Cyprien Gaillard’s (b. 1980, Paris) work navigates geographical sites and psychological states, addressing the relationship between architecture and nature, and evolution and erosion. Using a variety of artistic mediums ranging from painting and sculpture to photography, film, and video, Gaillard juxtaposes pictorial beauty and the atmospherically lush with elements of sudden violence, destruction, and idiosyncrasy culled from popular culture, pointing to the precarious nature of public space, social ritual, and the very viability of the notion of civilization.
Combining minimal composition, a romantic visual sensibility, and a youthful, anarchic spirit, Gaillard’s work displays a personal vision or reading of landscapes and cities, whether he trains his gaze upon land art sites, crumbling 1960s urban high-rises, culturally entrenched logos, explosive building demolition procedures, or public monuments. He invests these sites with new traits through his interventions, resulting in architectural travelogues dense with layers of suggestive symbols, as well as an incisive examination of the foundations and inventions of civilizations, both ancient and modern, revealing their simultaneously seductive and alienating features.
The artist’s first solo exhibition in New York is comprised of over 80 works, including five major cinematic works and two site-specific works made in New York on the occasion of his MoMA PS1 presentation. In Cities of Gold and Mirrors (2009), shot in Cancun, Mexico, images of Mayan ruins are interspersed with the golf courses, mega-resorts, and tourists that now saturate the area, as incensed adolescents guzzle tequila with the same elated fervor that characterizes a ritualistic dance performed by a gangster on the ruins of El Rey.
Shown for the first time in the U.S., Gaillard’s monumental work Artefacts (2011) imparts a reflection on the myth of Babylon takes form through a montage of scenes from post-conflict Iraq interwoven with images of the ancient civilization’s antiquities, none more famous perhaps than the Ishtar Gate, reconstructed in an austere gallery of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin in the 1930s. Gaillard echoes this anachronism in the artwork’s material itself Artefacts (2011) was shot on the artist’s iPhone, and the resulting digital video was transferred to an older 35mm format, in which the work is exhibited as a continuous loop. This scheme highlights the fragility of an outmoded cinematic material, which wears and frays as it is projected over the course of the exhibition period, mimicking the cyclically endless nature of civilizations’ periods of growth and decline, and also the artist’s fascination in objects that are at once obsolete and eternal.
Gaillard is perhaps best known for his Geographical Analogies (2006) series, composed grids of Polaroids that are placed in visual correspondence with one another, presenting impressionistic inventories of landscapes and entropic architectural structures that connote psychologically, emotionally, and viscerally. The photographs, like much of the artist’s work, capture images of ancient ruins, abandoned bunkers, and graffiti-covered urban structures- in short, disparate sites that are unified by their shared states of physical change, erosion, or decay over time.
Combining elements of the found, the photographic, the cinematic, the architectural, and the social, Gaillard provokes visual or associative connections between ancient ruins and neglected contemporary spaces, attempting to recuperate the past in the name of a devalued present.
Organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1, and Chief Curator at Large, The Museum of Modern Art, with Jocelyn Miller, Curatorial Assistant.