We Love What We See in Our Reflection
Juliette Singer, Chief Curator of Le Petit Palais, explains, “Every autumn since 2013, Le Petit Palais opens its doors to contemporary art. This year, our guest of honour is Jean-Michel Othoniel, born in Saint- Étienne in 1964, an international renowned artist famous in Paris for his 2000 installation Kiosque des Noctambules at the entrance of the Palais Royal metro station. Since his retrospective My Way at Le Centre Pompidou 10 years ago, the theme of re-enchantment has been at the heart of this artist’s work.”
She’s more to say, “With more than 70 new sculptures in mirrored beads and glass bricks, The Narcissus Theorem focuses on Le Petit Palais and its architecture. Taking up the myth of Narcissus – a man who, in love with his own image, was transformed into a flower – Othoniel engages with visitors, inviting them to self contemplation but also offering a reflection of the world around them through his work.”
Juliette’s even more to say, “This journey through myths and fairy tales begins with a rite of passage: the crossing of a river. Visitors then proceed to the garden of forbidden fruits before descending into the Grotto of Narcissus. Exploring the theory of reflections of the Mexican mathematician Aubin Arroyo, Othoniel transports us to a world between dreams and reality, opening up doors to endless fields of space and imagination.”
Le Petit Palais isn’t petite but it is palatial. Architect Charles Girault won a competition to build the museum for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. He liked to make an entrance: the gilded to the nines front doors are framed by one pair of pilasters and three pairs of ionic columns supporting ever increasingly larger arches. Charlie gives a masterclass in très Beaux Arts.
Such commanding architecture demands arresting art and Jean-Michel Othoniel doesn’t disappoint: he wins hearts and delivers in spades. He too can make an entrance: his piece Blue River was created in situ with bricks of Indian glass flowing over the stone steps. The artist is asking us to pass from one world to another, a playful, magical and poetic universe. In the courtyard fountains, Narcissus is four gilded lotus flowers reflecting the water that reflects them. It is the yellow of the flower in the legend. Hanging from trees or rising from the ground, Necklaces evoke the temptations of hidden forbidden fruit.
As another mathematician, Hannah Fry, told us at the recent Westminster Property Association dinner at The Londoner Hotel, “Equations and symbols aren’t just a thing, they’re a voice that speaks out about the incredible richness of nature and the startling simplicity in the patterns that twist and turn and warp and evolve around us.” One of the most fun aspects of the show is just spottting the pieces. Are the gilt swags in the colonnade art or architecture? We are not wallflowers; we are made in God’s image.