Coming off his impeccable retrospective at MoMA PS1 earlier this year, Cyprien Gaillard returns to New York with two series of works that continue his fascination with the complexly layered experience of history, and the forces that keep this process constantly in flux. Moving towards a more active exploration of these phenomena, Gaillard’s show feels as if the artist is taking a more active role in his creative inquiries.
Downstairs, the gallery features a number of monumental bulldozer blades, each abstracted from the larger machine that puts them into motion. This fragmentation is underlined by an enormous column of onyx, inserted in the joint where the blade would join with the rest of the digger. Emphasizing the anthropological impulse to preserve, Gaillard’s blades occupy a supreme irony in their contemporary context, carefully cleaned and exhibited tools used to level and destroy older subjects; natural formations or city infrastructure. For Gaillard, whose work has long explored the spaces of flux and destruction that populate the modern world, these blades mark a new focus at the point of flux itself, the physical object acting out on the world around it, directed by societal impulse.
Upstairs, the artist continues his explorations into plurality through printed works, in this case folded issues of National Geographic. Across a series of sealed vitrines, the artist shows a series of magazines with a selection of interior pages tucked into the spine, unifying images from across the issue. With each work, the logic of the folds change, moving from monochrome compositions to attempts at balancing out the formal space of the open page, to even a few cheeky contrasts between lush natural locales and desolate urban scopes.
Here, the archive becomes a place of overt politics in the hands of Gaillard. As the images are equalized through their aesthetic display, one becomes aware of the magazine’s exploitation of its subjects. Human suffering is no more significant than a towering Redwood here, aside from maybe the number of pages devoted to either.
Gaillard’s works have long possessed this sense of political subversion. The simple movements he operates with keep ample room for interpretation, with the end result often being the most cogent of cultural critiques. But as much he seeks to unveil the scenarios, techniques and forces of cultural exchange, Gaillard is equally showing us the world itself, in all of its multilayered complexity, opening up singular sources to plural readings that dig at the sharper implications of the first world. It’s not his biggest show, but Gaillard’s two sets of works offer a perceptive, nuanced extension of his unique sense of visual poetics.