View of Benoît Maire’s exhibition “Sticker Beings,” 2015, at Kiria Koula.

 

In “Sticker Beings,” the first U.S. solo exhibition of Paris-based artist Benoît Maire (b. 1978), things seesawed between order and chaos. As one approached the windowed storefront of the new art space-cum-bookstore Kiria Koula, polished vitrines contrasted with conspicuously threadbare items. The installation suggested a well-lit pawnshop in the middle of a move, or a sparsely furnished design store. This place of confusion is where Maire’s work functions best, and where the philosophical tussle embedded in his project emerges. In the world he has created, the mundane and the marginal have cosmic—and sometimes comic—portent. His world asks questions like, What if all the choices made during the artist’s process were still attached to the finished work like vestigial organs? Extrapolating from art, Maire also asks, What would it mean if humanity’s technical mastery were just an extremely sophisticated charade to conceal a fundamental impotence?

Two sculptural installations, Love being and Itself (both 2015), occupied the center of the gallery. Each consists of a large acrylic display case housing a sundry assortment of stuff. The contents include photocopies of Balthus reproductions, a weathered wooden stick and a rough-hewn yet elegant marble hand pointing its index finger upward. Maire’s categorization method, which involves convoluted decision-making processes described in the press release, divided these and the rest of the room’s objects into two groups. Some were “decided objects.” The others were “sticker beings,” and had been unceremoniously tagged with adhesive letters. These sticker beings are rejected items from Maire’s multistep process that he has nonetheless retained. If there was something dumb and synthetic about this binary organization, it was on purpose. By calling certain objects rejects, Maire allows them to come alive instead with the animistic force of the repressed; and he puts these castaways on the pedestal alongside the victors. 

Dice featured prominently as a leitmotif. One Tool Repeated (2015) is a canvas emblazoned with silkscreened images of two identical dice frozen as if in mid-throw, while two versions of One Tool (both 2015) are silkscreens of a primitive arrowhead. The graphic, icon-like presentation of these man-made objects creates a schematic parallel between their functions: although arrowheads are for violence and dice are for generating random numbers, both are tools that give humans the illusion of control. They represent the Janus-faced nature of artistic production, which is a quixotic, almost faith-based combination of directed action and chance. This idea was driven home by a face-off between two flat-screen TVs flanking the room. They played in tandem the three-second video Le monde donné à midi (The World at Midday, 2013), which shows a tennis player whacking at phantom dice hurtling toward her blonde head, accompanied by the sound of a racket hitting a normal tennis ball.

Those wanting a more in-depth exegesis of Maire’s project did not have to venture further than the adjoining bookstore, which is being slowly stocked by guest selectors rather than by employees. During the course of the show, the store displayed 10 books chosen by Maire on a single shelf (mostly contemporary French cultural theorists), with more copies avaiable for purchase. The bookstore and gallery do not always feature the same person; for the inaugural program, Paul Chan selected the books for the store, while Ilja Karilampi and José León Cerillo exhibited in the gallery. The bookstore will accumulate titles with each ensuing rotation, becoming a symbiotic, intellectual barnacle for the gallery. The double function of the venue is a reminder that art is supposed to be a platform for the exchange of ideas.