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les lalanne's surreal + surprising sculptures inhabit tadao ando-designed pavilion at the clark

from now through october 31, 2021, the clark institute mounts a presentation dedicated to the work of sculptors claude and françois-xavier lalanne — the first in more than forty years by an american art museum. the exhibition ‘nature transformed’ takes over the tadao ando-designed ‘michael conforti’ pavilion at the clark and sheds a fresh perspective on the innovative french artists, whose imaginative sculptures have long delighted audiences and collectors. ‘both artists capture something of the innocence of the childhood imagination – a view of the world where anything is possible, and everything turns into romping fun,’ kathleen morris, the clark’s marx director of exhibitions and curator of decorative arts, tells designboom in an interview. ‘the inherent joy of life expressed in their works is irresistible. it’s as simple – and complex – as that.’

les lalanne
installation view of claude & françois-xavier lalanne: nature transformed at the clark art institute
all images by thomas clark (main video by ben brown fine arts)

 

 

over the course of their careers, the married creative couple worked and exhibited together, often under the joint name ‘les lalanne’. although they rarely collaborated on objects, they shared an enduring fascination with the natural world. ‘their shared interest in taking inspiration from nature and investing their objects with humor and surprise means that their creations feel like they belong together,’ morris continues. the artists repeatedly drew from flora and fauna and morphed these natural forms into something strange and new, beginning with their earliest exhibition in 1964, zoophites — a reference to objects with a mixture of animal and plant characteristics, the works by claude lalanne saw familiar plants and animals transform into lyrical and sometimes surreal creations, while françois-xavier turned his fascination with the mysterious inner life of animals into abstracted and refined sculptural forms that often concealed a practical function.

les lalanne
claude lalanne and françois-xavier lalanne, singe aux nénuphars (monkey with lilies), 2007/2008
bronze | 19 3/4 x 21 1/2 in. | brian mccarthy and daniel sager
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

 

 

presented in the clark’s ‘michael conforti’ pavilion and in additional outdoor locations, claude & françois-xavier lalanne: nature transformed marks the first museum presentation of the artists’ work since the death of claude lalanne in 2019. the exhibition features an equal number of objects by each artist from across their long careers, demonstrating the power of their artistic imagination, their impressive command of technique, and their enduring visual appeal. the works include sculpture and furniture by both artists, as well as a selection of claude lalanne’s wildly inventive flatware and jewelry.

 

designboom spoke with the exhibition’s curator, kathleen morris, about the duo’s symbiotic and sympathetic working practices, and the delightful and surprising encounters that await visitors to the clark.

clark institute

 

 

designboom (DB): what does the exhibition reveal about about claude and françois-xavier lalanne’s life and work relationship, as well as individual artistic pursuits?

 

kathleen morris (KM): the objects in the exhibition were selected to provide an overview of the major thematic preoccupations of each artist, to show works that span each of their careers from early to late, to show unique examples as well as works that were made in small editions, and to showcase the specific techniques each artist perfected. I think the exhibition also makes clear how symbiotic and sympathetic their working practices were. while they seldom collaborated, their shared interest in taking inspiration from nature and investing their objects with humor and surprise means that their creations feel like they belong together.

les lalanne
françois-xavier lalanne, histoires naturelles, héron (natural histories, heron), 2006/2010
bronze, glass | 13 x 29 15/16 x 18 7/8 in. | private collection
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

 

 

KM (continued): the one object in the exhibition that was a collaboration between claude and françois-xavier epitomizes this – the base of singe aux nénuphars is in the form of a monkey, sculpted by françois-xavier with his usual eye for simplicity and tongue-in-cheek humor, while the tabletop was formed by claude, based on natural forms — a vine and waterlily leaves — that she transmogrified to metal in such a way that the detail of the original organic material is still evident. the two components feel natural together, while each expresses the artistic style of its maker.

les lalanne

 

 

DB: in developing nature transformed, what did you learn about their artistic partnership and shared vision that you might not have previously known? did anything surprise you?

 

KM: I learned a lot about these artists as I worked on this exhibition – while I was familiar with their work, I had never dug deep into the topic before. one thing that really surprised me was the complexity of this issue of their joint and individual artistic identities. they adopted a single name to exhibit under, ‘les lalanne,’ and they nearly always exhibited together. they did not make distinctions between the things he made and those she made, although neither did they pretend that they were collaborating on objects – which they seldom did. if a journalist or critic probed, they could easily discover which artist made what, but many writers perhaps did not think to ask, and especially early in their career one often finds articles in which the authors confuse which artist made what or imply that they always collaborated. as late as 1985, a major sculpture by françois-xavier was catalogued and sold by sotheby’s as a work by claude, for example. I think it is so interesting that this clearly did not concern them at all. this intertwining of public identification, even while each had a very distinctive style and practice, makes them highly unusual.

