Sylvie Fleury’s trademark high heels – cast in chrome, worn by mannequins and displayed in neat rows in a large vitrine – punctuated her retrospective at Musée d’art moderne et contemporain (Mamco). Their glamour-girl associations were given full reign in the installation She-Devils on Wheels-Headquarter (1997–2008), which was also devoted to glass-encased consumer fetish items including Louis Vuitton bags, Gucci handcuffs, yoga mats, Pirelli tyres and an Evian bottle. The yellow neon sign on the wall that read ‘Please’, indicating both supplication and the giving of pleasure, was rendered rather more ambivalent by a neighbouring sign that read ‘No more of that kind of stuff’.
Fleury skilfully rose to the challenge of creating a temporary exhibition interspersed within Mamco’s permanent collection. Her attention to the banal but seductive accoutrements of consumerism, an interest rooted in Pop art, could not have provided a more dramatic contrast to the works of other movements of the 1960s – particularly Fluxus and Conceptual art – which form the heart of the museum’s collection. In Fleury’s work, the rigour of that epoch seems to have mutated into a trashy, cheeky aesthetic: her lilac and bronze striped walls, echoing a work by Daniel Buren, parted at regular intervals to suggest vaginas, while one of the wittiest works, Eternal Wow (neogold) (2008), a vertical series of wall-mounted chrome blocks, sent up Donald Judd’s ‘stacks’ by functioning as supports for large orange turds.
Fleury’s work is about excess, best embodied by the installation She-Devils on Wheels-Headquarter, which united the two original versions conceived in 1997, updated with additional new sculptures. Huge fake fingernails, lipsticks and razor blades were dispersed among crashed cars sprayed with glossy shades of nail varnish, transforming them into rather wonderful sculptures. Equally compelling was Stretch (2008), a group of small-scale photographs of tight sweaters with geometric patterns distorted by the curves of women’s chests.
Fleury’s steadfast focus on the seductive superficiality of fashion, advertising and design epitomizes her freewheeling style, but also her ultimate refusal to make any deeper social or political comment on the objects she appropriates. Groupings of works, such as her series of large iridescent ‘Mushrooms’ (2008), cropped up too frequently in this show, which would have benefited from a tighter thematic range, shown on just one or two floors of the museum. The show’s title, ‘Paillettes et Dépendances ou la fascination du néant’ (Sequins and Dependencies or the Fascination of Oblivion), could be interpreted as a comment on the recent global economic crisis, but one senses that even that will not thwart Fleury’s association of consumption with happiness or her love affair with shiny surfaces.
First published in Issue 122