Interlude - Théo Mercier at Bugada & Cargnel

Back in lockdown, nowhere to go. Which is a problem for a website that’s updated weekly, with updates based on an exhibition I saw that week. During the spring 2020 lockdown here in London, I wrote a bunch of posts about works in permanent collections that I was thinking of at time of writing. This time, during this hopefully short winter interlude of closed galleries, I’m going to dig into my notes, and write each week about a standout show I saw sometime in the past, that didn’t make the website for whatever reason.

Théo Mercier took over Bugada & Cargnel in Paris in early 2017, for a show called Panorama Zéro. According to my notes, I saw it on April 14th. It was my last day in the city, and I’d hot-footed it to the mini-cluster of galleries in the 19th arrondissement after dropping my suitcase at the train station. I was in a hurry at the time, but what I saw in this room was so memorable that it’s the first thing that came to my mind this morning, when thinking back to what I might write about today.

installation view

Back then, I filled in all my notes by hand in a mini-notebook, which means the notes aren’t very extensive, as in each gallery I visited, I juggled notebook, pen, phone (for taking pictures) and paper press release. These days, I do it all on my phone, and paper press releases are a thing of a pre-COVID past. My actual hand-written notes from the show are spectacularly unenlightening: “Ruins - ancient”.

What I remember seeing is collections of objects, sometimes on stands, sometimes suspended from the ceiling, along with some wall-mounted paintings, that repeatedly reference Classical sculpture and art. They’re plaster casts of amphoras and busts, made new and collected together with more modern objects: a shiny new Goodyear tyre here, a tray on castors there. And, interspersed, sculptures of shapes, like the teetering stack of plaster balls pictured below.

modele ruiniste Modèle ruiniste (2016)

The cultures and periods sampled and reconstituted, in this high-windowed room, were deliberately scattered. A pick-and-mix approach that compresses things together awkwardly. Accordingly, none of the stands seemed stable and those objects hanging from the ceiling seemed at imminent risk of falling on my head.

Maybe those are the “ruins” I’m referencing in that sketchy note, made years ago now. Not the ravages of time on ancient objects, but the imminent threat of these piecemeal reconstructions coming crashing down. Mercier expertly plays with this slightly sick sense of impending disaster, orchestrating his sculptures and paintings as they rise from floor to wall to ceiling.

Sadly, Bugada & Cargnel quietly closed its gallery space later in the year I visited, so even in a world without COVID, I’m not going back to that lovely room in the 19th arrondissement again. How strongly these memories of being there come back though! Now I’m looking at a plaster cast column base on some wheels, vaguely worrying I’m going to be late for my train back home, the pale spring light filtering in from the skylights over my head.

I’d just love to be back there. So I wrote about it instead.

Théo Mercier: Panorama Zéro was at Bugada & Cargnel (Paris). 24 February - 02 June 2017