adéagbo’s trick. Every object gestures to an exit, an unexpected connection to other things, elsewhere.

Each iteration of Adéagbo’s art speaks to the times and the places that framed its production. In this case, the places were Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the artist’s native Benin. The time is the present, evidenced in a magazine cover of Harry and Meghan and in renderings of the spiky Covid ball. Other elements seemed less temporally specific. A story about Jennifer Aniston “finally happy again,” for instance, could have been from any point during the past fifteen years. One wondered about what lies behind all this hoarding. Does Adéagbo share my preoccupation with the outfits of the French first lady or with queer-interest films such Carol (2015) and The Danish Girl (2015), or was the occurrence of these references a matter of chance, meaning that I forged these paths through his alphabet myself? Could these assemblages accommodate any and every narrative, or was there some hidden design?

Both were the case, it seemed. Taking a few steps back, you realized there was symmetry to the scatter. Each wall had the outline of an altar, with the knickknacks unfolding from the center. The floor-based groups, often organized on and around a rug, likewise invited a devotional attitude. These vaguely religious formats pointed to Adéagbo’s construction as a cosmology, a self-conscious world-building exercise, the result of which was something very close to an immediate imprint of life itself in all its confusing, multifarious mundanity.

At the center of this cosmos was a thesis on how stuff comes together to testify to the geographical and historical situatedness of subjectivity, as well as to its transience. But this subjectivity was, as it turned out, not that of anyone in particular. Rather, as you wandered through the nine installations making up the exhibition looking for Adéagbo and the meaning you assumed he’d planted there, what you found was some warped and elusive reflection of yourself. Likewise, locations and temporalities melted and fused into something both shared and deeply intimate. Deleuze sought to escape culture through what he called encounters, and, as he told Parnet, “one has encounters with things and not with people.” Judging by Adéagbo’s alphabet, Deleuze was right.