In his new show Walt Disney Series at Xavier Hufkens gallery in Brussels, Bertrand Lavier explores the fetish value of an artwork and the corresponding boundaries of appropriation. He engages the viewer in critical investigations through the fictional context of a Walt Disney comic from 1977, in which Mickey and Minnie Mouse visit a modern art gallery. Lavier noticed the paintings and sculptures on the comic strip resembled a familiar modernist style. The biomorphic abstraction sculptures, for example, distinctly recalled the work of Jean Arp and Henry Moore, a hazy correspondence of copying he found intriguing.
Lavier began to explore the process of mimicking by painting these large-scale, zoomed-in croppings of the artworks. The results are colorful, abstract snippets of both the artist’s imagination and the appropriated versions of fictional annexation. Within the show are eight punchy, 3-dimensional paintings, where the cartoons assume a magisterial painterly status. The cartoons are no longer Ben-Day dot picture stories, rather, repurposed in the gallery space, they become Lavier’s own works of contemporary art; through them he addresses notions of ownership, copying, transcription and innovation.
Lavier conducts a sweeping dialogue within the canvas. He salutes to Lichtenstein with an open frivolity, deriving his techniques from commercial printing to suggest consumerism and pop culture. Yet Lavier resounds his spontaneity through campy impasto and pithy, vibrant strokes. Through his mortared corners and heavy daubs of paint, his paintings reach into the realms of Abstract Expressionism. Motivated by a desire to record the action of painting itself, even an imitation can possess an element of ingenuity.
Lavier delves further into illusion to ignite a question of perception, posed by a salient simplicity in abstract, sketched forms. Choosing to stress certain shapes in a minimalist manner, he foregoes mere reproduction and belies the complexity of his technique. Each canvas features numerous materials and methods, such as photography, laser-jet, and silk-screen printing—some also feature the very frame of the comic strip, as if a wink to Lavier’s sources. Thus in toying with his caricatural key and spontaneous abstract touches, he re-materializes the borrowed images and presents them as autonomous objects within a real gallery space.
Lavier views all of his art as a continuum of progress. He refers to every body of work as a chantier, or ‘building block.’ In this light, Walt Disney Productions is one of larger corpora—sequential bodies of works that evolve the scope of contemporary art. Therefore, his oeuvre functions as a creative tonic, a mechanism through which to deal with the ever-changing questions about the nature of art and the way it is both valued and displayed.
Another chantier in the show features three-dimensional objects covered in a thick layer of paint identical in color to the object itself. The cabinet, Camoudo, is a typical example of this process. Lavier copies even the brass details and wooden grain texture. Save for the heavily lathered paint, Lavier’s objects look exactly like the original—a ploy to engage the viewer in his own artistic searching for the boundaries between simulacra.
Lavier designates these works as renditions sur le motif, as in ‘the painting of objects’ or ‘what the eye actually sees’. He takes this 19th century artistic term to a literal extreme only to ironize it. By weighing such equivocal words and concepts, he upends their value and invites the viewer to join in his enquiry—in the case of this Camoudo, to explore the true nature of the cabinet as both an ordinary object and an artwork.
In recreating an equivalent viewing experience to that of Mickey and Minnie, he implies the manifold links between fact and fiction (wherein reality spurs from an ectype) and the fetishized representation of modern art in consumerist society. Through all of his chantiers, Lavier poses our understanding of artworks as constructs that we perceive and accept based on the fluctuating impressions of the time.
Bertrand Lavier’s Walt Disney Series is on view at Xavier Hufkens Gallery through Feburary 20, 2016.
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