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Issue 239

Gilles Jacot Rallies against Obligatory Optimism

At Rinde am Rhein, Düsseldorf, the artist’s new series riff on conceptualism but reflect the alienation of our times

BY Stanton Taylor in Exhibition Reviews | 18 SEP 23

Loaf: to idle one’s time away, typically by aimless wandering or loitering; also bread, as in cash, the fine one inevitably owes the world for the crime of existing. As the title suggests, Gilles Jacot’s solo show at the artist-run space Rinde am Rhein in Düsseldorf takes the conditions of artistic labour as its starting point. Elegantly concise, the presentation revolves around two series from 2023. The first of them, ‘Clone’, is based on a set of black and white photos shot at one of Jacot’s day jobs. For the ad campaign of an upmarket jewellery brand, he had been tasked with transforming a Parisian apartment into a white cube and filling it with simulacra of art. At Rinde am Rhein, the behind-the-scenes images are collaged and presented in sleek custom frames made from aluminium, raw cardboard and folded Plexiglas. Seen as a group, their physical presence overshadows the content of any individual image, echoing the prop-like quality of the fake art on set. Every now and then, these artworks-as-props are presented on matching beige drywall partitions with exposed aluminium frames, invoking the tradition of conceptual wall cutters – like Christopher Williams, for example, whose joint exhibition with Mathias Poledna at Bonner Kunstverein in 2009 was entirely dedicated to museum walls. While the latter sought to expose institutional infrastructures of presentation, Jacot’s slender partitions stylize the staging of the gallery itself. Here, the conceit is decidedly decorative, preferring to signal critique rather than actually do it.

Gilles Jacot, Clone, 2023, laser print, Post-it paper, Tipp-Ex, aluminum, cardboard, acrylic glass, 31 × 42 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Rinde am Rhein, Düsseldorf

A second series, ‘Sorted’, consists of shelving units mounted on the wall around ankle height. Some are elaborately constructed or even resemble architectural models, while others look haphazardly slapped together and finished with whatever was at hand. Most importantly, all of them are empty. Their identical scale and placement suggest that whatever interest one finds in the individual objects is but an arbitrary side-effect of the underlying system. Here, Jacot presents a self-consciously hollowed-out version of conceptual art’s obsession with containers and presentation systems. Moreover, he boutique-ifies it. The pictures match the walls, which match the floor, and they might match your curtains, too. To be sure, much of what makes the show so striking isn’t just that it’s assertively empty, but also that it’s stylishly so. Jacot’s analogy between the advertising film set and his own exhibition seems to emphasize that both are just jobs. And, in lieu of any critical agenda, he gives us a conceptualism of simply going through the motions, of doing what you’re told to get paid. Exit the aesthetics of administration. Enter the art of quiet quitting.

Gilles Jacot, Sorted, 2023, chipboard, aluminum, paper, industrial paint, 42 × 32 × 24 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Rinde am Rhein, Düsseldorf

The cynicism here is unmistakable. Though, in some sense, it’s also refreshing. For many of us born in the 1990s or after, our view of the world has been defined by growing inequality and an accelerating climate crisis, with little reason to believe things might improve. Meanwhile, the increasingly shrill calls for justice and repair in art have come to seem patently ideological – as if to say we should content ourselves with cancelling a few collectors and returning some stolen objects, instead of actively ending our era of violent exploitation. The generational vibe is alienation and ‘Loaf’ seethes with it. Rather than pretending to overcome our present contradictions, Jacot opts to tastefully articulate them. Against the tide of obligatory optimism, we’re left with fancy little souvenirs of our own misery.

Gilles Jacot’s ‘Loaf’ is on view at Rinde am Rhein, Düsseldorf, until 1 October.

Stanton Taylor is an artist, writer and translator based in Berlin.