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BERTRAND LAVIER | ’Walt Disney Productions’
September 30th 2021
Fountains made of colourful striped garden hoses and a camera painted in thick acrylic paint, Bertrand Lavier blurs the definition of when an object is functional design or a work of art, or both. In the eyes of Lavier, anything is able to shift between intended uses or “states”. The remaking of a cliché-filled background from a Walt Disney cartoon - moving it from light-hearted fiction to art world reality - received critical acclaim in eighties and nineties. Exhibited in full scale at Guggenheim Soho in 1998, the print edition of the installation Walt Disney Productions (1998) shows Lavier ability to elevate the ordinary to fine art.
by Henrik Riis
PRINT EDITION RELEASE
It could have been the perfect crime: simply walking out the front door of a museum with priceless works of art, of course had it not been for Mickey Mouse. Invited to an exhibition of modern art by his delightful girlfriend, Minnie, the art-sceptic character found himself every so often - as with many of his contemporary detectives in the world of fiction -in the middle of a happening crime scene without knowing it. ‘Mickey Mouse and The Artistic Thief’ from 1977 is no different. Slowly, the sharp-witted and investigative mouse smells a rat and foils the plot by sensing that something is not as it seems. Seven years later the French artist, Bertrand Lavier, “strolled” through the Museum of Modern Art in Disney’s fictional world and rather than take one piece of art, he left the building completely empty.

Lavier’s investigations started as a young artist in the late sixties, where he became interested in the relationship between art and everyday objects. Puzzling questions presented themselves to him: when is an object a decorative item or well-designed functional tool; when is it considered a work of art; and is there a stage where it shifts from one to the other. To experiment with the dividing lines he covered grand pianos, kettles and other day-to-day objects in thick layers of colourful acrylic paint leaving them both functional, in theory, and completely useless because of the heavy paint. Other times he would stack painted objects, putting a fridge on top of a large safe, making the fridge challenging to use as it was too high above the floor, while the safe was still at a managing level. His studies opened into long endless corridors of new considerations. With two objects stacked, the safe could now be seen as a pedestal and the fridge a sculpture, or was the painted fridge actually a painting? The context in which the objects were placed and observed was the key for Lavier’s conceptual journey.


A Walt Disney story - where Mickey Mouse derails a heist in an art museum - caught Lavier’s attention in the eighties. Not for the story itself but for the backdrop. Set amongst abstract metal sculptures and paintings inspired by the Minimalists and Expressionists of the seventies, the Italian comic artist Sergio Asteriti complemented Disney’s story brilliantly by filling it with clichés. To children and most other readers this was exactly what a museum should look like: strange, rounded objects with holes in the middle - and hanging on the walls, paintings of dots, random lines and splashes of paint on canvases. It was simply too perfect. Purely from intuition, and with not a single work copied from a real artist, Asteriti curated a complete museum show filled with works of art living up to the reader’s expectation.

Fascinated by Asteriti’s depiction of art in seventies, Lavier decided to remake the fictional objects in various mediums and bring them into reality. A concept fitting into the artist’s idea that objects, however prestigious, mundane or just fictional, can have several identities, or existences. The works, collectively known as the ‘Walt Disney Productions’, were first presented as large Cibachrome prints, replicating some of the pieces in the Walt Disney cartoon, and introduced to the public at the Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland, in 1984.

In the years that followed the artist continued to work on sculptures and paintings from the cartoon. The abstract sculptures loosely drawn by Asteriti were built into freestanding, three-dimensional forms and painted in blue, yellow and green; and modernist paintings with scribbles and geometrical lines were painted by Lavier to resemble the comic. Specifically created for a couple of exhibitions, like the one at Guggenheim Soho in New York, whole walk-in environments were rebuilt to live-scale - and later portrayed two-dimensional in the print edition Walt Disney Productions (1998).

As much as the work from the series ‘Walt Disney Production’ is easy to connect to, the artist’s philosophical question always lurks in the background. What defines an object is based on its context - and once the context change, the perception of it changes as well. This is the true strength of Lavier’s conceptual practice.

The inclusion in the 7th Biennale in Paris in 1971 marked the beginnings of Bertrand Lavier’s artistic journey. During the next five decades his sculptures, paintings and photographs have been exhibited widely through solo- and group shows and events in the art calendar, including Documenta and several biennales around the world. In 1998 the acclaimed works from ‘Walt Disney Production’ were shown as part the ‘Premises’ exhibition at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in Soho, New York. The artist lives and works in Paris, France.

Based on an environment created for the show at Guggenheim in 1998, Bertrand Lavier and Eyestorm released the print edition Walt Disney Productions (1998) in the autumn of 2000; a setting published on page 154 in the exhibition catalogue ‘Premises’ (1999) from the show in New York’s Soho. The wish from Lavier to distinctly connect the appearance of the edition to the cartoon shifted the edition from a traditional print on paper to an advanced pigment inkjet on plastic-coated fabric, mounted to board. Only 25 prints from the edition of 125 were produced, signed and numbered on front.

You can find more information about Walt Disney Productions (1998) and see the print edition in further details on Bertrand Lavier’s artist page here.
 
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