Hubert Duprat

Studio-Grown Art

December 9, 2020By Heidi EllisonExhibitions
"A caddisfly larva with its case (1980-2000. © ADAGP, Paris, 2020. Photo: F. Delpech
“A caddisfly larva with its case” (1980-2000). © ADAGP, Paris, 2020. Photo: F. Delpech

The better-known names of photographer Sarah Moon and painter Victor Brauner are the big attention-getters at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris right now, but upstairs is a show (which had only a few visitors the day I was there, while the two other exhibitions were well attended) by Hubert Duprat, an artist I was unfamiliar with but whose work is original, impressive and certainly deserves more attention.

Duprat (b. 1957) is French, but this is the first retrospective he has had in France. Trained as an archaeologist, he thinks of himself as a researcher who follows his interests and finds inspiration in his library of 30,000 books in his home in the French countryside.

"Corail Costa Brava" (1994-2016). © ADAGP, Paris, 2020 Photo: J. Vidal
“Corail Costa Brava” (1994-2016). © ADAGP, Paris, 2020 Photo: J. Vidal

What is immediately striking about the exhibition is the incredible diversity of subjects, forms, supports, materials and techniques used by one artist. You’ll find mysterious Cibachrome photographs; plywood panels encrusted with mother-of-pearl or tortoiseshell; sculptures of rock crystal, amber, coral or limestone; concrete structures; and even a tire studded with rough diamonds.

"Trichoptère" (1980-2016). A caddisfly case of gold, turquoise and pearls. Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne.
“Trichoptère” (1980-2016). A caddisfly case of gold, turquoise and pearls. Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne.

Perhaps the most unusual material Duprat uses is grown in his studio with the help of caddisfly larvae. These larvae, which live in stream beds, use whatever materials they can find in the water – gravel, sand, twigs, plant debris, etc. – to strengthen their tubular protective cases (watch this wonderful video of a larva in action ). Duprat collects the larvae from streams, transfers them to tanks in his studio and puts them to work building their temporary homes with materials he has chosen, which might include gold, pearls, sapphires, turquoise, coral or lapis lazuli.

Exhibition view. Left: "Excentriques" (1998-2020). Right: "Chagrin" (2012-2020. © ADAGP, Paris, 2020
Exhibition view. Left: “Excentriques” (1998-2020). Right: “Chagrin” (2012-2020. © ADAGP, Paris, 2020

Some pieces, like “Excentriques” (string art nailed to the wall) had to be reconstructed according to the artist’s instructions, just as Sol LeWitt’s drawings must be re-created from scratch for each exhibition. A marksman had to be called in to shoot BBs at a wall to create a pattern for “Untitled,” and concrete had to be freshly poured for a room-filling slab held up by flimsy-looking metal supports. It took a month to create “Entrelacs,” a graceful doodle of delicate interlacing lines of copper wire embedded in plaster covering a monumental wall.

“It’s crazy to spend so much time on these things,” says art critic Frédéric Paul in the museum’s video on the preparations for the show (worth watching; in French only), “yet it produces something that enthralls us … not a perfect object, but perfect poetry.”

Much thought, study and labor obviously goes into each of these conceptual works. While some are beautiful objects in themselves and others are not much to look at, they all become far more interesting when you know how they were made and the ideas behind them. Unfortunately, the exhibition provides little in the way of explanation. The show is still well worth seeing, but to truly appreciate it, I would recommend reading up on Duprat before you go. Assuming that the museum is able to reopen on December 15 (depending on Covid restrictions), there will be three weeks left to visit it.

Editor’s note, Dec. 11, 2020: Unfortunately, it has now been announced that museums will not be allowed to open until January 7, 2020.

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