Vincent Fecteau: Art Institute of Chicago

Article excerpt

The viewer may find it disconcerting when Vincent Fecteau's wonderfully erudite abstract sculptures reveal themselves, on close inspection, to be made of papier-mache. Plaster, ceramic, or cast bronze seem the obvious media in which to produce such classically formal exercises reveling in unpretentious plays of shape, volume, color, and contour. But Fecteau is not compelled by elaborate lost-wax casting techniques; instead he uses simple means, building up these recent works with paper, glue, and gesso.

Curator James Rondeau notes in the exhibition brochure that "few artists have made such deceptively modest and idiosyncratic works so assured, involuted, and transformative." Rondeau's designations are right, though one of them only partially so, for while the exhibition's eight small objects (all works Untitled, 2008) may be idiosyncratic in their individual forms, Fecteau's abstract practice is in fact willfully unoriginal, the artist candidly pledging art-historical allegiances. He boldly summons, for example, Constantin Brancusi and Jean Arp (whose works hold court in the Art Institute's modern collection), calling on the rudimentary formal language championed in early-twentieth-century avant-garde sculpture.

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Each of Fecteau's objects began as a papier-mache cast of a beach ball. Working on all eight pieces at the same time, he pulled, bent, crushed, and cut at the basic spherical shape, adding papier-mache appendages here and there and creating undulating organic contours and architectural planes, deep pockets of space and shallow crevices. Each of these assembled forms was then unified with a final layer of papier-mache and gessoed and painted. Despite their varying appearances, the works are roughly the same in size and mass, a homogeneity brought into relief by the museum's having displayed them on uniformly proportioned pedestals. …