Michel Verjux: Breathe, Walk, Look

Dallas Contemporary

Joe Milazzo

Michel Verjux, Tableau (découpe d’escalier), 2011; profile projector, metal stairs; dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and Dallas Contemporary, Dallas

Michel Verjux, Deux portes (découpes de tables), 2011; two profile projectors, one metal table, one wood table; dimensions variable; courtesy the artist and Dallas Contemporary, Dallas

Michel Verjux's exhibition Breathe, Walk, Look at Dallas Contemporary initially may seem like little more than a tour of minimalist clichés. Four fastidiously positioned and starkly lit instances of industrial salvage, Verjux’s rectilinear constructs (all works 2011) appear indifferent to either expression or communication. But accorded the time and attention solicited by the show's title, the simplicity of the artist's program reveals itself to be almost classical in its elegance.

The show’s largest work, Tableau (découpe d’escalier), amply displays the poise of Verjux's architectures. Taking a metal staircase painted a fluorescent yellow, Verjux balanced the structure right-side-up on the gallery floor and placed a spotlight in front of the form. The shadow of its terminal platform fills the wall behind to immediate, almost surprisingly palpable impact. The toppled staircase, its utility surrendered, is an image of upset equilibrium. Yet the work sustains engagement by inviting one to interrupt and even penetrate the illuminated space. Here the viewer interacts with the shadow’s angles and intervals as one of several dramatis personae in a kinetic diorama. To stand "in front" of this scene is not only to enter it but also to represent and thus flatten oneself.

Despite Verjux’s reliance on each viewer's peripatetic discoveries, he carefully plotted the sequence in which his works are to be encountered. Variations on the interplay of light and shadow, as well as the difficulty of cleanly separating the two, develop throughout the remainder of the exhibition. In Porte (découpe de socle), Verjux calibrated another spotlight so as to enlarge the slender outline of a roughly waist-high pillar onto the gray expanse of the gallery wall. What Verjux has created here is, in essence, the image of light escaping around a doorway. Like a photograph, however, Verjux's projection is "merely" an image. Neither opening nor closing, the “door” may only be entered figuratively. Here Verjux complicates the movements that seemed so natural an interaction with the show's initial work.

Breathe, Walk, Look's rearmost sculpture, Deux portes (découpes de tables), consists of two worktables, each laid on end and again spotlit. One table is wooden, the other metal coated in a now familiar thick yellow. While the wood absorbs the light and assumes a gilded aspect, its neighbor is a study in albedo, or the ability of a substance to reflect light. As the spotlight reflects off the yellow table’s pockmarked surface, the table’s temperature rises, the light softening in turn and the painted metal appearing waxy. With sunlight slanting through the gallery's windows and altering the work’s ambient glow, a fat Barnett Newman-like zip languidly brightens and dims across the yellow table’s surface, and the entire rectangle increasingly resembles gradations of orange and brown oils flickering across a canvas.

One of painting’s traditional challenges has been literally capturing light as a visual effect. The element most vital to vision, light is easily refracted and scattered: it is utter vagary and pure ephemera. It is appropriate that Breathe, Walk, Look culminates in a visual experience predicated on the viewer's own awareness of the act of looking, a bending back, for the subject of all these works is the trajectory of sight itself. One can shift one's point of view by moving along x-, y- and z-axes respective to what are, for all intents and purposes, picture planes. To do so is to immerse oneself in Verjux's order of artful distinctions. But a return to the world where these pleasures are obscured is inevitable. That world may be more dazzling, but it is also more lacking in serene design.

Joe Milazzo is a writer, editor and designer who lives and works in Dallas, TX.

This exhibition will be on view through March 27, 2011.

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