Friday, June 20, 2008

The Artforum Critics' Pick for SF = Jacques Villegle

Jacques Villeglé
685 Market St. Suite 290
May 15–June 28

"At once fields of images and urban artifacts, layered comminglings of figurative forms and histories of those forms’ nuanced desecration, Jacques Villeglé’s décollages cannot be pinned down, as it were. Consisting exclusively of torn posters mounted on canvas, the décollages invert the operations of collage, stripping away slices of imagery rather than pasting them together. Since the 1950s, Villeglé has gleaned his raw materials from the walls and billboards of Parisian streets, where various strata of advertisements and political posters provide the palimpsest for a new image, reframed and reaffixed. It is impossible to tell which areas of the works’ surface have peeled naturally and which have been subjected to Villeglé’s more tendentious tearing. The bottom section of one work, titled Rue Simon Le Franc, 1974, seems to unpeel in an echo of a wavelike design in the upper portion. The unresolved play between chance erosion and the conscious intercession of the artist’s hand suspends each work between being a readymade and an object of purposive (if dissembled) intervention.

Like their Dada and Merz precedents, the décollages transvalue the language of advertising on its own turf. Many of the works still bear the name of the street where they originally hung. But the ludic play between word and image attains an exceptional range in Velleglé’s work—from spare, almost total abstraction to a stage-managed cacophony of competing texts, fonts, and slogans. In some works, the lettering for certain advertisements is intermittently swallowed by letters beneath. Apart from word fragments and homeless phonemes, we find whole phrases unhinged—by virtue of a sudden tear—from their original purpose, floating now as pure poetry. SI VOUS DÉSIREZ reads one such phrase, adrift in Rue des Halles, 1972. Other, more explicit language appears as well, such as the call for a LUTTE OUVRIÈRE, which on one work has been demonstrably scratched out (probably while the poster hung on its original wall). A partially effaced paragraph invoking LE CAPITALISME . . . DICTATURE . . . HUMANITÉ is legible on a different poster beneath the pale skin of a model’s face in Rue Vaugirard (bas Meudon), 1990. Even here, when Villeglé has not altered the surface, his choice of framing plays a fundamental role.

The consistency of Villeglé’s general technique for more than half a century is countered by the extraordinary variety of the décollages themselves—a variety ensured not only by his own subtly varying processes but also by the evolving nature of advertising and graphic design. An upcoming major retrospective at the Centre Pompidou and several new monographs confirm Villeglé’s stature within not only the realm of French Nouveau Réalisme and Lettrism but also the history of the avant-garde and its shifting strategies—a stature affirmed in this small and compelling show."

— Ara H. Merjian

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