CURA.

JULIO LE PARC
LIGHT – MIRROR

text by Violaine Boutet de Monvel

Perrotin, Hong Kong
March 25 – May 11, 2019

 

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The 90-year-old pioneer of op art and kinetic art has conceived two site-specific installations for this exhibition, which also comprises recent mobiles and paintings.

Born in 1928, Le Parc gained international recognition as one of the leading figures of the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV), which he cofounded in Paris in 1960 along with François Morellet, Francisco Sobrino, Yvaral, Horacio Garcia Rossi, and Joël Stein. The collective remained active until 1968, two years after Le Parc was awarded the International Grand Prize for Painting at the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966. Geometric abstraction, especially the canonic works of Piet Mondrian and Victor Vasarely, originally influenced his practice. Spanning through a wide range of mediums, it includes drawing, painting, monotyping, sculpture, installation, and virtual reality.

Whether static or kinetic, pictorial or sculptural, Le Parc’s works revolve around the repetition of basic geometric forms, whose organization according to rigorous sequential procedures allows for potentially infinite progressions. Yet, neither abstraction nor logics can sum up his overall oeuvre. Against market-friendly monothematicism, the artist has always been radically committed to experimentation and emancipation. Particularly known for his environments involving artificial light and mechanical movement, as well as his recurrent use of mirrors, he has developed a minimalist-adjacent aesthetics, which follows up on the GRAV’s primary interest in the public’s engagement with art. Direct participation was notably tested by the group’s collective conception of an interactive labyrinth at the 1963 Paris Biennale. Viewers have since remained the ultimate subjects of – if not the only possible disruptive elements in – Le Parc’s otherwise meticulous compositions. Like a demiurge, he essentially orchestrates ever-changing conditions for unique perceptual experiences.

Displayed in separate rooms, the immersive installations conceived for this exhibition both literally and figuratively pull the viewers in different directions, further triggering rather antagonistic reactions. Espace à pénétrer avec trame et miroir courbe (Variation du labyrinthe de 1963) (2019) is a substantial variation of Le Parc’s original contribution to the GRAV’s 1963 labyrinth. It consists of two large semi-cylindrical structures made of curved mirror walls, inside and outside which visitors can freely circulate. A dynamic pattern of black-and-white stripes completes the work: it covers the entire room from floor to ceiling, as well as four panels hanging at body level near the center, where they are subjected to the public’s erratic movement. Bringing to mind the traditional house of mirrors in funfairs, this maze-like installation prompts a resolutely playful experience among the audience.

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Crucial to Le Parc’s aesthetics is the notion of visual instability, which is successfully achieved through the sleek vibrancy of the all-over striped pattern, as well as the deformed reflections of the public and its surroundings on the curved mirrors. While, at first, reflective plays tend to atomize the environment and the people inside, these optical effects eventually allow for a heightened sense of the individual in relation to others through mutual interaction. Contrastingly, the second installation calls for another kind of disruption and togetherness. Plunged into complete darkness, Continuel lumière cylindre au plafond (1962– 2019) offers a purely contemplative spectacle. Visitors are invited to lie down and gaze at the circular choreography of light beams on the ceiling. Although these mesmerizing luminous forms are produced by the motorized rotation of indented discs before a projector, the invisible apparatus makes the experience all the more ethereal.

These two installations resume and reinterpret multiple strategies that Le Parc has explored and altered throughout his life, sometimes in less interactive experiments. For instance, among the other works on display, two mobiles from the series Continuel Mobile (2018) also evoke celestial forms. They both consist of either mirror or translucent yellow slats, which the artist assembled together into delicate constellations hanging from the ceiling and overlooking the visitors upon entering the gallery.

Finally, four recent paintings from the decades-long series Alchimie (2017–18) suggest, perhaps, the most enlightening thought. While they each derive intricate rainbow-like clusters of dots from simple geometric motifs that Le Parc realized within his signature fourteen- color palette, their title points towards something beyond the strict execution of sequential procedures. Only experienced alchemists understand that the reason behind the quest for the philosopher’s stone is not to turn lead into gold, but rather to create light through matter and seek self-discovery in the process. Whether it relates to the viewers’ perception and motion, which activate the works, or Le Parc’s own journey through his practice’s constant rejuvenation, he has certainly kept for the past sixty years this unyielding sense of freedom that makes great artists in the long haul.

CREDITS
Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin
Photo by Ringo Cheung

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