MICHEL VERJUX : LIGHT CONNECTION
After experimenting with various means of expression, Michel
Verjux began to explore the sculptural effects of light in the
early 1980s. "It dawned on me that, after all, light
is the most essential element in the visual arts. We can reduce
our means no further. "Verjux's mature work began in earnest
around 1987, when he limited his practice to standardized
arrangements of projected circles - and occasionally squares or
rectangles -of intense white light. It is for the circles,
however, that he is best known. These are shown in
a variety of ways, singly and flat against a wall, in pairs or
in series, split in two or more parts, but always in response
to a given architectural situation.
Verjux's practice is related to that of an older generation of
French artists, notably Daniel Buren, François Morellet,
Claude Rutault, and Niele Toroni. Buren's signature stripes
have been shown in every imaginable circumstance over the last
three decades while, for about as long, Toroni has covered
all manner of surfaces with regularly spaced and identical brushmarks.
Besides a formal participation in the history of abstraction,
Buren and Toroni's works have always been understood as a politically
motivated renunciation of both craft and commodity. Ironically,
although Verjux professes no such social agenda for his work,
his interventions in a given setting place him even further away
from direct evidence of skill, creativeness, or the production
of goods. His simple and deceptively banal arrangements
exhibit more modesty and restraint than Buren, who is a prodigious
inventor. Verjux's projections are also more ephemeral and
appear physically effortless compared to Toroni's, an artist who
has produced a quantifiable and permanent record of his own labor.
And yet, despite what would appear as the more aloof attitude
toward fulfilling his role as an artist, Verjux's approach is
also more spectacular, even theatrical, given his materials.
In fact, if the art-historical point of his large projected circles
may elude the average viewer, they are clearly intended to please,
even enthrall, in precisely the manner that Buren, Morellet, Rutault,
and Toroni - as well as several American artists of that generation
and sensibility, Andre, Kawara, LeWitt, Sandback, Serra, and Weiner
for example - resisted in their work. As a further distinction,
Verjux's projections are explicit in their attempt to inform the
Light Connection superimposes five projected circles from, or
onto, two buildings of different period and style. One is
shown inside the museum during the day in an exhibition gallery
devoted to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's famous collection of
large New York School abstractions. It fills the center
of a long wall from floor to ceiling and surrounds the room's
single, narrow window. At night, two projections shine against
the exterior of this same wall, the south facade of E. B. Green's
Greek Revival building of 1905. These lights are trained
between the bottom of the wall and the cornice, and they are pushed
right to the inside edge of either wall, overlapping pilasters
that frame the long central colonnade. Were one to see the
interior projection shine through the colonnade, the three circles
that affect this building would appear evenly distributed across
the whole facade, one circle width apart.
Another pair of projections illuminate the "black box"
auditorium that crowns Gordon Bunshaft's 1962 addition.
They are placed at the center and shine outward from the east
and west glass walls. The curtains normally kept drawn in
this space are gathered to one side of either projection while
the other side is open, affording the passerby the rare chance
to see the room from the outside. We can thereby admire
its volume and its interior details of ceiling, stage, piers,
and curtains from a new vantage point.
Taken together and experienced over time, as one does architecture,
the five elements ofLight Connection expose hidden differences
and similarities between the two buildings. Verjux has taken
the opportunity presented by the architectural specificity of
the Albright-Knox Art Gallery to reiterate the antagonistic relationship
between historicism and "International Style" modernism,
exposing differences that go beyond aesthetics and delve into
the practical concerns that affect architectural form. But,
Verjux also reveals a paradoxical affinity between traditional
opponents. A result of Gordon Bunshaft's tactful aesthetic,
this affinity was won - as Verjux also shows _ at the cost of
an occasional stylistic conceit or physical inconsistency.
While contemplating this work, we might be led to appreciate
the complementarity of scale from the older Greek temple to the
newer building. We may even notice that a single stilobate
or base is shared by both structures and that the rhythm of mullions
in the black glass box echoes the regularity of the Ionic columns
opposite. We might be reminded that, unlike churches, Greek
temples were sanctuaries where the faithful worshipped outside,
which accounts for the scarcity of windows in strict imitations
of the style. On the other hand, Verjux shows that the modern
building, with its great transparent glass walls, visually opens
the interior to the exterior space, making the difference between
them ambiguous. Whereas only a fraction of the light that
fills the middle of the wall inside the 1905 gallery can escape
through its narrow window, the same arrangement in the modern
building results in large white circles visible from both sides.
Indeed, these projections permit one to see right through this
room, where two bright circles appear to overlap and to cross
each other as we move past the building.
Strangely, despite its rigorous symmetry, its uniformity, and
its consistent use of circular lighting fixtures, it is the modern
building that gave Verjux's equally rigorous geometry the most
difficulty. The interior proportions of the auditorium are
not exactly echoed in its exterior. The ceiling is two feet
lower, notably to accommodate Bunshaft's signature lighting grid
of recessed "cans." Consequently, it is not possible
to fill two central bays with one circle of light and show how
they form a square. The projections are slightly smaller
and lower than the ideal response to Bunshaft's geometry.
Ironically, the glass wall is left with an imaginary frieze to
match the real frieze of the Greek temple.
Although Verjux's superimposed geometry was also a test of E.
B. Green's sense of proportion and consistency, the classical
building fares perfectly. Even though Verjux scarcely acknowledges
its surface details, the volumes of Green's building are compositionally
sound and accommodate the projections without compromise.
Light Connection facilitates one more polemical volley from one
style to the next. If, unlike historicism, modernism in
architecture is more concerned with function and rationality than
with aesthetics, why then would an auditorium need to be surrounded
by windows, especially here with all the arresting views of Frederick
Law Olmsted's Delaware Park? It forces this building to
take the concept of a curtain wall literally.
Nevertheless, such negligible incongruities do not long distract
from the beauty of Gordon Bunshaft's auditorium, refreshed by
Michel Verjux. Because of its materials and shape, this
modern building is, stylistically, the more appropriate support
for an intervention such as this and is easily the more dramatic.
The black box has become a lighthouse.
Michel Verjux is a surprising artist. He has chosen an
unusual artistic path by continuing the idiom of an earlier generation,
just when it seems to have waned. Unlike what one would
expect from a second- or third-generation minimalist, however,
Verjux's approach moves the logic of reductivist abstraction along
without irony, without duplicating the accomplishments of others,
and without betraying the sensibility's ideals: fidelity
to the integrity of materials, to the essentials of a given medium,
and to a spatial context. Despite the rigorous modernist
logic of his form, he brings an encouraging pragmatism to its
deployment. Most importantly, the history of abstraction
is pursued in Verjux's lucid work without suffering extinction.
On the contrary.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
"In conversation with the author, December 1996"