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15 January - 26 FebruaryFree
Perrotin Hong Kong is pleased to present a solo exhibition by Jean-Michel Othoniel, marking his second gallery presentation in Hong Kong.
Oscillating between fragility and strength, the infinite and the tangible, rationality and sensuality, Othoniel’s artworks embrace and transcend opposites in order to expand our conception of reality, reconciling contradictions and opening up realms of wonders. Since 1993, the French artist has been working in collaboration with some of the finest glassblowers in the world on the formal and chemical properties of glass, exploring its manifold possible metamorphoses and substantial variability. A product derived from the transfiguration of matter and melted sand, glass, in essence, is rooted within nature and reflects the exuberance of its potentials and beauty. Similarly, and like an alchemist, Othoniel sublimates natural elements, recomposing and transforming them according to his emotions and to the cultural context he is working in.
At Perrotin Hong Kong, Othoniel proposes two contrasting yet connected universes with his signature bodies of work: the rigorous and systematic configurations of Precious Stonewall sculptures made in collaboration with Indian glassmakers; and the ethereal and translucent glass bead compositions, blown in the Italian island of Murano, where the finest glass has been produced since the thirteenth century. In between, the floating and enigmatic Wild Knot (Noeud Sauvage, 2021) casts an overall cosmic radiance on the exhibition, embracing all its featured elements in its inclusive circular movement.
Developed after a residency in India near the ancient capital of Agra, Othoniel’s Precious Stonewall series, mounted onto the walls of the first exhibition room, consists of glass bricks of various sizes and colors that the artist assembles to create voluminous tableaux. A symbol of the human’s ability to construct civilizations and empires, bricks are universally associated with strength and immutability. In contrast, Othoniel’s glass bricks are fragile and non-functional: they cannot be piled up and could not therefore hold anything, only giving the illusion of stability and force. A hint to the vulnerability of today’s world during pandemic times, the series also refers to the frailty of every breakthrough in social transformation, and in particular to the precarious empowerment of the gay community. While bricks are historically linked to revolutionary movements, the brick house of the Stonewall Inn in New York city and the Stonewall riots are remembered as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States, and around the world, from the late 1960s. For the artist, these bricks are precious because they embody such emancipatory moments that ultimately contribute to transforming our society yet could be reversed at any time. His own glowing bricks could be perceived as lighthouses that would keep us awake in the obscurity of turbulent times. As always with Othoniel, this underlying sociopolitical layer is hidden behind the sheer beauty of the pieces, which recall, in their own colorful and poetical manner, the compositions of minimalist artworks, based on the infinite interplay between elementary geometric shapes.
As a counterpoint, and displayed in the middle of the same room, Wild Knot (2021) breaks the linear forms of the bricks and imposes a metaphysical dimension to the ensemble. A constellation of white and red glass beads, the work belongs to a series that began in 2015 when the artist met with Mexican mathematician Aubin Arroyo. The shape of the sculpture recalls the “Borromean knot,” a fascinating entanglement of three interlocked rings with unique mathematic features. As a symbol, it was notably used by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to describe the connection between the imaginary, the symbolic and the real, three necessary and complementary modes of perceiving reality. Located at the junction of these three spheres and embedded at the same time in the scientific and the poetical realms, Othoniel’s suspended knot seems to connect the infinitely small to the infinitely large, suggesting a mutual and fluid relationship between them. Curved and sensual, it also recalls the imaginary gesture of a calligrapher whose writing would have crystallized in the air.
In Chinese culture, where the art of knotting is an ancestral custom, these endless knots have a spiritual connotation and symbolize longevity and eternity. The word “knot”, or “jié” (結) in Mandarin Chinese, implies a connection: when combined with “tuán” (tuán jié), it means “to unite”, and when associated with “hūn” (jié hūn), it means to marry. “Jié” in this context derives from the tradition of tying strands of hair from a couple during their wedding ceremony in ancient times. In the second room of the gallery, bathed in daylight from a large window, suspended glass sculptures from the series entitled Suspended Lover (Amant Suspendu, 2021) could relate to these traditions and to the union of lovers.
Inside the lower and transparent beads of these necklaces are nestled smaller glass spheres whose delicate hues echo the palette of the pieces themselves. The colors of the glass derive from mixing pigments, powdered minerals and metal with melted sand; Othoniel purposefully and carefully chooses the spectrum of his colors to retain authentic and natural shades. This series unfolds in blue and purple tones created with cobalt, amethyst and alexandrite, a rare mineral known for its color-changing properties: purple under daylight, dark grey by nightfall. An additional dimension is offered by a subtle play of light as views of the bay of Victoria Harbour are captured and inverted within the small spheric universes like worlds within worlds. Just like the lenses of a photographer, each bead recreates a miniature of the landscape and multiplies its reflections.
This panorama is particularly meaningful to the artist, who spent one month working from the rooftop of the former Hong Kong Museum of Art thirty years ago, enjoying the same view on Victoria Harbour. Invited for the exhibition Too French, he then had to set up an outdoor studio because of the toxic smell emitted from his creative experimentations, based on the use of sulfur. At that time, he was melting his materials himself, creating a form of volcanic glass and already playing with the metamorphosis of matter. Selected for Documenta IX in 1992, he pursued these early alchemical experiences which ultimately led him to glassmaking. As such, Hong Kong represents an essential turning point in his career and a continuous source of inspiration.
The centerpiece of this room, Double Necklace Alessandrita-Amethyst Mica (Double Collier Alessandrita-Améthyste Mica, 2021) is one of Othoniel’s iconic artworks. About three meters long, it unfolds its sensual body like a living creature, combining the preciousness of a rare piece of jewelry with a sense of robustness derived from its weight and gigantic size. Just like bricks, beads emerge as a unitary element that can combine endlessly to reflect living forms of the universe. Beyond its organic features, the necklace motif takes on various meanings according to the context it is exhibited in and the traditional culture it refers to. For Hong Kong, the artist wishes to hint at the spiritual dimension of handblown glass beads, which brings to mind devotion beads used by Buddhists to measure time, to support meditative breathing, or to count the repetitions of prayers, chants, or mantras.
Relentlessly exploring the miracles of nature and the enlivening of matter, Jean-Michel Othoniel’s new solo exhibition is an invitation to refresh our gaze and reach out to the wonders of reality.
ABOUT THE ARTIST / ORGANISERJean-Michel Othoniel was born in 1964 in Saint-Etienne, France and now lives and works in Paris, France. He graduated from the National School of Arts, Cergy-Pontoise, France in 1988 and completed a residency at the Villa Medici, Rome, Italy in 1996. In late 2018, Othoniel was elected to the Academy of Fine Arts in the sculpture section. Starting in January 2019, when the acceptance ceremony took place, he began helping the Academy fulfill its mission to defend, promote and support artistic creation; in 2021, he was inducted into the Academy.
Notable public installations include his Belles Danses (Beautiful Dances) fountains at the Palace of Versailles, France; the Treasury at Angoulême Cathedral, Angoulême, France; and a fountain installation at The National Museum of Qatar, Doha, Qatar. In fall 2021, at the invitation of the Petit Palais, Othoniel is taking over the museum and its garden. For the occasion, with more than 70 new artworks, Othoniel has invented The Narcissus Theorem, which is about a man-flower who, in reflecting himself, reflects the world around him.
- 15 January
- 26 February
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