Pierre Huyghe at LACMA: Unexpected Pleasures and Disappoinments

To naysayers of contemporary art, Pierre Huyghe’s retrospective at LACMA is bound to be the last straw. To an open mind, it will have a positively jostling impact. Huyghe’s body of work is as contemporary as it gets: it is unpredictable, hyperkinetic, and not for the lazy. This exhibition requires an amount of effort, be it in the form of resistance or surrender. It is hard to be unaffected by what might as well be a self-governing organism: a smattering of live ants follow a trail of rat pheromone; Human, the artist’s dog, perambulates the galleries; there are a few giant aquariums, and then there is Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt), the reclining nude with an active beehive for a head. The artist is not the sole meaning-maker here.


Pierre Huyghe, LACMA

Pierre Huyghe, Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt), concrete cast with beehive structure, wax. Pierre Huyghe, LACMA, Los Angeles (Photo courtesy Los Angeles Times)


Pierre Huyghe (pronounced hweeg) was born in 1962 in Paris and since the 1990s has been playing with the concept of “auto-generative” art. If you thought Alexander Calder’s kinetic sculptures — shown in the same pavilion earlier this year — were animated, Huyghe’s exhibition will stop you in your tracks.

The threshold into Huyghe’s world is disappointing, if not anticlimactic—you are welcomed by nothing but blank walls angled in seemingly slapdash ways. It is confounding, until the sense of disruption morphs into liberation: Ah, I see, this exhibition is here for me to play. If the artist can break boundaries so can I.


Pierre Huyghe, LACMA

Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (Human Mask), 19-minute film. Pierre Huyghe, LACMA, Los Angeles (Photo courtesy LACMA)


One protean space leads to another, or to a dimly lit room, or to a manufactured world outside, dripping with precipitation (fog, snow, rain). In some recesses there is so much light deprivation you get the urge to find a dose of sun. Sounds echo around you, some so vivid you can’t tell if they’re real-time or from one of the handful of films rolling. In Huyghe’s twenty-five year career, film has been a mainstay. His 2014 film, Untitled (Human Mask), captures the human penchant for manipulation: a monkey, wearing the mask of a woman, is being trained to work as a waitress. Huyghe describes it as a dystopic portrait of human alienation. It feels perfectly apropos for the disorienting, sometimes sparse, sometimes lonely spaces in this exhibition.


Pierre Huyghe, Human, dog (Photo courtesy Autre), Pierre Huyghe, LACMA, Los Angeles

Pierre Huyghe, Human, dog. Pierre Huyghe, LACMA, Los Angeles (Photo courtesy Autre)


Even if Pierre Huyghe feels a bit like the artist’s personal play space, it is splendidly self-aware. The raw, unframed documents on the gallery walls feel like personal messages from Huyghe to us. L’Ecrivain public, or Public Writing, is the artist’s chronicle of the exhibition opening. It is voyeuristic and full of banal observations that cannot resist amusement (celebrities and Michael Govan, the Museum Director, are mentioned). Reading it soothes the urge to be that fly on the wall. The ceiling above you doubles as a light grid that visitors can operate. Before reaching for a joystick, you have to ask yourself, Am I allowed to touch this?

This is where Huyghe’s exhibit can get infuriating. You don’t know where the lines end and begin. The synchrony couldn’t be more perfect: Huyghe is pushing you to challenge your obedience in manufactured spaces. You learn to anticipate moments of freedom, and, inversely, moments of disappointment: those beds of piled fur, begging to be sat on? Those are not for you but for Human, the artist’s Ibizan hound.

Pierre Huyghe, LACMA, Los Angeles through February 22, 2015


Pierre Huyghe, LACMA

Pierre Huyghe, Installation view. Pierre Huyghe, LACMA, Los Angeles (Photo courtesy Esther Schipper)


Pierre Huyghe, LACMA

Pierre Huyghe, Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt), concrete cast with beehive structure, wax. Pierre Huyghe, LACMA, Los Angeles (Photo courtesy Annenberg Media Center)

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in Focus on the American West

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