September 6, 2007

Villeglé's Re-contextualized Meaning

The mid-Twentieth Century work of décollagist Jacques Villeglé (often in collaboration with Raymond Hains) provides a glimpse into appropriation as both technique and art movement. Forgetting for the moment 1980’s appropriation art (Levine, Kruger, Pettibone, Sturtevant, et al., after the seeds of citation sown by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and Johns), Villeglé’s earlier “use” of posters torn from Parisian walls signaled a bold intervention into the “social order” that further disrupted the fragile aesthetics of visuality that were under siege by the 1950’s.

Abstract expressionism had already peaked in the New York School and other ideas about how to extend abstraction were undergoing intense analysis in multiple quarters. The “unconscious” mark or the random incidents of chance were notable art theories of resolute effectiveness but were beginning to lose their avant garde sheen. Meanwhile in post-war Paris, Villeglé had already begun to relocate his “art practice” into the urban space. As Benjamin Buchloh quite aptly notes, Villeglé would join Simon Hantai, Mimmo Rotella and others from the Nouveaux Réalistes group to discover new ways to create “designs outside of an author’s intentional composition.”(1)

In an urban environment littered both literally and figuratively with the detritus of consumerist desire, Villeglé would appropriate the previously vandalized “propaganda” of cinema and theatre posters, play-bills and product advertisements by cutting whole jagged and ripped areas off the Parisian walls to use as his “medium” to construct “paintings.” Villegelé’s brilliance was to seize upon the implicit violence of these vandalized posters, torn with contempt by nocturnal, roving bands of disaffected urban youth, wrenching the fragmented images and letters from their “street” context to re-codify them as “high” culture through his singular actions.

Villeglé’s relevance to art history is not only his “borrowed” chromatic forms that clearly function as structural ambiguity within a two-dimensional frame. Rather, it is his re-framing of the “signs” in a “new realism” that disintegrates and erases both visuality and conventional semantics. Villeglé toyed with these raw signifiers, re-siting the images and words of advertising from the “rightful” gaze of consumers, to create a brutal and ritual “negation.” It is a negation not only of desire but of meaning as well, as his re-contextualized works evoke a multiplicity of meanings beyond their previous capitalist incantations.

Image: 66, Rue de Vaugirard - bas Meudon, 28 mai 1990, décollage mounted on canvas, © Copyright by Jacques Villeglé.

1. Buchloh, Benjamin. Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry, Cambridge and London, 2000, 245.

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