Chapelle laennec /
Paris
 
Text
Jean-Jacques Aillagon
 
« Reliquaires »
 
<span class="alinea"></span>Kering and one of its Houses, Balenciaga, have found a prestigious new home for their headquarters: 40, rue de Sèvres, in the buildings of the former Laennec hospital. This stone-and-brick complex was founded in 1637 and built during the reign of Louis XIII, through the generosity of the Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld. Known as the “hospice des incurables,” it was designed to care for the terminally ill. This vast historic complex, now a protected landmark, is emblematic of the Grand Siècle’s obsessive effort, described by Michel Foucault, to keep disease and misery contained within closely monitored, secure spaces. The Salpêtrière and Saint-Louis hospitals, built around the same time, are organized in the same way. At the center of each complex is a chapel, its location a reminder to its occupants that although the hospital might not be able to restore their bodies to health, it could save their souls. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>For the third consecutive year, Kering has displayed in this chapel a selection of works from the Pinault Collection: the exhibition “Reliquaries,” presented to the public during the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, on September 15 and 16. The title refers to Kering’s recent acquisition, intended as a gift to France’s national collections, of an intriguing object: a nineteenth-century reliquary, designed to contain the remains of “very wise Héloïse” and Abélard, the two most famous lovers in the history of France. The story of the two thirteenth-century lovers is kept alive today, revived by François Villon’s “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” (Ballad of the Women of Times Past), most famously interpreted by Georges Brassens. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Alongside this strange reliquary are presented reliquaries by contemporary artists, who also use remains, or relics (the Latin <i>reliquus</i> means surviving, remaining), as materials for their work: nails for Günther Uecker and James Lee Byars, snakeskin for Huang Yong Ping, a fire hose for Camille Henrot. These artists glorify the relics they use in their plastic works, just like some of their predecessors fabricated relics, most often of Christ’s Passion. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>These recent works, together with others by Damien Hirst and Giuseppe Penone, refer across centuries and across the world to the collections of relics that are presented in churches. Their staging, in a chapel, evokes those sumptuous reliquaries that invited the faithful to look beyond the mere appearance of objects, to reach more truthful truths, at the heart of infinite artifices, at the core of art itself. <br/> <br/> <div class="notes"><i>The following excerpts derive from the booklet published for the occasion of the exhibition.</i></div>
Damien HIRST <br/> <i>Infinity</i>, 2001 (detail) <br/> — <br/> Glass, stainless steel, steel, aluminium, nickel, bismuth and cast resin, coloured plaster and painted pills with dry transfers <br/> 236,2 × 469,9 × 10,2 cm
 
Huang Yong Ping




Huang Yong Ping was born in 1954 in Xiamen, China. In 1985, he participated in founding the Xiamen Dada group, an important component of the Chinese avant-garde art scene of the 1980s. In 1989, he was invited to participate in the landmark exhibition “Les Magiciens de la Terre” at the Centre Pompidou, after which he decided to remain in Paris, where he lives and works to this day. In 2016, he sets up his gigantic snake skeleton in the nave of the Grand Palais for the seventh edition of Monumenta. The large drawing presented here is composed of two molted snake skins. The larger of the two seems to “given birth” to the large blood-red skeleton. Through the smaller slough, gold leaf is visible. Many ancient civilizations used gold in funeral rites, since it was thought to protect bodies from decomposing. The artist thus connects, in a circular movement, images of birth and of death, both symbolized by the snake’s slough.
<i>Sans titre</i>, 2015 <br/> — <br/> Boa and python sloughs, <br/> paint, and gold leaf on paper <br/> 314 × 130 cm
 
Camille Henrot




Camille Henrot was born in 1978 in Paris, and lives and works in New York. She became interested in the tevau, or money coil, a highly prized ritual object from the Solomon Islands, often used as a kind of currency in exchange for goods and services, and gifted during marriage ceremonies. Its function, as well as its form, evokes relationships of exchange and reciprocity. Her <i>Tevau</i> is made of a fire hose, considered as a fetish of modern culture, representing both the control and the danger that the present represents for the past: a fire hose can be found, for instance, in every museum and historic site. Tevau evokes the relationship between past, present, and future: time is depicted as a continuum, which can unfold in both directions—but not without a twist.
<i>Tevau</i>, 2009 <br/> — <br/> Fire hose, wood, rope, metal <br/> 140 × 150 × 60 cm
 
Günther Uecker




Born in 1930 in Wendorf, Germany, Günther Uecker participated in founding, in 1961, the celebrated ZERO group, which, moving away from the main subjective artistic trends of the era, strove to create art that would be void of color, emotion, or individual expression. Fascinated by the cleansing rituals present in eastern philosophies, following precepts borrowed from Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam, Uecker sought to achieve formal simplicity and spiritual purity in his work. To do so, he invented personal rituals that consisted in the constant repetition of simple actions. His canvases and sculptures from the 1950s, covered in nails, are dynamic works on which light and shadow create spontaneous motifs. After the dissolution of ZERO in 1966, Uecker became acquainted with John Cage and discovered conceptual art and body art; he eventually became convinced that the viewer was an integral component, even a necessary driving force, of a work of art.
<i>Phantom Weiss I</i>, 2012 <br/> <i>Phantom Weiss II</i>, 2012 <br/> <i>Phantom Weiss III</i>, 2012 <br/> — <br/> Nails, white paint, and glue on canvas, on wood stretcher <br/> 200 ×150 cm (each)
 
