The Beauty of Decay

This year he was hard to avoid. But we wouldn’t have wanted to anyway. Until just recently Cyprien Gaillard’s Neon Indian was visible from afar, shining above Alexanderplatz. This work can even be seen as a metaphor for the ubiquity of this French artist. The path of his career in the past year has resembled that of a bright star rising in the firmament.

It culminated in his being honored with the Nationalgalerie Prize, where he prevailed in the face of powerful entries by Klara Lidén, Kitty Kraus and Andro Wekua. But you couldn’t go two steps without running into Cyprien Gaillard beyond the borders of our city limits as well. In Venice, his presence at both the Biennale and Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi were proof of a wide-ranging appreciation of his work. Furthermore, at only 31 years of age, Gaillard has long been embraced by his hometown: Centre Pompidou’s exhibition honoring this 2010 winner of the Marcel Duchamp Prize ends on January 9.

Every beer leads to the disintegration of man’s handiwork

But he presented his most sensual and provocative work early last year at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art with The Recovery of Discovery: In an allusion to the relocation of the Pergamon Altar, Gaillard had 72,000 bottles of beer of the brand “Efes” transported from Turkey to Germany and stacked up to form a modern temple structure. This pyramid of alcohol could only be seen in all glory for a short time, because the guests at the opening carried out his instructions to the letter – and had a real taste for the stacks of beer. Each toast that the hard-drinking art lovers made to Cyprien Gaillard contributed to the disintegration of the man’s own handiwork. Over the course of the show, the work progressively fell apart. As Diderot once said: “A palace must be in ruins to evoke any interest.”

We’ll drink to that!

Processes of preservation and destruction are recurring themes in Gaillard’s installations, films and performances. In this case, the audience could be an enthusiastic participant. The co-opting of foreign culture, the Western gaze, neo-colonial tourism, globalization: Gaillard succeeds in fitting all these issues into a single complex work, one which also manages to seem very simple and clear. An unambiguous and, yes, sensual work of art, albeit in an altogether modern way. We’ll drink to that!