Similarity and difference seems to be the theme of the current exhibition at Yvon Lambert. In one room we have Joan Jonas, presenting a video installation Reanimation II, a reworking of a piece originally shown at dOCUMENTA (13), and in the other we have a wall piece by Lawrence Weiner. The similarities are that both artists are very well respected (although Jonas isn't celebrated quite as much as Weiner), both came to prominence in the sixties and have something like a forty-year body of work, both are American, both present pieces here that are quite typical of their oeuvres – and both address aspects of the natural world and nature.
It's here that the similarities stop however. Weiner's work is a series of printed words framed within blue rectangles set across the wall at different angles; the rectangles are silver where they overlap. The message is written in both French and English; it's very simple, ambiguous and, like a haiku, very efficiently brings to mind a particular series of mental images. Jonas' piece consists of several videos of mountains and glaciers, a sculpture that is lit and projects images on the wall, sound, a reading and a performance piece. It's quite magical and mysterious; and also beautiful.
Joan Jonas, Views of the exhibition Reanimation, 2013, Video installation; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris / Photo: Rebecca Fanuele.
And they couldn't be more different. Weiner's piece is very quiet, it's shown in a white, well-lit room, it's passive, discrete and requires the viewer to take it up, to sit back and give the thing long enough to have an effect. Jonas's on the other hand, is completely immersive, there's no ignoring it, it's shown in a black, dark space filled with moving lights and rather than the challenge being to approach the work here we're asked to piece together all the different things that come to us, to make our own whole of it.
The contrast presents quite a brilliant effect – the passing from one room to the other and back again highlighting the differences – and emphasising their strengths. It's a bold move by the gallery, and one that works very well.
Lawrence Weiner, Views of the exhibition UNE POIGNEE DE CRAIE / A HANDFUL OF CHALK, 2013; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris / Photo : Rebecca Fanuele.
Unfortunately my criticism of both pieces also displays a similarity, and there are two things on which it's based: the first spurious and the second a question (and perhaps no less contrived). Reanimation was originally projected through the windows of a pre-fabricated house; the sound was played outside through speakers and one can imagine how much more interesting it would be to see this piece in this context. Likewise, while I love Weiner's particular poetics it also seems much more effective when seen outside the gallery; it allows it to be humorous, and you don't feel the need to take it too seriously. So while it seems ridiculous to criticise a gallery for being a gallery, this is my criticism. Secondly the question I'd like to ask is about the relevance of these artists, which isn't to say that I'm saying there's no value in this show, quite the opposite in fact. There is something though, particularly when you see Weiner who is considered so historically important that his reputation can cloud what you see. It's as if, because their work is known, as it is, you end up not so much looking for the work, but looking to see if you can see what everyone else can see in the work (if that makes sense). Again this sounds a touch ridiculous, criticising the artist for being successful, but I'm on a roll, so hey.
In conclusion: this is a good show, with two good pieces by very good, well-respected artists. It's in a gallery but you can't have everything.
(Image on top: Joan Jonas, Views of the exhibition Reanimation, 2013, Video installation; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris / Photo: Rebecca Fanuele.)