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  • Jean-Michel Othoniel

    French Polynesia

    Art Brokerage: Jean-Michel Othoniel French Artist: b. 1964. Jean-Michel Othoniel is a contemporary artist born in 1964 in Saint-Etienne (France). An artist who has a passion for all sorts of metamorphoses, sublimations and transmutations, Jean-Michel Othoniel has a predilection for materials with reversible properties. Othoniel first gained recognition with a series of sculptures made of sulfur, exhibited at Documenta IX in Kassel in 1992. The French Othoniel first encountered obsidian, a volcanic glass, on a trip in the 1990s to Vulcano, the Italian island just north of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea. With help from glassblowers in Marseille, he made a piece consisting of three abstract black faces, like islands with holes in the middle, using a synthetic process of creating obsidian. “It was really difficult to make it in an artificial way,” recalls the artist, “but I loved that it changed form. It’s unstable and you have to go fast because you don’t have much time to work in this moment of metamorphosis.” In the ensuing two decades, Othoniel has only ramped up his ambitions, erecting giant glass installations — in the forms of beds, walls, even ships, crafted from massive bricks and beads blown in studios from India to Murano — at the Centre Pompidou, at the Brooklyn Museum, and in Chanel’s Peter Marino-designed stores. Othoniel is also the focus of a new traveling exhibition at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where his massive peony in 1,000 beads hangs from the ceiling of Renzo Piano’s glass-box expansion. The show offers a preview of his installation in the gardens of Versailles, which opens next month. Among his crew of engineers, architects, and 3-D designers are two teams of blowers in Venice and Basel (the former, he says, for “beauty and sensuality,” the latter for “precision and technique”). They are providing 1,751 Murano beads made with 22,000 sheets of gold leaf, with which Othoniel will trace a path in space that mimics the calligraphy of dance instructions written for Louis xiv. “The world of glass can be closed-minded because the technicians are so proud of their techniques, but I push the limits of size and color,” says Othoniel. “I have to push my own limits of craziness.” Listings wanted.

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