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claude lalanne, banc s’asseoir en forêt (bench sitting in forest), 2017
bronze | 32 5/16 x 61 x 34 1/4 in. | private collection
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

DB: how does the exhibition unfold across the clark’s spaces, and what are some of the highlights visitors can look forward to?

 

KM: the exhibition is displayed in the clark’s ‘michael conforti’ pavilion, a stunning glass-walled structure designed by tadao ando that affords breathtaking outdoor views. there are also a few works displayed outdoors, near the pavilion and visible from inside. having some sculpture outdoors is important, as both artists frequently made things meant to be displayed in both public and private outdoor spaces. as the visitor approaches the main entrance to the clark, the first thing they will encounter is a bench by claude formed of gigantic ginkgo leaves, sitting on a small patch of tall grasses outside the pavilion. it’s a beautiful bench, and many visitors are surprised and delighted with the encounter. 

les lalanne
claude lalanne, crocodile II, 1987/2005
patinated bronze, galvanized copper, crocodile-skin upholstered cushion | 34 x 32 1/2 x 25 in. | private collection
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

 

 

KM (continued): on the other side of the pavilion is our reflecting pool – and ‘swimming’ in those waters are two versions of françois-xavier’s carpe – one in grande (large) size, and one très grande (very large). within the pavilion, at first glance it appears that most things are visible from the door – the floorplan is very open, with no dividing walls. however, surprises do lie in store as visitors progress through the space! because the show is fairly small – only 21 objects (some of them quite large in scale) – each one of them was carefully chosen to convey something different about the sculptors. I do think it is an adventure of discovery. according to our security officers who are working in the exhibition, the word they hear from visitors most often to describe the exhibition is ‘fun.’

les lalanne's surreal + surprising sculptures inhabit tadao ando-designed pavilion at the clark

 

 

DB: what do you hope visitors take away? what new perspectives can be uncovered about claude and françois-xavier lalanne’s philosophies and practice?

 

KM: claude and françois-xavier lalanne are not well-known to the american museum-going public. they may be aware of them as artists whose creations are eagerly sought for high-end living rooms. but they are so much more than that – and seeing their works in reproduction in a book or on the web is nothing like seeing them in person. I believe that visitors will grasp how important the human-nature relationship was to them, and the extent to which they made objects that were intended to bring joy and delight into the world. they will also gain an appreciation of the individual fabrication practices each developed and perfected – the intricacy and complexity of their techniques really comes through when you see these objects in person.

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françois-xavier lalanne, petit rhinocéros mécanique (small mechanical rhinoceros), 1976/1983
copper | 9 13/16 x 21 5/8 x 5 1/2 in. | galerie lefebvre, paris
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

KM (continued): claude and françois-xavier brought a lot of imaginative creativity to their works – but they also leave room for viewers to engage with the objects with their own imagination. early critics often used lewis carroll’s alice in wonderland as a reference point to describe their work, and it is easy to see why – a similar madcap topsy-turvy world and slyly anthropomorphized animals and vegetables come to three-dimensional life in their creations.

clark institute

 

 

DB: what do you think makes the work of les lalanne so significant and beloved to this day?

 

KM: both artists capture something of the innocence of the childhood imagination – a view of the world where anything is possible, and everything turns into romping fun. the inherent joy of life expressed in their works is irresistible. it’s as simple – and complex – as that.

les lalanne's surreal + surprising sculptures inhabit tadao ando-designed pavilion at the clark
françois-xavier lalanne, mouflon de pauline (pauline’s mouflon), 1993/2007
patinated bronze, leather, wood, brass, with red-painted interior | 50 1/2 x 49 1/4 x 19 1/8 in. | private collection
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

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françois-xavier lalanne, le métaphore (canard bateau) [the metaphor (duck boat)], 2002
copper-manganese alloy | 12 x 21 x 6 1/2 in. | private collection
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

les lalanne's surreal + surprising sculptures inhabit tadao ando-designed pavilion at the clark
françois-xavier lalanne, le métaphore (canard bateau) [the metaphor (duck boat)], 2002
copper-manganese alloy | 12 x 21 x 6 1/2 in. | private collection
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

les lalanne's surreal + surprising sculptures inhabit tadao ando-designed pavilion at the clark
françois-xavier lalanne, moutons de laine (woolen sheep), 1968–71
patinated bronze, wool, aluminum, wood | sheep 35 x 36.5 x 19 in.; ottomans 21 1/4 x 31 x 18 in. | private collection
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

les lalanne's surreal + surprising sculptures inhabit tadao ando-designed pavilion at the clark

les lalanne's surreal + surprising sculptures inhabit tadao ando-designed pavilion at the clark

clark-art-institute-les-lalanne-nature-transformed-designboom-17X

claude lalanne, les berces adossées (the hogweed back-to- back), 2015
bronze | 42 1/8 x 96 x 29 7/8 in. | private collection
© 2020 artists rights society (ARS), new york / ADAGP, paris

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