They stand, monumental, pressed, ready to walk on you. And then, if you step aside, they volatilize like straws. The sculptures of Thomas Houseago are on the ground floor of the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris (XVIe), in the glass rooms which give sight on the Eiffel tower, a ground ideally bright to succeed their sleights. Robust, frozen in a clumsy or virile posture, arms dangling or stretched, these creatures of wood and plaster, consolidated fiberglass (called Tuf-Cal) and supported by rusty iron bars, let themselves cross by drafts and light. They are not compact, not made in one piece, not ready to hold on. They are, however, what it takes to hold good front, front, so to make the show and save appearances.
Ambivalence. Side and back views are often another story. Their friability, if not their weariness, is obvious. Their silhouette seems to be falling apart and their skeleton is no more than a loose mikado game: Walking Man or its counterpart, more dynamic, The busy man, bronze colossus culminating at about fifteen meters, have this pace of conquering only a short moment. The next one, they are no more than a pile of abstract lines, without volumes or thickness, without any more going. This ambivalence makes all the subtlety of Houseago's work. Modern works – the figure of the walking man clearly follows Rodin's footsteps – and contemporaries, struck by the crisis of the representation of the human figure. What is the point of sculpting today a world that tends towards dematerialization? The weight of these characters is partly that of their anachronism. They are survivors – even ghosts, as indicated by the title of one of them, installed outside the museum, Striding Figure II (Ghost). Some go to bed as medieval recumbent ones.
Certainly, Thomas Houseago weaves with the tradition of figurative sculpture but does not hide that these son got tangled in the course of time, that they are withered. The Briton lends his works a plastery and woody consistency that incorporates, in the mass, erratic pencil-making and scrap metal, the one used on construction sites, the one on which the concrete is bombarded, the one on which the building stands. Houseago reveals the entrails of his sculptures instead of letting them hide in the shadows. Scrap metal cleaves the armor of the characters, of which we see the exterior as well as the interior, so that none of them seem completely finished, so neither rested nor even posited. Imposing, they are however deliberately riddled with holes, gaps never clogged.
The monsters of drafts, fluid beings, the sculptures sometimes take the appearance of shapeless mounds or small arches, stretching a mouth wide open. Conversely, some do not let anything pass. The silhouette of a woman is thus folded on itself. Naked, callipyge, compact, tight, hugging alone without any need, she takes here robotic reflections: her skin is metallic gray because she dipped in an aluminum bath. His mold was made of wood and she wears its veins. "Almost Human", the title of the exhibition, says this ambiguity of the status of Houseago's works: "Almost human". The creatures of the artist hesitate between the heroic stature and the depressive withdrawal, between the robustness of the facade and the porosity of the hearts, between fullness and emptiness, form and matter.
Obstinacy. The exhibition opens on the photo glued to the wall of the first studio of the artist, still a student, in Amsterdam, in 1996, and in Los Angeles, in the huge studio he occupies today. A space low ceiling, dark and dark, populated with livid sculptures which he could only save a handful of resources to store them, Thomas Houseago is found, twenty years apart, in this vast hall flooded with light where he films himself in full work. Its trajectory is apparently ideally solar, lined by galleries and powerful collectors (including François Pinault, who lends the museum a sculpture grazing the ceiling). But nothing was so easy. The expo also says that: merit, stubbornness, loneliness, nights to work (the day, he had to work on the building sites to make a living), that is, many qualities that one willingly teaches the sculptors.
In addition, the man is beefy. Born in Leeds in 1972 to a working-class family, he moved to Amsterdam and then to California, in 2003, against the flow of his British counterparts, who, in London or Glasgow, were still carried by the "Young British" wave. Artists ". In this studio film on which the exhibition ends, Houseago prepares a clay mold in which he dipped and waded to the point of having clay to the neck. A block of one-piece sculptures (chairs, children's play area, a small platform, and even a tomb) will be released. Either a block to live, to live or to perform that finally reveals the way the artist lends body (his body and that of his friends invited to play music or read texts) to his work.
Thomas Houseago Almost Human Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, 75016. Until 14 July.