Magazine article Artforum International

Jean-Luc Moulene: Centre Pompidou, Paris

Magazine article Artforum International

Jean-Luc Moulene: Centre Pompidou, Paris

Article excerpt

PROTOTYPE AND PRODUCT, sculpture and document, corporate brand and abstract object: Jean-Luc Moulene's protean sculptures stubbornly resist our efforts to classify them. Yet the sheer multiplicity of his work, whether generated through high-end fabrication or via skilled traditional craftsmanship, inspired by esoteric mathematics or base bodily matter, is not simply meant to provoke or obscure. Rather, Moulene's objects are produced in service of an ambitious investigation of complexity, a rigorous, near-metaphysical study of how things hold together, either on a small scale, as with the parts that make up a single sculpture, or on a large scale, as when he addresses the relationships between one sculpture and another, or between a sculpture and the world.

The Paris-based artist first came to acclaim in the early 1990s as a producer of singularly enigmatic, at times profoundly visceral photographs; only in the past decade have audiences begun to recognize his equally significant sculptural practice, which Moulene has underscored via a sequence of prominent international exhibitions: at Carre d'Art--Musee d'Art Contemporain in Nimes, France, in 2009; Dia:Beacon, New York, in 2011; and the French Academy of Rome, Villa Medici, in 2015, to name just three. The artist's current show, a midcareer retrospective curated by Sophie Duplaix at the Centre Pompidou, adopts a similar focus. In fact, photography plays only a marginal role, relegated to printed matter around the exhibition's entrance. Copies of Quiconque, 2016, a forty-eight-page newspaper that Moulene printed in an edition of 131,000, sit in a stack on a wooden pallet. In a vestibule, four books contain photographic series made by the artist between 1996 and 2011. Aside from these examples (plus three videos), the remaining works are objects, all of them new, and most made using 3-D digital modeling.

Speaking with critic Jean-Pierre Criqui during a public conversation at the museum this past fall, Moulene joked that the show is the opposite of a retrospective; it is really his first "prospective." It is also installed in a bewildering way: There is a total absence of clues suggesting why individual sculptures are placed where they are. At the entrance, visitors are greeted by Bubuglu, 2015-16, a small imaginary, nonanthropomorphic bronze deity, which reads as though it were an icon meant to protect the rest of the sculptures. The two largest works are installed at the opposite ends of the show: These are Bi-face, 2016, a slick, undulating object sculpted from foam and coated in bright blue and red pigment, and No, no, no, 2016, a work consisting of three types of barriers cast in Jesmonite--one, a tetrapod, meant to keep waves at bay; another a highway noise barrier; and the third a Jersey barrier, designed to keep cars from lurching off the highway. The other pieces--oscillating between barrier and focal point, border and center--are counterintuitively scattered throughout the open space, eluding any rational layout or defined path. Adding to the confusion, visitors can view this dizzying array from both inside and outside the museum: External urban elements--the Pompidou's colorful pipes, an advertising kiosk, a bus stop, pedestrian barricades, even the noise of traffic--penetrate the membrane of the museum's glass-curtain walls.

Moulene is not drawn to complexity in itself, however, but to the fact that complexity can be made visible--that it can be revealed through an image. This is the genesis of the artist's interest in advanced mathematics. A previous body of sculptures took inspiration from knot theory, a branch of topology that studies mathematical properties such as intersection, continuity, and surface. As much a tool for formal invention as a method of classification, the knot presents a radical challenge to classical sculpture's division between interior and exterior, opening up new possibilities for reckoning with--or even systematizing--surface, form, and matter. …

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