Damien Hirst




Winner of the 1995 Turner Prize, British artist Damien Hirst (born in 1965 in Bristol, UK) is known for installations in which he deals with the relationship between art, life, and death, often incorporating references to science and medicine. <i>Jacob’s Ladder</i> is composed of more than three thousand insects, arranged by type; its title refers to the biblical tale of Jacob’s dream, in which he saw a ladder stretching from the earth to heaven. This work is part of Hirst’s Entomology Cabinets series, started in 2008. The insects of <i>Jacob’s Ladder</i> were chosen by the artist precisely because, once dead, they continue to appear as though still alive. With this work, Hirst demonstrates his observation that in science, somewhat absurdly, you have to “[…] kill things in order to look at them.” 
<i>Jacob’s Ladder</i>, 2008 <br/> — <br/> Glass, stainless steel, steel, aluminum, nickel, cork, <br/> entomological specimens <br/> 236 × 870 × 12,3 cm
 
Damien Hirst




Damien Hirst studied Fine Arts at Goldsmiths College of Art in London, where he lives and works today. In the late 1980s, as both an artist and a curator, Hirst played a key role in bringing together the Young British Artists, or YBAs. He created his first steel pill cabinet in 1999: a large, wall-mounted closet made of polished steel, backed with a mirror, its shelves lined with thousands of pills. The pills are made of cast resin and plaster, then painted by hand. In this work, Hirst suggests that the power of the pharmaceutical industry lies in our blind faith in science’s ability to cure all ills. The formal organization of the medicine chest evokes cabinets of curiosities from the Victorian era.
<i>Infinity</i>, 2001 <br/> — <br/> Glass, stainless steel, steel, aluminium, nickel, bismuth and cast resin, coloured plaster and painted pills with dry transfers <br/> 236,2 × 469,9 × 10,2 cm
 
Giuseppe Penone




Born in Garessio, Italy, in 1947, Giuseppe Penone currently lives in Paris and Turin. From the start of his career, in 1967, his work has been characterized by his use of a vast range of materials, a process-based approach, and a thoughtful attention to natural phenomena. Soon after his first solo exhibitions, at Deposito d’Arte Presente and Galerie Sperone in Turin, in 1968, Perone was celebrated as one of the central protagonists of Arte Povera, a new tendency in art coined and promoted by Germano Celant in the late 1960s. The tree, which Penone considers “the most simple and original idea of vitality, of culture, of sculpture,” is a central element in his work. In <i>Essere vento (To Be Wind)</i>, he is interested in “the identity of a grain of sand shaped by the wind; the identity of each gust of wind imprinted in the infinite grains of sand.”
<i>Essere vento [To Be Wind]</i>, 2014 <br/> — <br/> Petrified wood, natural and sculpted grains of sand <br/> 123 × 60 cm
 
James Lee Byars




In the 1970s, when James Lee Byars (Detroit, 1932 –Cairo, 1997) was celebrated across the world for his highly original approach, bringing together a wide range of influences, and the diversity of his hybrid work: it included sculptures, drawings, minimalist and anthropomorphic sculptures, costumes for performances or living sculptures, allegorical objects, photogram-films, mausoleum-installations. Covered with gold leaf, <i>The Philosophical Nail</i> is presented in a specially built mahogany vitrine, which gives it the status of a relic—perhaps stemming from Jesus Christ’s martyrdom, protected from the destructive madness of mankind. The work evokes a number of philosophical questions about mankind’s relationship to the material and the sacred spheres.
<i>The Philosophical Nail</i>, 1986 <br/> — <br/> Gilt metal <br/> 27 × 3 × 3 cm
 
James Lee Byars




In his installations, works on paper, and performances, James Lee Byars combines abstract and symbolic elements of eastern culture with his knowledge of western art and philosophy, creating a synthesis of different movements including orientalism, conceptual art, minimalism, and Fluxus. In the late 1970s, as he moved away from more performative works, the question of materials became central in his work and evoked in turn new philosophical quandaries. Byars then created sculptures with pared-down, minimalist shapes, with powerful symbolic values. Their porous facades are smooth and their angles curved, playing with the laws of physics. Gold is the artist’s favorite color, associated with eternity and perfection.
<i>The Golden Tower</i>, 1974 <br/> — <br/> Gilt metal <br/> 180 × 50 × 55 cm
 
James Lee Byars




The enigmatic James Lee Byars endowed his work with a mysterious, marvelous aura. Created only a few days before the artist passed away, the installation <i>Byars is Elephant</i> is part of a surprising series in which Byars stages his own disappearance. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he decided to spend his final days in Egypt, searching for craftsmen who could supposedly blow gold as if it were glass, and who could have helped him create his ideal work. Inspired by ancient philosophy, he used, in this installation, elements tied to Egyptian culture and iconography: a camel-hair rope like the ones used during the construction of the pyramids, the gold of all-powerful pharaohs. <i>Byars is Elephant</i> presents the unveiling of an intimate treasure and the sublimation of disease and suffering. During the final years of his life, Byars created a number of powerful symbolic and metaphorical works, evoking a unique connection to the self and the personal.
<i>Byars is Elephant</i>, 1997 <br/> — <br/> Installation, rope and golden fabric <br/> Variable sized
 

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