Review /

Pierre Huyghe LACMA / Los Angeles

Conceived as a traveling retrospective from the past twenty-five years, “Pierre Huyghe” is a curatorial exercise in which artist and curators reconsider the codes of standard presentation. Without using biographical indications, captions or chronological order, the show refrains from any self-celebration; for an artist who has always eluded fixed means and strict formats, it’s an appropriate choice. At first it may seem that only the initiated can navigate and understand the content, but this is not the only approach to a career that has asserted the democratic idea of art as an individual experience rather than an intellectual pursuit.

Welcomed by a doorman who announces the name of each visitor, one enters the show and its architecture as a dark forest. The body of work is presented as a living landscape and as a speculative starting point for the future — which are indeed cherished concepts for Huyghe, who produces reality without documenting it in an archival format. By combining complex elements of mineral, vegetable and animal life, Huyghe’s holistic art practice delivers a soaring meditation on being human and our relationship to the social environment, embodied, for instance, by the warm and accidental encounter with the iconic dog “Human.”

The show is dense with a sense of abandonment — a portrait of life at the border of a nuclear crisis as tempered by ironic surrealist poetry. The viewer becomes a wanderer, and to surrender completely to the experience might be the key to appreciating its wide-ranging intensity. Take the psychedelic installation L’Expédition scintillante, Acte 2 (Light Box) (2002). The infinite possibilities of life are suggested by a miniature stage where smoke, sound and light are set for grandiose things to happen, but the stage remains empty. Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 3 and No. 4, orchestrated by Debussy, keep repeating on a loop, inducing soft hypnosis and suggesting that most will live not as protagonists but as invisible extras.

by Patrick Steffen