In the mid-’90s, the Paris-based artist Jean-Luc Mouléne, known for his large-format, sometimes politically inflected photographs, initiated a parallel project consisting of three-dimensional “objects.” (Mouléne eschews the term “sculpture,” with its historical and esthetic entanglements.) Collectively termed “Opus” (1995–), these pieces, now totaling just under 100, are each identified with a title as well as the city, month and year in which the work was fabricated.
The yearlong exhibition “Opus + One,” the artist’s first solo exhibition in North America, takes place at two venues. Dia:Beacon offers 37 of the objects, along with Mouléne’s urban-photo suite “La Vigie” (2004-11). Meanwhile, Dia’s Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton pre- sents newly commissioned works—wall-mounted panels slathered with ink using a palette knife—part of the series “Monochromes/Samples” (2011–).
“La Vigie” (The Lookout Man), which consists of 299 photo- graphs (some black-and-white, some color), documents a type of nuisance vegetation, the Princess Tree, that grows in vacant lots, neglected buildings and cracked sidewalks. One tree Mouléne has photographed over the span of seven years stands in the Parisian neighborhood of the Ministry for the Economy, Industry and Employment. Evidence of social changes—including posters and graffiti as well as the installation of antiterrorist barricades—can be detected here and there in the periphery of the images. Nevertheless, Mouléne allows the works to speak for themselves. He does nothing to prompt a specific reading, beyond titling the extended series “The Lookout Man”—which may refer either to the tree or to the photographer himself.
Perhaps all that connects “Opus” to Mouléne’s other projects is its cumulative nature: the objects accrue over time with no pre-determined end. They seem cut off from any overriding narrative, though they can be grouped, after the fact, according to themes (serial process, the body, decay). Most have been installed on white wood tabletops mounted on metal legs. This formal configuration is disrupted occasionally by larger pieces, which sit directly on the floor, as well as by several wall-mounted works and two pieces suspended at eye level.
Mouléne’s objects are made, either industrially or by hand, from a wide variety of materials, including bronze, cement, wood, bone, fiberglass, plaster, tobacco and plastic. Most range in scale from hand-held to body-size.
A number consist of interlocking planar forms: Model for Sharing, Paris, December 2007, for example, looks like a hastily slapped together architectural model. Others verge on the abject, such as La téte noire (The Black Head), Paris, January 2007, a brutish, lumpy headlike form with pushed-in features. Head Box, Kitakyushu, October 2004, which hung on the wall, is pristine and minimal, while Bitte á fruits (Fruit Bollard), Paris, September 1999, is a cast-concrete still life of apples set atop a short, crumbling concrete-and-aggregate column. Some works are slightly macabre. Arthur, Paris, August 2010, has the upper portion of a human skull protruding from cast concrete, making the whole work look like an eerie helmet with visor. Mi-tronche (Nonosse) (Half-mug [Bobone]), Paris, September 2010, is a head-shaped concrete cast that has been cut in half to reveal a child-size skull encased within.
Somewhat out of keeping with the other works is Soleil noir (Black Sun), Paris, September 2008, a silent color video of the sun, its small cubelike monitor mounted high overhead on the wall. But the most striking anomaly is Body, Guyancourt, October 2011, a sleek, multicolored aerodynamic form, 28 feet in length, produced from 12 molds with the help of automotive engineers at a Renault factory. Resembling a brightly hued speedboat, the piece seems out of place in terms of material, size and logic, yet it contributes well to the show’s formally open-ended effect. With its great diversity of works, “Opus” is an intense investigation of the formal possibilities of contemporary photography, painting and sculpture.
Photos: View of Jean-Luc Mouléne’s exhibition “Opus + One,” 2011-12 and view of Mouléne’s Body, Guyancourt, October 2011, 8 1/2 by 28 by 11 1/2 feet. Both at Dia:Beacon.