This work comprises a table set with sixty-two apothecary-like jars stopped with glass spheres, a form inspired by traditional glassware in Monterrey, Mexico, where Tears was produced. The jars contain a kaleidoscopic assortment of colorful glass suns, stars, hooks, rings, and beads floating in water. Arranged like votive offerings, the jars resemble lachrymatories, bottles that ancient Roman mourners filled with their tears and placed in burial tombs, or “Passion bottles,” which contain floating glass representations of the instruments of Christ’s Passion.
Are the small elements in these jars individual tears, mythically transformed into jewels, or are the glass jars themselves the tears, a collection of moods preserved or yet to be expressed? As multivalent symbols and catalysts in countless myths and religions, and as traces of both the physical and emotional realm, tears are a potent reference for Othoniel.
This work is part of a recent series of “knot” sculptures in which irregular glass beads have been replaced with mirrored glass, a handmade appearance giving way to a smooth, industrial finish resembling polished steel. The minimalism of these perfect spheres contrasts with the intricacy of the overall three-dimensional shape. Continuous, closed loops inscribed in space bring to mind abstracted mathematical equations and molecular structures, or perhaps the convoluted tracery and arabesques of Islamic art. Knots organize themselves around an axis and define a central void, and in these suspended works, as in his necklaces and mandorlas, Othoniel explores a form that implies the body and its absence.
The title of the work refers to the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s use of the Borromean knot (an image found on the Renaissance Borromeo family’s coat of arms) to explain the interrelationship of the real, symbolic, and imaginary in his theory of human subjectivity. It is a group of three rings linked so that if any one of them is severed, all three become separated.
This work is based on a dreamlike procession through a timeless world of marvelous objects that the viewer is invited to interpret and appropriate into his or her own personal narrative. My Bed is fit for fairy-tale royalty and brimming with sensual promise, with its confectionary pink felt cover dotted with nipplelike flowers and bordered with silk tassels, a vibrant glass bead frame, and an armature of lacy aluminum rings.
Jean-Michel Othoniel: My Way
August 17–December 2, 2012
This exhibition presents a survey of the twenty-five-year career of Jean-Michel Othoniel (French, born 1964), from his first intimate, enigmatic works made of sulfur and wax to his recent large-scale, colorful glass sculptures. Working with these mutable materials, he has fashioned a poetic visual language to explore themes surrounding the body, beauty, desire, and metamorphosis.
The title My Way references Othoniel’s idiosyncratic path among various movements in contemporary art, including Arte Povera, Minimalism, Conceptual art, and Surrealism; he has also been influenced by artists such as Constantin Brancusi, Sophie Calle, and Félix González-Torres. Works on view include embellished heraldic banners, Murano glass sculptures, and magnified necklaces and knots, which conjure an intensely personal mythology while also evoking the fantasy universe of the fairytale. A Secret Happy End, a large-scale sculpture in the Museum’s collection, will be on display in the first-floor lobby in advance of the exhibit, July 25–December 2, 2012.
Jean-Michel Othoniel: My Way is organized by the Centre Pompidou. The Brooklyn Museum presentation is organized by Lisa Small, Curator of Exhibitions, Brooklyn Museum.
Generous support for this exhibition was provided by Galerie Perrotin. Additional support was provided by the Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Exhibition Fund, the Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia Contemporary Art Exhibition Fund, the Institut français, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Culture.