Shotgun Reviews

Pierre Huyghe at LACMA

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Scott Norton reviews Pierre Huyghe’s solo exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Pierre Huyghe. This is not a Time for Dreaming, 2004 (film still); transferred from 16mm film, 24:00; Courtesy of the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York. Photo by Michael Vahrenwald.

Pierre Huyghe. This Is Not a Time for Dreaming, 2004 (film still); 16mm film; 24:00. Courtesy of the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York. Photo by Michael Vahrenwald.

Entering the retrospective exhibition Pierre Huyghe at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is like entering a world where the lines of reality blur with that of constructed mythology. The contents of the exhibition—which includes more than two decades of work by the Paris-born Huyghe—seem to be more artifact than art. Arranged freely throughout the somber-lit, maze-like environment of the gallery, Huyghe’s multimedia happenings seem to contain elements of modern-day myth making, and place the viewer in a space where created fictions dictate a new world fashioned by the artist.

A Journey That Wasn’t (2005) is a tale of a voyage to the frozen Antarctic in search for a mythic albino penguin juxtaposed with a musical retelling of the event set in Central Park. Each “terrain”—one real and one imagined—begins to mirror the other, and gives way to a crescendo where each world bleeds into the other. Meanwhile, a cacophony of indistinct, almost organic sounds emanates from an equally murky symphonic score. Akin to a classic epic cycle, a hero’s quest is echoed by a psychological transformation. At journey’s end, the protagonist is forever haunted by the visions encountered while away, like Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey or Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Similarly, Huyghe plays with real histories, transforming them into mythological dramas like those of the ancient Greeks. This is most evident in This Is Not a Time for Dreaming (2004), a film depicting the modernist architect Le Corbusier’s commission to design the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard University. As with A Journey…, Huyghe parallels this story with his own quest to understand the creative trials of Le Corbusier. Played out by marionettes, the film’s scope expands and contracts, frames shift from architect to artist, puppet to puppeteer, stage to audience. It also vacillates from the world mundane to figurative and imagined with the presence of a black demon of abstract form, elements of dance, and dreams.

Humor is a regular facet of Huyghe’s work, and he frequently employs it to create ruptures in the linear nature of traditional narratives. These ruptures become points of entry into Huyghe’s imagination. As in myth, viewers are surrounded by the familiar and strange; a real voyage of a ship through an icy ocean, an absurd meeting of an architect with a demon. This reimagining of everyday processes as modern mythology or mythopoeia is synonymous with the body of over two decades of Huyghe’s work. Set within the almost mausoleum-like space of the LACMA gallery, the artist is ultimately the one who has the last laugh, or at least is the auteur of the experience in which the viewer has come to take part.

Pierre Huyghe is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles through February 22, 2015.

Scott Norton holds a degree in history with a focus in intellectual history and art history of Europe and Asia. He currently works on projects concerning East Asian scholar traditions and the history of tea production in East Asia.