View of the exhibition "Dessins" in 2006 at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin Paris
An artist who has a passion for all sorts of metamorphoses, sublimations and transmutations, Jean-Michel Othoniel has a predilection for materials with reversible properties. Othoniel first gained recognition with a series of sculptures made of sulfur, exhibited at Documenta IX in Kassel in 1992.
In 1994, he participated in the exhibition ìFéminin/Masculinî at the Pompidou Center in Paris, with an installation entitled My Beautiful Closet, a mise-en-scène of dancers filmed in the darkness of a closet.
In 1993, Jean-Michel Othoniel introduced glass into his work and began to explore its properties. Transformations, mutations of materials, and rites of passage from one state to another echo an essential rite in the artistís work: that of journeys and memory.
The notion of wound or injury is at the heart of his work. In 1997, Othoniel created the Collier Cicatrice, a small necklace made of red glass that the artist offers to whoever wants to wear it with pride. In 1996, Othoniel hung gigantic necklaces in the bamboo gardens of the Villa Medici in Rome, and later in the trees of the Venetian garden of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (1997), and at the Alhambra and Generalife, in Granada (1999). Similar to a forbidden fruit, the necklace has a life in itself: it merges into the landscape and the leaves, like organic outgrowths absorbing shadows and diffracting light.
In 2000, a century after Hector Guimard, Jean-Michel Othoniel transformed the Parisian métro station Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre into the ìKiosque des Noctambulesî: two crowns made of glass and aluminum conceal a bench designed for chance encounters in the sleepy city.
In 2003, Jean-Michel Othoniel conceived Crystal Palace for the Cartier Foundation in Paris and MOCA in Miami. For this event, he asked glassblowers in Venice and at Marseilleís CIRVA to create forms that would become enigmatic sculptures standing between jewelry, architecture and erotic objects.
In December 2004, at the Théâtre de la Ville in Rochefort and later at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Jean-Michel Othoniel staged ìLe Petit Théâtre de Peau díAne,î an installation composed of four lacquered wooden sideboards, surmounted by thirty-five glass-filled models, and as many globes or huge vertugadins embroidered with gold and sequins. This installation was conceived as a decor for the tiny puppets that Pierre Loti used to play with as a child, and that Othoniel discovered in the house of this famous French writer.
Also in 2004, for the exhibition ìContrepointî at the Louvre Museum, Jean-Michel Othoniel set his works in the museumís spectacular Mesopotamian rooms. His monumental glass and aluminum sculptures, which are always created in relation to the places in which they are shown, acquire a timeless and peaceful dimension. The great white river of pearls adorned with nipples, which was purchased by the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris, is now on view in the museumís new collection display.
For the Unlimited Section at Art Basel 2005, Jean-Michel Othoniel showed The Boat of Tears in a pool located in front of the fair. The artist, whose works often combine the political and the intimate, salvaged a boat built by Cuban boat people and abandoned on the shores of Miami and used it as a basis for his work. A crown, chains and necklaces made of colored glass taper down into giant tears of clear crystal. The sculpture floats on the water like a ghost ship, loaded with tears of suffering and joy, overflowing with memories and covered by festive ornaments.
The artist has progressively built up a world based on ultimate freedom and the acceptance of the reversible, a world characterizing his personality. His work takes on many forms: drawings, sculptures, photographs, narratives, choreography and video. His streamlined works are steeped in poetry and eroticism.
He is currently showing for the first time at the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, with a selection of 100 watercolorsóthe origin of his projects and an intimate recount of his creative outputóaround a small pavilion and 16 glass models.
To coincide with the event, Flammarion is publishing a book featuring texts by Christine Angot and 130 watercolors executed by Jean-Michel Othoniel from 1997 to 2005.