The river with a thousand blue glass bricks which tumbles down in a vibrant cascade on the steps of the Petit Palais turns into a delicate crystalline carpet for a rise of the steps towards the monumental golden gate of the front door. Even if Jean-Michel Othoniel wanted “Avoid a wow effect”, the gaze is caught by this vision, which is intended to be an invitation to contemplation from the street, day and night, between matter and imagination.
For his first major solo exhibition in Paris since the retrospective devoted to him by the Center Pompidou ten years ago, the artist this time had carte blanche in the entire Paris Museum of Fine Arts. This is a first in the institution, which for several years has invited contemporary artists – Andres Serrano, Valérie Jouve, Kehinde Wiley or Yan Pei-Ming – to intervene in its permanent collections. The fact that the programming outside the walls of the FIAC does not spill over into the Petit Palais this year, due to the work of the Grand Palais, is certainly not unrelated to this bias of a strong proposal which is also the last of the director of the places, Christophe Leribault, who had just started as President of the Musée d’Orsay.
Jean-Michel Othoniel, 57, elected in 2018 to the Academy of Fine Arts, has therefore infiltrated all spaces outside the collections with a course playing with this architectural jewel built by Charles Girault for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. The Petit Palais is thus, for him, the ” master piece ” of the installation. “I have always liked working with architecture. This is spectacular because the building was made to enchant ”, underlines the artist.
A “man-flower, cosmic”
Here he deploys an installation with an enigmatic title, “The Theorem of Narcissus”, which he places under the double sign of enchantment and the theory of reflections. This little-known approach to his work has been developed for several years with the help of a mathematician. The stroll is a journey through the different spaces, with water as a common thread, from the dreamlike threshold of the waterfall on the facade to the imaginary lake in the basement, passing through the pools of the interior garden.
From Narcissus, he kept only the reference to the reflection, or the more abstract idea of a “Man-flower, cosmic who, by reflecting himself, reflects the world around him”. First discover, all around the semi-circular peristyle of the central garden, a row of large knots of polished stainless steel beads. Each pearl is a circular mirror that reflects the environment: the space (down to the painted ceilings, which you never notice), the garden and the visitors themselves.
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