OCTOBER 6 – OCTOBER 28, 1989



RETOURNÉDÉTOURNE, five cold pieces in counterpoint functions as both a single work and also 5 pieces related and yet maintaining their autonomy. The unity of the work lies in the discourse, a relationship which allows for multiple readings of this elegant and poetic installation. The interaction of photography, painting, architectural reference and sculptural objects serves Jean Lantier’s intentions of placing the individual within the physical space and then transporting them to imagined locations of time, text and memory, creating questions of such issues as the “phenomenon of the here and now recycling its own sources”.


JEAN LANTIER was born in Quebec city, 1953. His work exists in a number of public collections accross the country an he is currently represented by Galerie Christianne Chassay in Montreal.



In 1986 and 1987, we had already been exposed to Nébuleuse and Triades: bribes de géographie et d’histoire, works featuring the erosion of the acquired significations of modernity: their fragmentation, relativism and complexification. The following year, Mont, mot, motif, mensonage pursued these interrogations with a particular insistence on problematics linked to representation. With Retournédétourné: cinq pieces froides en contrepoint, the subjacent attitude underlying the re-evaluation of modernity is here explored.

Jean Lantier’s work abide a contrario to modernist theses. They requestion the relationships between painting and sculpture and are involved, from an entirely different version of modernity, in the disengaging of certain general elements from the modern aesthetic act. Instead of researching a specificity based on the formal refinement of various media, they substitute an unveiling of media conventions and common conditions of enunciation.

“… the problem of the specific and the generic (…) has overdetermined the art of the last thirty years.” (T. de Duve, Résonances du ready-made, éd. Jacqueline Chambron, Nimes, 1989: 250 pp.)


Seven pieces are mounted before us, forming a fragmented and contradictory totality. There are two columns, shaped from an assemblage of thin black tubes, placed at the extremities of the piece; there is a painting placed close to each o these. Finally, there are three very dissimilar sculptures placed in the centre: a large, low black table, a white cube with another jutting out and a small object, formed of three slabs of concrete mounted on a piece of wood with a long, sinuous metal bar piercing it.

As we can see, the objects appearing in this piece distinctively derive from either sculpture or painting, never the two at once. There are no hybrid objects, neither is there an overflow of one medium into the other. These are quite simply objects with distinct mediatic specificities, placed in the same site. What is also a hybrid form or a mixing of media, causes entirely different effects. Painting and sculpture come face-to-face, as in a slightly disforming mirror or like two copies of a single text translated into different tongues. The shift of identities, the perversion of specificities is played out in the permutability of forms and motifs, in the equivalency of supports, frames and bases.


In Jean Lantier’s work, the titles is become increasingly fashioned in the image of the mechanism at work in the pieces. Thus the contraction of Retournédétourné delineates, in one movement, the reappropriation of (and return to) forms, the procedures and expositions produced by modernism and their necessary re-evaluation (their shifting and rerouting). This does not constitute some nostalgic return to the values of the past; instead, it consists of a re-evaluation of the experience of modernity in order to disengage what constitutes its overall legacy and tradition.

The second part of the title, Cinq pieces froides en contrepoint, evokes the content of this re-evaluation. It sets forth the presentation of pieces which have their proper status as art object as a fundamental reference. This is to say that the tradition of modernity essentially resides in the formal consciousness of the methods and conventions underlying the artistic act.


Painting and sculpture are face-to-face in their difference. They are declensions of certain sign of modernity surrounding more-or-less precise references: the minimal cube, the sculptural assemblage, the accumulation of bases (the small sculpture on the floor in particular), abstract sculpture’s equilibrium of masses (counterbalancing the precarious leanness of the long metal rod), the table’s modern design, the proportional relationship of surfaces (the large table is constructed of an assemblage of three surfaces equivalent to the overall surface of the other painting), the ambiguity of the figuration evident in the transformation of the material – the same transformation of colour and material in abstract painting…

This is a return to all which constitutes, even today, the basis of our artistic horizons. It is a review of the results of a century’s accumulated updates, a sort of lexicon of means and conditions of artistic practice, still bearing the name: “material culture”, collage/assemblage, ready-made and a revealing of the conventions underlying the supports and frames…as well as their excesses.

While painting and sculpture square off, the discourses on which their specificity is founded no longer hold. The basic tenets of modernity have also become the object of a re-evaluation and are being placed in perspective. Specificity has reached its limits.


