Mathias Kiss — Ornementation Brutaliste
Past: May 30 → July 18, 2015
When an historical decor starts falling apart, restorers hasten to straighten, repair and restore its former glory. That is their job. It was also, for many years, the job of Mathias Kiss, a painter-glazier trained in the legendary Compagnon craftsmen’s guild. It’s a job that could be hard to unlearn, except that, since then, our habitat has changed, as has our way of living within four walls. Décor has become like a dead skin with golden scales that we continue to stroke — either through fetishism, preciousness or for the love of distinction and old stone. Ornaments such as overmantels and cornices have lost their role, their essential function. But this is looking at things the wrong way. Only the blind (or the amnesiac) would consider such ornaments to be immutable or untouchable, for this would condemn them — and us — to anachronism.
Instead, something radical has to be done to these objects and to ourselves. Herein lies the meaning of the oxymoronic title of Mathias Kiss’ exhibition, brutalist ornamentation, or, should we say, ‘brutalised ornamentation’. For the ‘brutalisation’ of these forms means releasing them from the inoffensive immobility in which they have been held prisoner, an immobility that allowed the brutalist architecture of the 1950s to simply eradicate them from modernist interiors. It is time for ornaments to strike out and strike back. Such as this frame that chases that which it was supposed to enclose, winding and snaking upwards. Or the ‘Golden Snake’ that refuses to stick to the walls in horizontal space and instead launches itself into the vertical plane, filling space instead of outlining it, bravely taking centre stage in order to throw itself into the void.
As does the artist, for whom the exhibition is as liberating as the zigzags of the Golden Snake. Here, he is suddenly freed from the constraints of the commission and the technical limitations fixed by the client. His cornices break out from their traditional role: abrupt, imposing, sharp and arrogant, they twist space, walls, norms and hearts. Venturing into the centre of the gallery, they open up space for fantasy, the imaginary.
Another fantasized element is gold, whose minute variations are recorded daily on the precious metals market. Yet Mathias Kiss attributes another value to gold, a chromatic value that is presented in a series of 24 framed boards, each gilded with gold leaf. The aligned monochromes become a colour chart: ‘white gold’, ‘dark half yellow’, ‘bright half yellow’, ‘orange gold’, ‘moon’, ‘palladium’. Precise and subtle, these names lead us to understand that things (including gold) are not composed of a single colour nor a single value, nor is there a reliable standard for measuring them. We are reminded of Marcel Broodthaers’ gold ingots and can see the affinities between Mathias Kiss’s work and the Belgian conceptual school. This work is a very effective trompe-l’oeil. The gold shades are destined to fade through the slightest contact (imagine gold leaf as a bad plaster) and, even without being touched, certain boards will simply decline, oxydize. It’s physical. It is of course gold, but it is also just that, only that: gold. A metal, subject to the passage of time. Mutant matter. A future fossil.
In this way, the exhibition interrogates some of our fixed ideas (about the value of gold; the bourgeois conception of placid, decorative objects; the difference between artist and artisan). The mirror is an essential vector of this enquiry. But you will not find your own reflection in the mirror proposed by the artist. For the mirror has also broken free of its fixed role; here, it is busy with itself and its own image. Busy reflecting and scrutinizing its own numerous personalities, spied in its own endless windows and prisms. Instead of distributing and magnifying interior domestic space, its traditional function, the mirror’s panes reflect each other, desperately empty, haggard, troubling. They no longer dialogue with a person or a face, just with each other. With Mathias Kiss, ornamentation undergoes psychoanalysis: wild overmantels and cornices ‘come out’, mirrors undergo deep introspection. Crisis of identity, the way we live, and the ways we exhibit and exhibit ourselves: these are the underlying themes of Mathias Kiss’ pitiless exhibition that reminds us of our desires, our aesthetic foibles and our fixed ideas that end up transforming us into zombies wandering through interiors that are empty shells. Yet here, the decor has not joined the walking dead. Instead, on the gallery walls, it is the revenge of the living.
English translation: Miranda Salt
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