Evariste Richer


The Stratified Worlds of Evariste Richer

If you’re lucky, when trying to contextualize an artist, you’re going to get mor ethan you bargained for. This happens to be the case with Evariste Richer, as any attemps to situate his work in this moment has to reckon with a specific historical tension. Like most post-60s/70s work, Richer’s practice requires a bit of context, but at the same time, effortlessly contextualizes itself on its own, given the current, conceptually, freighted climate in contemporary art. Consequently, any discussion of this work is obliged to negotiate two points of tension which are anything but mutually exclusive.

The first point issues out of a practice that is rich in reference to a historical moment dominated by conceptualism and minimalism. The other consists of the current widespread tendency among Richer’s peers to work with this frame of reference. To try to ignore the latter at this point would be to ignore the elephant standing in the room. The taxonomical impulse rears up in the form of the term “neo-conceptualism”[1], but this term has already been accounted for. And Yet, here we are with scores of contemporary artists who, to varying degrees, conspicuously trade in conceptual citation and strategy. What is more, they can even be divided into two groups: those that cite directly and those that cite indirectly[2] (a distinction that is anything but hard and fast, as there is more than a little crossover). In the first group we find likes of Jonathan Monk, Maria Garcia Torres, Peter Coffin and Simon Dybbroe Moller, among others. In the second group, we find, say, Martin Creed, Simon Starling, Roman Ondák, Ceal Floyer, Ryan Gander, Alexander Gutke, Jason Dodge and Kirsten Pieroth – Evariste Richer also falls into this group – to name but a few. How do we parse this apparent phenomenon? Does it need to be parsed? One balks at naming for fear of restrictively historicizing a perfectly vital tendency, but named or unnamed, it is undeniably there.

Perhaps a better question to ask at this point would be why is conceptualism so present right now? Why are conceptual strategies, historically damned as washouts, currently being embraced and re-deployed? And, finally, what does a resuscitation of conceptualism have to offer our moment? Of course, these are some big bites to chew and would be effectively impossible to get down all at once here, but a consideration of Evariste Richer’s practice both necessitates such a quixotic venture, and stands as a good opportunity to address the elephant standing in the room.

Based on everyday phenomena, the work of Evariste Richer is characterized by a preoccupation with standards of measurement, methods of gauging, perceptually or otherwise, indexes, inscription and erasure. Having studied as a painter, the practice of painting is never very far from what he does, even if in the most reduced or untraditional forms. In the visual register, he is likewise drawn to cinema and its implosive ability to circumscribe reality. Modest in means and facture, what he does is unmistakably governed by economy, poetry and elegance. In spite of its dapper poise, it wields a polyvalent punch, richly informed by all manner of reference, art historical, scientific, meteorological, among others.

In speaking about standards of measurement, inscription and erasure, perhaps the best place to start is a work in his solo exhibition at La Galerie, Contemporary Art Center, in Noisy-Le-Sec, La Rétine, Le Lingot Mort (The Dead Ingot, 2007). A gold standard in itself, this work, despite its soi-disant demise, both synthesizes and inscribes itself upon an unlikely node of references in modern art. Here the artist took a 50 gram, solid gold ingot and had a lead air-life pellet inserted into its face, and in doing so, immediately devalued the ingot, exactly reversing the process of alchemy (base metal into gold). This reversal, however, is countered by another; for it immediately transcends its own devaluation in being exulted to the status of art, thus reversing the reversal upon which it is predicated. Meanwhile a motley pedigree just as rapidly ribbons out in the mind, beginning with the original sin of the readymade, which officially inaugurates the alchemical gesture, and which is later literalized by Warhol’s apotheosis of money into art through silk screening representations of it onto a canvas. Piero Manzoni’s editions of canned feces, Merda d’artista (1961), were originally priced at the equivalent of their weight in gold, while Cildo Meireles scupture Avore do dinheiro (Money Tree, 1969), which consists of one hundred folded Brazilian cruzeiro bills bound together by a rubber band on a plinth, was purportedly the first use of real money in art. Finally a 1969 work by Lawrence Weiner, in which Weiner pitted a hole in a wall with a shot from an unloaded air rifle, could be said to punctuate this litany, as if Weiner’s empty shot, fired almost forty years before from the midst of the alchemical ethos, was materialized by Richer to inscribe a discreet period upon this discourse.

