Through his taste for transformation, Jean-Michel Othoniel favoured reversible materials when he began creating works crafted in wax and sulphur in the early 90s, which he presented at the Documenta in Kassel in 1992. The following year, the introduction of glass was a significant turning point in his approach. Working with glass makers in Murano, he explored the possibilities of this material which was to become his signature. From 1996 he began focusing on landscapes, suspending giant necklaces in the gardens of the Villa Medici, on the trees in the Venetian garden of the Penny Guggenheim Collection (1997) and at the Alhambra Palace in Grenada (1999). In 2000 he replied for the first time to a public commission, and transformed the Parisian subway station, Palais-Royal – Musée du Louvre, into an art installation called the “Kiosque for Night Owls”. He is regularly invited to create pieces on site, in dialogue with today’s historical or architectural places of interest. He is currently working on a long-term project for the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles named “Les Belles Danses”: three fountain sculptures created for the thicket around the Théâtre d’Eau redesigned by the landscapist Louis Benech.
“In 2013 Societe Generale asked me to create a piece of art for its
new building, located at 17, cours Valmy, at la Défense. I wanted to create a
sculpture as a new sign of infinity which would defy all reason. The final
product is a suspended sculpture that contains many hidden signs, a Lacan’s
knot linking the real to the imaginary, and Greek letters, which are present in
the world of markets, but which here are only visible from a certain angle. For
isn’t art an obvious confusion, a large knot from which light is born?
It was upon entering this collection that I discovered its breadth, its variety and its richness. But how do you look at a group of works when you are one of the artists, and when you have been chosen to be part of a story you did not write?
When it was suggested that I create a dialogue between the works in the collection around the Greek knot, I immediately loved the idea of having freedom to play with a whole collection I could never personally acquire. I wouldn’t be so pretentious as to say I’m carrying out scientific work, discovering a theme or even showcasing a media or specific forms of artwork. I just want to make my own collection amongst all these works I have been given. I simply chose the paintings and installed them around my sculpture, respecting the limits of space I was allowed.
Behind these works are artists I love, including Raymond Hains, Bernard Frize, Bertrand Lavier, Laurent Grasso, Pierre Soulages, Nathalie Elemento, Lionel Estève, Alan Charlton, Imi Knoebel and Jean-Marc Bustamante.
I also discovered the acquisitions of large collections of works from the same artists, and also two painters I greatly admire: Shirley Jaffe and Aurélie Nemours. I wanted to give them a special place, and place these two leading women of the abstract art movement opposite one another. I don’t know if they have already been exhibited together, but they must have met during a time in which the leading male figures of contemporary art may not have given them the chance they deserved. This homage I am paying to them is truly modest when faced with the majesty of their works. I hope this will push true specialists take another, fresh look at their masterpieces. Even if artists are often the first to evaluate other artists, their vision always remains a secret.”