The title, Retournédétourné, also takes into account the concrete mechanism which structures the work. The conventions of the medium are invoked and confronted on a stage, traversed with specular effects. Forms and motifs, as well as supports and frames become the object of variations and permutations which in turn reveal them as common conventions updated by modernity, far beyond the differences in their medium of execution.

The motifs of the woodland on the large painting, as well as the crescent moon on the cube’s surface and the lake carved into the table can be perceived as different “translations”, various manifestations of the same geometric and abstract form: the crescent. Similarly, the sinuous line of the long metal rod would seem to be a sort of echo of the fine tracings of the painted woodland and perhaps, albeit more indirectly, the twisted metal lines forming the columns.

The resulting forms and motifs deriving from the crescent find themselves cut off from any referential context and narrative, becoming floating signs on an abstract support. This is also the case with the large painting, where the white surface van be read a s field of snow; the similitude of its white background and the clearly abstract surface of the other painting reinforces the precedence of fabrication over representation. The motif emerges from the manipulation of the pictorial matter. The same holds true for the various manifestations of the sinuous line. When these forms and motifs, whether figurative or abstract, painted or sculpted, are thus selected in each other, they present the same condition of utterance which results from the shaping of materials; they pass through a conceptual of formal mediation which is a necessary stage of all representation.


Other specular relationships are further interwoven between certain objects. Thus, we can conceive of columns whose contorted metal rods sketch out the framing of the entire assembly of objects in the piece as three-dimensional replicas of the frames around the paintings. While these columns evoke the garden, by conducting a rapprochement of the pictorial frame, they recall merely frontal points of view, the overall perspective inherited from painting which have often presided over the structuring of these gardens. This constitutes another way to counterpoint the search for specificity. A like reading offers a solution to the paradox underlying the title: that of seven pieces making five; these columns are no pieces in themselves – they become the frames around the pieces.

There is also a discernible similarity between the surfaces of the table, the large painting and the cube which serves as a support for the three, previously evoked motifs (wood, moon, lake). Whether it serves as a pictorial or sculptural support, each of the surfaces constitutes, in effect, a variation of scale of the same square shape. Closer comparison causes them to appear to be transpositions of the common presentation and reception space that is the gallery. The pictorial support issues from the wall, preserving its planeity and frontality. On the other hand, the base emerges from the floor of the gallery – the sculpture’s fundamental support – by preserving the tri-dimensionality of the space it demarcates. As a result, however, the space necessary for perceiving the painting is the same as that which houses the sculpture and, inversely, the space of the painting’s inscription is what which determines the contours for perceiving the sculpture. This complementarity fundamentally underlines the fact that the space “occupied” by the painted or sculpted object are one and the same site of enunciation, literally cut out of real space.

Moreover, it is to such an inter-relationship between the base and the exhibition site that the concrete slabs, superimposed onto the very floor, explicitly make reference to in Jean Lantier’s previous work. Whether the base is a constituent part of another sculpture (as is the case with the cube), whether it is integrated into a piece of furniture (thereby evoking the context of a private collection) or whether it constitutes a presence in itself (through the accumulation in the small sculpture on the floor), its surface is differentiated from the sculptural form inscribed in the material. The framework of the actual reinvestiture of the object is an occasion to signal that which is implied in a return to the conventions that have been amply deconstructed by modernity.


“These 5 pieces are cold; they seek to generate meaning, but they remain distant and are not immediately accessible. They must be read in a manner which takes into account the fact that they, in themselves, constitute a gaze at something altogether different; they derive from the second degree.” (Jean Lantier, artists’s statement presenting the piece.)

Standing before this piece of Lantier’s, as before the previous works, one finds oneself rather flabbergasted. A measure of time is required before one’s faculties can find the threads of meaning in what presents itself, first and foremost, as an extremely fragmented assemblage of contradictory identities. Jean Lantier’s works consistently from precarious totalities, a sort of “Nébuleuses” of meanings and accumulates stratae, with multiple cross-references and indefinite contours. The meaning is never given but, on the contrary, always made problematic. The spectator must patiently unravel the artist’s presuppositions and retrace the entirety of links and references woven into the proposition. One never finds oneself on common ground concerning certain forms; instead, one enters and enunciation, shaped by a formal consciousness of the limitations of the era. This is an art of collage and assemblage… integrating not only materials, forms, objects and images, but one which above all re-evaluates the procedures, attitudes and statements of modernity. However, it remains to determine which modernity is operational here. Jean Lantier’s work is linked to a like redefinition by its recontextualizing modern analyses of the methods and conditions of artistic practice.

Text by Jacques Doyon
Translated from French by Robert McGee

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