Arts / Museums

Coup d’Etat

Loris Gréaud

BY Patricia Mora // 12.05.14

Come January, European installationist/illusionist artist Loris Gréaud lands at the Dallas Contemporary in one of the most eagerly watched openings of the international spring season. Patricia Mora chats with the red-hot art star from his studio in the environs of Paris and gets an exclusive look at the most ambitious exhibition ever mounted at the Dallas Contemporary — a beyond-epic Texas debut that also marks the artist’s first American museum show. Entre nous.


Considered one of the most promising European artists of his generation, Loris Gréaud is undeniably attractive, cavorts with models and comes dangerously close to using a cheeky, slick vibe as a branding motif. However, none of this is a hand that he plays heavily. Above all, he’s obsessively focused on his art practice. It’s hardly a matter of culpability that he’s ideally suited for showing up at Paris Fashion Week and turning heads, or that he speaks with a lavishly inflected French accent that makes every utterance resonate with seductiveness. However, Gréaud also loves ricocheting among topics as diverse as architecture, science, philosophy and poetry. His upcoming show at the Dallas Contemporary is guaranteed to rock viewers back on their heels. Put bluntly, it’s an amazing coup.


Gréaud has one word for the upcoming exhibition: binary. “There is only black or white for this show,” he says. “No gray. It will be a really challenging show. People can get mad at it or hate it. But it can’t be just ‘okay.’ It will be a genuine experience of art. It will definitely not be ‘safe.’” This is an especially startling announcement from an artist whom Dallas Contemporary director Peter Doroshenko acknowledges as being “not even near mid-career.” Yet Gréaud has already amassed a stratospheric pedigree, with installations at the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, the Venice Biennale and a host of other venues. The artist’s meteoric success lies in his works, which are best described as grand installations. Ultimately, what is smart about them is their uncanny ability to create a kind of secular temple. While Gréaud carves out environments dubbed “conceptual,” he offers us far too much splendid material for such heady nomenclature to be applied. He gives us unsettling shapes, constructs and spilling sounds that redefine spaces in ways that are brilliant and technologically adroit. The parrot, so to speak, is uncaged. Instead of locking us in our noggins, Gréaud lures us into jettisoning our comfy confines and roaming the world in strident new ways. He challenges us to reimagine how we experience fi lm, sound, space and physical constructs. He therefore confers upon us a new place, a world apart — which is precisely what a more customary temple provides. The word “temple,” after all, comes from the root “to cut.” Ergo, it is meant to be a space unlike any others. And that is precisely what Gréaud devises with dazzling consistency.


The show at the Contemporary is what Gréaud refers to as Gesamtkunstwerk, a German term usually translated as “a total artwork” or “all-embracing art form.” It will be envisioned as a kind of meta work — ancillary pieces will operate internally as independent forms but will also relate and acquire meaning from the piece in toto — the Gesamtkunstwerk. Viewers can expect to be immersed in a confection of light, sound and outré imagery. Gréaud calls his polymath status, fondness for soundscapes, sculpture and cutting-edge portals into new artistic realms an “empirical machine.” His inspiration comes not from pistons and gears, however, but “from cinema, the way that a fi lm makes you go through a process. There are lights, actors and momentum. So it is the metaphor of a machine, of the wheels” — clearly a reference to the sinuous winding of fi lm through an old-fashioned projector. His work vis-à-vis the empirical machine requires substantial research; he frequently travels the world to consult with scientists and specialists from a variety of disciplines to pursue solutions for his work. “I am not building a career,” he says. “I am 100 percent searching for the adventure of art. I am searching for that adventure with full intensity.” Imagine this uttered from a studio located outside the center of Paris by a 30-something who has already created tsunami-sized waves. The man is intense.


If you’re unfamiliar with Gréaud, his installation at the Louvre, which was exhibited June 2013 through January 2014, serves as a marvelous introduction. Ensconced in the empty space of I. M. Pei’s pyramid, the massive work known simply as [I] created a narrative of mesmerizing disquietude. It’s been noted that the title holds court as both the personal pronoun “I” and “i.” an imaginary unit in complex number theory. A conceptual artist would have merely created an “I” shape in metal, wood or neon and left viewers to ponder the meanings embedded in mathematics and parts of speech. However, the haunting outline of Gréaud’s figure, near the top of the grand staircase, engaged museumgoers in quite a different way. While perplexing and conducive to a bit of cerebration, it also operated on a visceral level, even as it evoked the ghost of Rodin. Who or what is this heavy, plodding entity? And what is it lumbering toward? What was intimated by the fact that it hovered in the midst of crowds anxious to move through the ramparts of what is deemed the greatest bastion of Western culture? Its shape tested our mettle and exhibited a flair for competing alliances: cloaked mystery coupled with psychological disclosure; want and ragged resignation; an implied story in which things happened or are impending — on and on. [I] was baffling and vaguely malsain. It was also redolent of a terrible form of lovelessness — and quite conceptual, since the viewer was co-creating the work. Bear in mind, this is the artist who once marketed a brightly colored candy, dubbed Celador, which was absolutely without flavor but offered “a taste of illusion.” Chew on that.


Cellar Door, installed at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, and restaged as Cellar Door (Once Is Always Twice) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (both in 2008), is yet another piece that serves as a means of getting to know Gréaud and his oeuvre — if that is possible. Consider this: The exhibition involved black champagne, concocted by the artist, which was served by male triplets at various intervals during an opening fête. Even Gréaud’s titles are unnerving. Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted was the moniker of multiple works, including a stairway intervention in 2007 at the New Museum in NYC.


The artist’s prevailing trope seems to be “Go big or go home.” For the Venice Biennale in 2011, he created The Geppetto Pavilion, displayed at Corderie dell’Arsenale. The piece appeared to be an enormous beached whale, inspired by Pinocchio and Moby Dick, as a livable hotel space, replicating what is must feel like to live inside a whale — a ghastly version of oceanic life. The work was placed near the Canal de le Galeazze, which left visitors wondering whether or not it had truly washed ashore. It was even cordoned off by a bit of garden fencing to mimic an excavation site. While such things are usually perused with empathy, this was a wholly different creature and posited a “catch.” What’s real and what’s imagined? Scarcely anything was real about the piece, except for its capacity to engender a seductive bewilderment — rather like a fright show for the jetsetting intellectually inclined. What it lacked in beauty, it made up for in its surreal stance. What this means for the upcoming show at the Dallas Contemporary is anyone’s guess. During this interview, Gréaud was still planning the installation for Dallas; Doroshenko was due to join him the next day. What is known is that the exhibition will occupy the entire 26,000-square-foot gallery space. Gesamtkunstwerk, indeed. Translation: It’s going to be a stunner.

Loris Gréaud at the Dallas Contemporary: January 18 – March 21, 2015.

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