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Gilles Barbier: The Man Locked in the Studio Steps Out
Kim Da Hyun  |
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승인 2016.06.05  07:48:43
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn

 “Gilles Barbier is a signature, a singularity, and an individual who defies all the rules except those – very precisely – that he has set,” wrote art critic Gael Charbau, Barbier’s independent curator. For those who enjoy the feeling of being challenged and perplexed, Echo system: Gilles Barbier is the place to be. Walking around the exhibition, viewers will be captivated and mesmerized by the fascinating universe Barbier has created out of imagination and observation.


▲ Echo system: Gilles Barbier. Photographed by Lee So Young.

Echo system: Gilles Barbier is an exhibition that can be likened to a kaleidoscope. After walking around, people may feel that they are not fully grasping the gist of the exhibition and the artworks in it, that they are missing out. Not to worry. This is one exhibition where bewilderment and confusion are the accepted norm. Many of the artworks are indeed difficult to fathom or interpret because they are meant to be. They are open to any and all interpretations. Nothing is a misconception within the boundaries of this crazed, bemusing exhibition. 

The exhibition is all about artistic ambition and infinite experimentation and transformation. The title of the exhibition refers to Barbiers’s artistic universe and likens it to a huge ecosystem. Like an ecosystem, Barbier’s artistic universe is ever growing and changing. This solo exhibition of his work was put together by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) and Friche la Belle de Mai as part of the official celebration of the 130th anniversary of Korean-French diplomatic ties. 

Born in 1965 in the Republic of Vanuatu, Barbier, a visual artist and sculptor, attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Art) in Marseille, where he was nicknamed “person locked inside the studio” for his passion for art. He has had numerous exhibitions in notable galleries and museums around the world, was a co-founder of Asterides, an organization that nurtures fledgling artists in Friche la Belle de Mai, and has been featured in art magazines, newspapers, and books such as ArtPress and Beaux-Arts Magazine.

Regarding his artistic philosophy, Gilles Barbier wrote, “Nobody likes (especially not the market) an artist to go in unpredictable directions and that he is influenced by the slightest change in temperature, the wind sensitive to the slightest breath, and an entity without apparent logic,” for an interview with the MMCA. He continued, “Yet this chaotic structure appeals to me because it suits my desire for freedom.” 

His philosophy is manifested in the artworks displayed in Echo system: Gilles Barbier. Before entering the gallery, viewers will first notice “The Doctor’s Family from The Doctor’s Series” (1998) which consists of several framed paintings on the external wall of the gallery. These gouache on paper pieces seem to gingerly walk the thin line between insanity and humor.  

Within the series, one painting of a hippopotamus apparently portrays “the pet’s wife,” who is described as having been “raped by an extraterrestrial when she was 5.” The painting of a “distant” relative which is hung a large distance from the other paintings in the series added to the humor of the bizarre piece.

Inside the gallery, “Pawn – The Game of Life” (2010) is made up of pawns that are striking likenesses of Barbier in dwarf form. Although all of them will most likely come across as rather peculiar and odd, one is especially shocking. “Dice Man,” which is displayed in the center of a circle of six other pawns, has a dice for a body. But instead of the usual dots on the sides of the dice, Barbier attached male sexual organs in their place to signify “vestige, creation, and birth.”

“Banana Head (Traumatic Insemination)” (2010) is a bust modeled from Barbier himself. The pink bust with six bananas stuck in the eyes, mouth, and the head criticizes the mass media and commercial advertisements that continuously seek to take advantage of the public. Other notable artworks on display include “Inhabiting the Meat (the Village)” (2009), “The Falling of the Dice Man (Nogol)” (2011), and “From <> to <> Dictionary Page and Its Erratum” (1993).

As many of Barbier’s artworks have French or English written on them or contain speech bubbles that have either or both of the two languages written in them, viewers may be worried that they are missing out. However, there is no need to fret. “There are many layers of understanding the exhibition. One layer is language. There’s a lot of text, there are jokes, but it’s only a layer. Even if you are French, you may just understand one layer,” explained Charbau in an interview with Time Out Seoul

Perhaps not surprisingly, Barbier had a rough time in college. He felt that college lectures were uninteresting and irrelevant to his future. However, one class he took which was on modern art, drew his passion and drew him onto the meandering, eventful path that led him to transfer to an art school and to becoming an artist. Indeed, there is much to learn from the rash bravery and endless experimentation of Barbier.

Exhibition Information
Artist: Gilles Barbier
Venue: National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul Gallery 7, Media Lab
Period: April 13, 2016 – July 31, 2016
Museum Hours:
Tue, Thu, Fri, Sun: 10:00-18:00
Wed, Sat: 10:00-21:00 (Night opening, free of charge (18:00-21:00))
Closed every Monday
Admission with Student ID: Free of Charge
General Admission (Single-day): 4,000 won
Rating: For mature audiences. Parental guidance is advised for minors under the age of 19.


▲ Echo system: Gilles Barbier. Photographed by Lee So Young.


▲ Echo system: Gilles Barbier. Photographed by Lee So Young.
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