Cyprien Gaillard: HUMPTY\DUMPTY, an exhibition in two chapters

PARIS. The egg-shaped nursery rhyme figure who embodies irreparable damage has inspired Cyprien Gaillard a reflection on loss and what cannot be fixed or salvaged. His diptych exhibition explores the connexions between humans, images, entropy and repair through familiar narratives.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Humpty Dumpty, Denslow’s Mother Goose, edited and illustrated by William Wallace Denslow, New York, McClure, Philips & Co, 1901. ©Project Gutenberg.

Cyprien Gaillard‘s multimodal art mainly focuses on landscapes, in particular derelict cityscapes. As Paris is under reconstruction, sprucing up for the 2024 Olympic Games, Gaillard « uncovers the narratives of potential new equilibria » (exhibition leaflet, Lafayette Anticipations). What stories are these?

In the first chapter HUMPTY at the Palais de Tokyo, drawings, paintings, polaroids, videos, sculptures, installations, an encased painting by de Chirico as well as a holographic led display by Gaillard, who invites guest artists, investigate how we, as well as time, leave marks on nature and human-made constructions or artefacts and how they, sometimes, somehow, find ways to recover, revive, and return.

DUMPTY, the second chapter hosted at Lafayette Anticipations, is an original performance based on one work only, an automata clock Gaillard has restored. Le Défenseur du Temps (1979) by little-known artist Jacques Monestier was falling in decay in the Quartier de l’Horloge, where it was installed when the block was refurbished in the 1970s, a stone’s throw away from the Centre Pompidou – and today the Fondation Galeries Lafayette.

What genres or books do visitors read this “exhibition in two chapters” (exhibition leaflet, Palais de Tokyo) as?

Cyprien Gaillard, Love Locks, photographie ©MuséaLitté

An elegy. Cyprien Gaillard, Love Locks (2022). Visitors are welcomed by bags of padlocks salvaged from Le Pont des arts which collapsed in 2014 due to the weight of these love tokens (Palais de Tokyo).

Cyprien Gaillard, L’Irrestaurable (Pour Gaël), photographie ©MuséaLitté

An elegy. This showcase presents the portrait of a friend Cyprien Gaillard used to meet below the clock and who passed away, alongside pieces of Le Défenseur that could not be reused and a fossilized pigeon egg that was found inside the automaton (Lafayette Anticipations).

Cyprien Gaillard, Oreste et Pilade, photographie ©MuséaLitté

A technical manual or a book of anatomy. One room shows Giorgio de Chirico’s Oreste et Pilade (1928) in a box that displays the technical devices implied in the preservation of a work of art alongside a video, The Lake Arches (Restored Version) (2007), in which one of two friends hurts himself diving into an artifical lake not as deep as it looks (Palais de Tokyo).

Cyprien Gaillard, the automaton’s visible entrails, photographie ©MuséaLitté

A technical manual or a book of anatomy. The automata mecanism is made visible. Gaillard also had the mecanism that allows the floors of the classified Lafayette Anticipations building to be pulled up or down made visible.

A fairy tale. L’ange du foyer (Vierte Fassung) (2019) offers an animated 3D version of Max Ernst’s L’Ange du foyer ou le triomphe du surréalisme (1937) thanks to a fan with holographic propellers. Even though the label insists that it is an allegory of war and man’s destructive impulse, visitors come face to face with magic, a familiar painting that is alive, a creature that is invisible or visible as they walk round it, a nightmare and a wonder: an ambiguous monster.

A fairy tale. Deemed too noisy and too expensive to maintain, Monessier’s monumental clock was falling in decay. Cyprien Gaillard seized the opportunity “to breathe new life into someone else’s work” (exhibition leaflet, Lafayette Anticipations). And so The Defender of Time was rescued from the injuries of time. It has become the central piece in a new choreography as it now fights the bird, the crab and the dragon to the soundtrack of Gaillard’s youth. But what will become of it after the exhibition?

We are looking at these creatures breathing life, yet, as the first printed version of Humpty Dumpty put it, we “Could not make Humpty Dumpty what he was before.”*

Caroline Marie
Université Paris 8


* “Humpty Dumpty” the popular character in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (1871) first appeared in print in 1797, in Juvenile amusements by Samuel Arnold, a book of 76 musical scores. This version reads:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Four-score Men and four-score more,
Could not make Humpty Dumpty what he was before.

OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
Caroline Marie (3 février 2023). Cyprien Gaillard: HUMPTY\DUMPTY, an exhibition in two chapters. . Consulté le 22 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

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