Wonderland of whimsey for the chateau garden

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Wonderland of whimsey for the chateau garden

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In the fantastical world of French artists like Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne, ordinary things ― a chair, a washbasin, a picture frame ― have a life of their own. The Lalannes’ sofa is covered with little sardines swimming over it. Two gigantic ginkgo leaves split open to form a garden chair. A German Shorthaired Pointer, shining bright in bronze, stands majestically at the door.
The exhibition, “The Lalannes Sculpture: the Combination of Imagination and Utility,” currently showing at the prestigious Park Ryu Sook gallery in southern Seoul, displays whimsical creatures who invite us to a surreal wonderland.
To bring out the fantastical, if not allegorical, element of their functional art, Francois-Xavier Lalanne, 79, and Claude Lalanne, 81, often display their works in outdoor gardens or on the grounds of old castles located near Paris, such as Chateau de Bagatelle and Chateau de Chenoncea. Chateau owners invite them to hold public art exhibitions to display their works all over the chateau and purchase some pieces after the exhibit.
The Korean gallery may be a far cry from an old French chateau; however, the animated characters of the 23 bronze sculptures brought from France are enough to stimulate viewers’ imaginations. The exhibition, incidentally, coincides with the current worldwide penchant for collector’s items from the Art Deco era, dating to the 1920s and ’30s. “The works are the representatives of decorative art, and [the Lalannes] are two of the historical figures that have triggered public controversy about the definition of art,” commented Lee Jong-hyun, the curator of the gallery.
Well timed for the sky-rocketing demand for decorative art over the past few years, the Lalannes’ sculpture, “Troupeau de Moutons” (1968), a small set of six sheep made with wood and patinated aluminum, was sold for 325,600 euros ($382,000) at Christie’s Paris on Dec. 12, 2005.
Francois-Xavier and Claude have worked together closely over 35 years. But as much as they share, they remain separate individuals in their artistic careers. “If we were to be compared to musicians, my wife would improvise while I would have to write out my part before playing it,” Mr. Lalanne stated in an e-mail sent to the curator.
The different interests of the two artists are evident in that Francois-Xavier instills his animals with hieratic dignity, which is closer to a refined yet imaginary Egyptian sculpture ― a major influence in decorative art ― than live animals roaming around in the zoo. The inspiration was found when he worked as a guard in his early 20s at the Egyptian and Assyrian rooms of the Louvre.
On the contrary, Claude Lalanne creates surrealism, having been inflicted with personal traumas, both physical and emotional. Claude’s father was an alchemist who attempted to convert ordinary metals into gold. In her adolescence, the artist suffered from displaced vertebra, which made it impossible for her to sit up. Her father’s dedication to alchemy affected her works called “galvanoplasticism.” Historically the galvanoplastie is a technique that allows silversmiths to protect and enrich common metals by covering them with a thin layer of gold or silver. She has adapted this technique in creating and designing her bronze sculpture; she liquifies the metal by applying an electric current and laminates the works with sulphuric copper. She believes her way of using the galvanoplastie technique brings a poetic dimension to her sculptural forms.
Just as the Lalannes’ motto, “Art must be in life as life is in art,” the artist couple embraces practical things, kept at a human scale, in their world of imagination. They freely explore the departments of domesticated life where creativity had long slumbered. Which is precisely what sets the unique world of the Lalannes apart from other modern sculpture.


by Ines Cho, Jin Hyun-ju

The exhibition runs until March 20. Park Ryu Sook Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The admission is free. The gallery is located near Cheongdam four-way junction in southern Seoul. The nearest subway station is Cheongdam station on line No. 7, exit 9. For more information, call (02) 549-7574~6.
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