Eric Baudelaire

Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Germany

I spent 20 minutes in Eric Baudelaire’s show ‘A Form that Accommodates the Mess’ reading the newspaper. During this time, I read a 2008 Wall Street Journal article about the Iberico pig, a delectable swine raised on a diet of wild acorns, which had just been legalized for American import. This piece of culinary journalism hung in Baudelaire’s work Chanson d'Automne (2009), in one of two large frames, alongside other articles all published during the 2008 financial crisis. Prismatically, the montage registered bizarrely discordant responses to this defining event. Searching for a more salient meaning, Baudelaire circled words in the articles in red grease pencil to spell out an 1866 poem by Paul Verlaine, also called Chanson d'Automne. In 1944, the BBC broadcast the poem as a radio code, alerting the French resistance to the invasion of Normandy. Baudelaire’s poetic gesture reflected a harsh reality – even our seemingly trivial social atmosphere is suffused with volatility. Further registering the seepage of paranoia into domestic life, in FRAEMWORK, FRMAWREOK, FAMREWROK… (2016) Baudelaire collected and assembled diagrams mapping the structure and psychology of terrorist cells, into a pastel-coloured wallpaper.

eric_baudelaire_chanson_dautomne_2009_grease_pencil_on_pages_from_the_wall_street_journal_september_2008_two_frames_each_77_x_133_cm._courtesy_the_artist_and_galerie_barbara_wien_berlin

Eric Baudelaire, Chanson d’Automne, 2009, grease pencil on pages from the Wall Street Journal, September 2008, two frames, each 77 × 133 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

Eric Baudelaire, Chanson d’Automne, 2009, grease pencil on pages from the Wall Street Journal, September 2008, two frames, each 77 × 133 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

The fact that wars of every kind – civil, official, proxy, covert, terroristic – are increasingly threaded into our daily lives gives Baudelaire’s work a soft sting. The late December attack on a Christmas market in Berlin was another catalyst for that amplifying anxiety. With a deft sensitivity for language, Baudelaire's work retains a sense of humour while teasing out the emergent link between war and quotidian life. This is what separates his politics from sanctimony. When the artist loses his grasp on the subtle absurdities of human behaviour, however, the work suffers. Site displacement / Déplacement de site (2007), for instance, began with a photographic commission for the French city of Clermont-Ferrand. While Baudelaire’s photos of trees, bushes, pillows and modernist architecture flickered from one projector, the second showed echoes of these pictures, taken in India. Baudelaire asked the artist Anay Mann to shoot these images, mimicking his own. The bon mot is that Clermont-Ferrand is home to Michelin tires, who outsource production to India. While Mann was mimicking Baudelaire, Baudelaire was mimicking corporate profiteering strategies. Timely as this subject matter is, the human dimension and impact felt eclipsed by Baudelaire’s clever structuralist manoeuvre.

A similar obliqueness dogged Everything is Political II (2016), a stack of books with miscellaneous subjects, but all titled Unfinished Business. The piece seemed to signal a dark joke, tying the platitudes of hack copy-writing to the lust for vengeance that simmers in our culture. But the joke never quite landed. What remained was a mildly clever observation that pat phrases are used over and over. It’s important to notice, though, that the failure of these pieces would not be nearly so evident if Baudelaire’s language games weren’t so keenly penetrating in his other works.

Eric Baudelaire, Ante-Memorial, 2011–16, installation view, Galerie Barbara Wein, Berlin. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

Eric Baudelaire, Ante-Memorial, 2011–16, installation view, Galerie Barbara Wein, Berlin. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

Eric Baudelaire, Ante-Memorial, 2011–16, installation view, Galerie Barbara Wein, Berlin. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

Ante-Memorial (2011–16) could have held the show on its own. Since 2011, Baudelaire has been emailing the British Prime Minister’s office, requesting access to letters written by sitting Prime Ministers, outlining their contingency plan in case of nuclear attack. Earnestly, the requests explain the artist’s intent to use this correspondence as a kind of written monument. We see Baudelaire’s letters, alongside the government’s rebuffs, which are alternately patronizing, brusque and playful. Here, Baudelaire has teased wisps of personality from the Kafkaesque. This is a literary accomplishment, even if it won’t prevent our shadows from once more being etched in pavement.

Main image: Eric Baudelaire, Everything is Political II (detail), 2016. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin

Mitch Speed is a writer based in Berlin.

Most Read

Moderna Museet, Malmö, Sweden
From a short history of plagiarism to Trisha Brown's walk: what to read this weekend
Q. What is art for? A. To tell us where we are.
The work of filmmaker James N. Kienitz Wilkins on the occasion of his inclusion in the 2017 Whitney Biennial film...
Trisha Brown has died, aged 80; two new appointments at London’s ICA; controversy at the Whitney
A round-up of the best shows to see in the city ahead of this week’s Art Basel Hong Kong
How should the artistic community respond when an art space, explicitly or implicitly, associates itself with right-...
Charlie Fox on a new translation of Hervé Guibert's chronicle of love, lust and drug-addled longing
Three highlights from the New York festival promoting emerging filmmakers
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
A report and the highlights from a show themed around fluidity, flux, botany and the subterranean
From growing protests over the gentrification of Boyle Heights to Schimmel leaving Hauser & Wirth, the latest from...
kurimanzutto, Mexico City, Mexico
Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland
The body is a troubled thing ...
Sir Howard Hodgkin dies aged 84; finalists for Berlin’s Preis der Nationalgalerie 2017 announced

From the Women's Strike to a march that cancels itself out: what to read this weekend
The most interesting works in the IFFR’s Short Film section all grappled with questions of truth, honesty and...
With the reissue of their eponymous debut album, revisiting the career of legendary Berlin art project / punk band Die...
Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo, Brazil 

Tramway, Glasgow, UK
A work by self-taught artist Martín Ramírez
Munich’s Haus der Kunst embroiled in Scientology scandal; Martín Ramírez to inaugurate the new ICA LA
If politics today obsesses over the policing of borders, art in France is enacting multiple crossings
A new video installation from Richard Mosse investigates the refugee crisis
Gustav Metzger has died aged 90; director of the Met resigns
What draws us to certain stories, and why do we retell them? 
It’s time that the extraordinary life and work of Anya Berger was acknowledged

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

Nov - Dec 2016

frieze magazine

Jan - Feb 2017

frieze magazine

March 2017