Pierre Huyghe’s show at Hauser & Wirth is a difficult show to review because it is the naturalisation of the amusement park logic as skilful artistic presentation. The references to art are there are, the art about art is there, but everything comes together as a themed park. Having said this, the care with which it is made gives it a shot at the artistic level. I am saying this because art that you can actually touch is a rarity in galleries. So imagine my surprise when I was allowed to place my palms on a sculpture in Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition. And then to find out that the headless female body was warm, as if she might get up and walk round the show with me. Made of concrete and heated by an internal element the reclining figure, ‘La Déraison’, is an apparently corporeal form that also harbours life. Moss grows on its surface. Dotted here and there are small pools of water. Allegedly there is even a spider or two residing in its dank crevices.
Always one for creating an experiential spectacle, the French artist here paves a storytelling path that takes you off on tangents, poses questions that are never answered and lures you into a fantasyland based on reality. The content of the show covers 30 million years in just five works. It doesn’t seem substantial enough but it’s a small feat for such a prolific illusionist as Huyghe.
Wildlife is also the focal point of the three aquariums, ‘Nymphéas Transplant’, which refer to Claude Monet’s country house in Giverny as captured in his ‘Nymphéas’ series of paintings now housed in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. The aquarium glass flips between opaque and transparent, systematically obscuring and revealing the contents. You don’t really need to know that the varying views are timed to specific recordings of the weather in Giverny between 1914 and 1918, when Monet made his paintings. Trying to glimpse the fish and salamanders swimming around before the glass glazes over is much more fun. One wonders however what the whole point of the whole exercise is and what art brings to the table.
Bringing the show to completion are two videos. ‘Human Mask’ comprises 19 minutes of haunting visuals. A desolate Japanese village turns out to be Fukushima. There’s also footage of a monkey wearing a mask and dressed as a womanThe film is disturbing and beautiful, not least because it’s based on the real-life story of a monkey in Japan that was trained to be a waitress. ‘De-extinction’ puts existence under the microscope. What at first appears to be a galactic vista is in fact fossilised insects trapped in amber.
This show contains everything you want from engaging art: thought provocation, interaction and revelation. However, it fails to connect and leaves you cold. This is not about human connection but about ‘the visitor’s experience’. Just a thought.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE WHAT WE THINK ABOUT THE ‘ARTISTIC EXPERIENCE’ IN THE PILL, WATCH THIS