Art Criticism

Julien Prévieux, Francisco Sobrino, Raphaël Zarka

Raphaël Zarka: Riding Modern Art, a cover collection (detail, 2015), in Julien Prévieux, Francisco Sobrino, Raphaël Zarka (Jousse Entreprise, 2015).
Exhibition review published in ArtReview (London), vol. 67 no. 6, September 2015, p. 142.

The summer show at Jousse Entreprise gathers works by Julien Prévieux, winner of the 2014 Prix Marcel Duchamp; Raphaël Zarka, represented by Parisian gallery Michel Rein and a nominee for the prize a year before; and Francisco Sobrino (who passed away in 2014, but whose estate is represented by Jousse), a seminal figure in Op art and a cofounder of the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV) in 1960. Although this small exhibition has no generic title and the practices of the three artists share no apparent ground, the works displayed are loosely bound together by the leitmotif of gesture. To some degree, everything here questions how engineered application and, more importantly, misappropriation of artworks or devices, further the aesthetic experience beyond contemplation or strict usage.

Mounted on a wall near the entrance, Mobile (1967), a wooden kinetic assemblage by Sobrino, is exemplary of the GRAV historical programme and certainly the most practical method here of playfully prompting participation: viewers are simply invited to set in motion and swing, via stretching, four white disks joined together by steel springs on a large black panel, thus creating a metallic sound that resonates within the entire exhibition space and slowly fades away until stillness.

Next to it, Zarka’s minimalist sculpture Free Ride (La Prophétie) (2009) is a plywood replica of American artist Tony Smith’s Free Ride (1962), which is installed in the Sculpture Garden of MoMA in New York. It consists of three two-metre-long parallelepipedic sections, each of which smoothly transitions from the previous one with a right-angled turn (two laying on the ground, the other upright). For Zarka, Smith’s work serves as a symbol of skaters’ misappropriation of public scultures, which they use as frameworks for stunts. Indeed, in a passage of his book Free Ride: skateboard, mécanique galiléenne et formes simples (2011), which is quoted in the press release, he observes that it could function as both a bench for passersby and, more peculiarly, an L-shaped ledge for skateboarders. While I was openly invited by Jousse’s staff to sit on Zarka’s replica, I couldn’t tell you if the creative irreverence of skateboarders was actually welcome here since I didn’t get to see any tricks in action. Instead I had to content myself with surveying Zarka’s ensemble Riding Modern Art, a cover collection (2015), 15 covers of skateboard magazines displayed on shelves in the following room. Each shows an athlete sliding on or jumping over urban art, not only experiencing but truly playing and transcending it; which is what Zarka refers to as ‘phenomenological minimalism’.

Even though anomalous here considering there was apparently no serious curatorial process to the show, Zarka’s passion for skateboarding, which he shares with Prévieux, is the reason he was invited to exhibit at Jousse Entreprise. I should add, parenthetically, that Prévieux finished second in the 1992 French freestyle skateboarding championships, but this isn’t the issue of What Shall We Do Next? séquence n°2 (2014), the 17-minute ‘videodance’ presented in the last room that he originally screened when competing in (and winning) the Duchamp Prize. For this work, Prévieux created a choreography with six dancers out of gestures patented by companies mainly in the area of natural user interfaces, which he collected from the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. While some of them haven’t been marketed yet, a voiceover and the dancers recount anecdotes about the registered inventions they perform in a void, as it were, missing the apparatus they are supposed to activate, with the ‘pinch-to-zoom’ and ‘slide-to-unlock’ gestures among the most commonly used. Overall Prévieux’s video offers a curious glimpse of our bodily future, which is epitomised when one of the dancers jokingly cites English writer Douglas Adams’s conceit, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), of an imaginary radio that would be controlled by waving: ‘It saved a lot of muscular expenditure of course, but meant you had to stay infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same programme’. In the end, despite the regrettable lack of curatorial direction, this exhibition left me refreshed and ever more eager to play with art on my own terms.

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