Cyprien Gaillard: Untitled (National Geographic), 2012, National Geographic magazine, beer label, showcase, 3 1/4 by 11 by 13 7/8 inches overall. Copyright Cyprien Gaillard. Courtesy Sprueth Magers, Berlin and London.

 

In the space of the past few years, artist Cyprien Gaillard has become, to many, "award-winning artist Cyprien Gaillard." Perhaps the most prestigious of these decorations was the Centre Pompidou's Marcel Duchamp Prize in 2011. Gaillard, 32, began showing only in 2004, when he started setting off fire extinguishers in parks as a way to temporarily "graffiti" the land, in a commentary on the erosion and destruction of the urban landscape

Gaillard's post-studio practice leaves him open to multiple projects in various countries, filling his résumé up with more shows than some artists many years his senior, including a recently closed show at New York's MoMA PS1. This, along with a penchant for exhibitions that have both a critical connection to Land art and an undeniable esthetic charm, gives Gaillard the air of a site-specific synthesizer and puppeteer—a recent performance in Berlin, for instance, featured a choreographed dance performed by two excavators in a building site. In a show at the UCLA's Hammer Museum-opening on Apr. 20 as a part of the "Ceci n'est pas..." French-Los Angeles art exchange program-Gaillard returns to California; he spent some of his youth in San Francisco. Los Angeles, where his mother and other immediate family reside, is particularly familiar territory.

The self-titled show (through Aug. 4), organized by Hammer curator Ali Subotnick, resulted from a residency at the museum, and consists of bits and pieces of the crumbling L.A.-area landscape, reappropriated into a high art context like a Michelin-starred chef might plate a pile of dirt. Fragments of heavy construction equipment found in the desert will be exhibited in vitrines. Rubbings from manhole covers that read "City of Los Angeles / Made in India" will hang in lightboxes in the museum's lobby. Polaroids will show the cracked streets of the affluent neighborhood of Westwood, arranged in diamond-shaped groups of 12. And a collage made from the cover of one of the near-complete collection of National Geographic magazines Gaillard collected while in Los Angeles (one of the artist's favorite sources, according to Subotnick)-an Arab man in a turban literally defaced by a Milwaukee's Best logo sticker-will be displayed under glass.

"He's a real explorer," said Subotnick in a phone interview with A.i.A. a few weeks before the opening. "We take all this stuff for granted. I never look at manhole covers, or even pay attention to the cracks in the sidewalk. He zeroes in on these things that we see every day, but don't really look at."

Gaillard's work has served to diagnose our culture's degenerative disease by finding decayed humanity in nature, as well as the natural world's pushback-the cracks in the asphalt of Westwood highlight humankind's insistence on constructing communities on fault lines. Conversely, the discarded "teeth" of the excavation equipment impinge on the landscape like hulking shards of litter. Gaillard is both condemning and celebrating these inevitable interactions with nature. And more often than not, they connote entropy. As Robert Smithson wrote in his essay "Entropy and the New Monuments," the Second Law of Thermodynamics "extrapolates the range of entropy by telling us energy is more easily lost than obtained." But it's not so much bringing cracked asphalt and decaying equipment into a gallery setting that makes Gaillard's work interesting, it's the seemingly pristine presentation and articulation that manifests decay as a beautiful abstraction. The entropy is glorious in Gaillard's eyes, like pre-Colombian artifacts displayed in a natural history museum.

The Hammer residency didn't require the artist to mount a show, or even exhibit anything, but Los Angeles proved to be fertile ground for Gaillard, whose reverence for entropy fit perfectly in a land prone to earthquakes and other natural corrosives. "He was here right after that crazy windstorm," explains Subotnick, referring to the winds of up to 70 m.p.h. that swept across L.A. in December 2011, "and he was like a kid in a candy store. He wanted to go to the Huntington [Library Botanical Gardens in Pasadena] and see all the fallen trees and the mess that had happened. He just loved all the havoc that nature had wrought. He really dug into everything that happened in L.A.; the city became his studio."