Nicolas Baier Vanité 2012 / photo Richard-Max Tremblay
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Nicolas Baier: Mystic Spectacle


POSTED: MARCH 22, 2012

The centrepiece in Nicolas Baier’s current exhibition, which closes this weekend at Galerie René Blouin, is a work that features a full-scale replica of his studio workstation—computers, scanners, a desk, a chair, tangles of cable, even a half-eaten piece of toast, among other tools of his trade—cast in aluminum, chrome-plated and then boxed aquarium-like behind mirrored glass. On the surface, Baier’s installation, titled Vanité, may seem like a straightforward if spectacular exercise in conceptual self-portaiture, a sculptural set piece depicting the 21st-century artistic practice frozen in time. Yet the more you think about it, the more the work’s complex layers unfold.

Consider the Duchampian (with a nod to Damien Hirst) paradox, where ordinary objects are catapulted—by meticulous craftsmanship, in this case—into otherworldly value. Or questions of the heavily mystified precincts of the artist’s studio and, in turn, the creative process rendered here with clinical precision. (As Blouin told me, “It’s totally aestheticized. It freezes your blood.”) The combined play of transparent and mirrored surfaces both reflects and captures the viewer, implicating them as equal parts spectator and participant. And there’s a museological/sci-fi edge to Vanité—which includes a projected white light “eye” on the gallery wall—that positions the work as a kind of time capsule in the vein of a Kubrick-like future-past dystopia.

Other works in the exhibition offer a contemplative contrast to these manifold meanings. In Canevas, a large-scale digitally collaged image depicts the inside of a cave in France, its rough eroded surfaces and rich mineral tones standing as a primordial opposite to the modern aesthetic cool and subtle cynicism of Vanité. Similarly, the sculpture Étoile (noire) and the canvas Monochrome (noir) move this sense of timelessness to interstellar proportions. The first enlarges the unique structural form of a meteorite fragment, while the second uses ground-up meteoric matter to evoke a universal principle for the creative process. For Baier, these works suggest an exploration of fundamentals and creative truths that, even in the distracting glint of his Vanité, are no less mystical and no less spectacular.

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