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Remember David Gray? Whether or not his one-hit wonder “Babylon” is permanently lodged into your brain, it certainly will be after seeing Cyprien Gaillard’s first U.S. solo retrospective, “The Crystal World” at MoMA PS1 (on view through March 18).
A haunting loop of the tune’s refrain hums throughout each room of the exhibition, although the video piece it accompanies, Artefact, is only in one of those rooms. The piece explores the myth of Babylon set against Gaillard’s iPhone videos of post-war Iraq, where the Gray song was used in Abu Gharib to torture prisoners.
Gaillard works in various mediums, and this exhibition showcases video, polaroid installations, drawings, and prints. His videos receive the most real estate, although the exhibition, curated by Klaus Biesenbach, is cohesive in its presentation.
Artefacts is presented in a large room flanked by his Geographical Analogies, where in waist-high vitrines lay three-by-three grids of polaroids depicting familiar, yet unnamed utopias. Turns out, they are images of abandoned monuments left around waiting to crumble in places like Mexico, New Jersey, and Paris. They are stoic and gritty, and individually read like mistakes or trashed memories. Organized as a collection, though, they take on purpose even if that exact purpose is unknown.
A fractured sense of place comes alive against the dizzying camera work of Desniansky Raion. The triptych is composed of three sequences, the first filmed at night. Gaillard portrays the explosion of Russian housing projects with an aerial view of these destitute living quarters and then a massive gang fight between angry youth, one group wearing red, the other white. It is clear that Gaillard is examining decline, as if these irate men are clueless Romans on the eve of the Empire’s fall, unaware that they’re the cause of its immediate destruction.
As the exhibition’s title suggest, crystal shatters, and so too can the world. But crystal also bears weight, reflects, and hums. From this retrospective, it seems that Gaillard looks beyond the fragility of humanity to capture its jagged intricacies, its strength, and the inadvertent poetry it is capable of creating from the mundane and profane.
Cyprien Gaillard was born in Paris in 1980 and currently lives in Berlin and New York. He has had numerous solo exhibitions, including those at the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan; Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (2012); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2011, 2008); the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Metz; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2011); the Zollamt/Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt, Germany; the Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2010); the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany and the Hayward Gallery Project Space, London (2009).