Aubry/Broquard – Les Modernistes

Curatorial project commissioned by Credit Suisse – Pfauen branch, Zurich

« Les Modernistes », enamel ceramic, wood, 430 x 260 x 15 cm, 2008 – 2013
Credit Suisse Pfauen, Zürich, 2013

At the core of artist duo Aubry/Broquard’s practice (Bastien Aubry b. 1969 and Dimitri Broquard b. 1972) is the development of compelling environments that combine craft and design to create art.  Their work, at once humorous and precarious, is motivated by the poetry of failure and the beauty found in the less-than-perfect.  Much of their work features deformed or otherwise misshapen ceramic objects, such as jugs or pipes, which are placed on perfectly-designed shelving units or displays, offering a clear vision of art in opposition to design, their secondary profession.

This opposition is also found in Les Modernistes (2010-ongoing), for which the duo takes on an investigation of the modernist aesthetic in public sculpture.  For this work in progress, the two travel throughout Europe and photograph themselves next to commissioned works, then recreate them as ceramic miniatures.  We see in these small replicas, which are unique sculptures in their own right, an interest in materiality and a continued preoccupation with imperfection, an inherent element in their process of handcrafting the clay.  But Les Modernistes goes beyond this: in placing the twenty-one handcrafted ceramic figurines on wooden wall-shelves, Aubry/Broquard allude to a specific environment – the domestic interior.  And this juxtaposition points to several important themes:  the clash between public and private space in household living rooms, also exemplified by the location of the installation within the glass vitrine of Credit Suisse’s new branch on Remistrasse; the historical association of ceramics with craft, considered inferior to fine art; and the connection of the former topics with domesticity and decoration which were, and sometimes still are, considered inherently feminine preoccupations.  From these three, yet another level of meaning ensues: that of social class.

« Les Modernistes », enamel ceramic, wood, 150 x 400 x 20 cm, 2008 – 2013
Credit Suisse Pfauen, Zürich, 2013

With massive industrialisation in the late 18th and 19th centuries the leisure class emerged and in parallel, the travel industry.  It catered to people’s need for symbols of past experiences by mass-producing miniatures and other souvenirs.  These objects were then displayed, sometimes in vitrines, as statements of status.  Aubry/Broquard refer to, and poke fun at, this history by reducing the once masculine modernist sculptures to mere souvenirs of form.  As they adopt the traditionally female role of crafting, they also revert from the mass-produced to the unique, and bring the private realm into the public.

Les Modernistes is a complex and multi-layered work that synthesizes social commentary, aesthetic concerns, and historical analysis, and yet pays tribute to, rather than rejects, the charm of the flaw and its inherent artistry.

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