Certain aspects of Richer’s practice that deal wih standards of measurement more pointedly address the will to inscribe oneself in the world, ultimately questioning the ability to do so and the hubris this may involve. Richer’s Everest (2006), a black spool wrapped with a length of copper wire that is the equivalent of the height of Mt. Everest (8,849 meters) speaks to this hubris with epigrammatic finesse. This piece both vertiginously magnifies and reduces a number of historical precedents to quaint exercices in vanity. Coiled forebears would notably include Manzoni’s Line (1959-61), drawings of ink on paper, rolled up, and sealed in canisters ranging in length from roughly 5 meters to 1,40 meters in addition to that of “infinity” as in his Linea di Lunghezza Infinita, 1960 and say, Crhistine Kozlov’s films, No Title (Black Film #1, 1965) and No Title (Transparent Film #2, 1967), which are both 100-foot 8 and 16 mm films, enclosed in metal canisters, meant never to screened. When thinking of the attempt to abstractly contain, via material means, a great distance, Walter de Maria’s classic Broken Kilometer (1979), inevitably comes to mind, while Dan Graham’s no less classic March 31, 1966 (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.00000000 miles to edge of know universe), I perhaps most akin to Everest by virtue of its humbly extravagant failure to locate a subject in space by way of measurement.

Other works by Richer may seem to more directly sow doubt by subtly undermining standards, but could perhaps better be seen as iconoclastically liberating space from a procrustean impulse to limit it, and in turn, limit us and our perception of the world. Take for instance, Mètre de mémoire  (Meter from Memory, 2003), in which Richer quite simply drew a meter (as in a yard stick) from memory on a piece of paper.

In drawing a meter from memory, Richer questions the existence of a “man made” standard unit of measurement, inquiring to what degree, if any, this unit of measurement may be inherent to the human psyche, that is, could it be something that springs, symmetrical and intact from some inner resource, genetically encoded, inscribed on the soul? Or is it some arbitrary way of negotiating and containing space, which, though produced by us, has been in turn forcibly inscribed on our senses? And is it therefore some fixed and intractable spatial value? While the most obvious historical precedent for this work would be Mel Bochner and his dry notations of measurements[3] (here humanly animated by Richer), perhaps a more unexpected and productive precedent can be found in the work of Stanley Brouwn. In certain aspects of Brouwn’s practice, spatial measurements are prescribed in order to both relativize space and engender a kind of pure possibility. For instance, in a catalogue to accompany an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam in 1970 entitled La Paz, Brouwn proffered laconic directives such as “Walk 95 m in the direction of la paz. Walk 776 m in the direction of Havana. Walk 180 m in the direction of Helsinki.” As in Richer’s measurement works, Brouwn’s directives, a space of literal possibility is liable to wholesomely fissure the everyday in the same way the Richer’s deliberately defective measurements do.

Text by Chris Sharp

To read more, you can purchase the book Evariste Richer / Slow Show at Edition B42


[1] See Mike Kelley’s essay « Shall We Kill Daddy ? », in Origin and Destination : Alighiero e Boetti, Douglas Huebler, ed. Marianne van Leeuw, Anne Pontégnie, Bruxelles, Société des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles, 1997. Kelley, a student of Huebler, situates himself as a neo-conceptualist in the text. Elsewhere, « The Pictures Generation » which includes Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Jack Goldstein, Richard Prince and Louise Lawler, among others, are often cited as direct, neo-conceptual descendants of conceptualism.

[2] To clarify : direct citation references a specific work, while indirect citation references a given strategy, which may have been used by two or more conceptual artists.

[3] Le Mètre Cube (The meter cube), 1994, a companion piece to Mètre de mémoire, 2003, and which antedates by it almost ten years, perhaps more markedly engages the work of Mel Bochner. In this work, Richer blew up dfferent, photocopy versions of a meter to conform to the size of a given part of a room, such that no matter how large a given part of a room was, i.e., floor to ceiling, six meters, it became, by virtue of the erroneous, outsized photocopy, a meter. Thus was the whole supposedly made to conform to the dimensions of a cubic meter.