Sylvie Fleury created her site-specific exhibition in response to the setting of the newly opened building of the Bechtler Stiftung, where The 2000 Sculpture by Walter de Maria is on permanent display. It is a site of contemplation, which is currently confronted with a provocative and unsettling encounter: Fleury’s installation of numerous garment racks containing her entire wardrobe of the past three decades.
Upon arrival, we are faced with a display that looks more like a storage facility or a fashion outlet than a museum. We find ourselves wondering if the recent residential and cultural development of the estate, arrayed with several outdoor works of art, has reverted to its former industrial use. A closer look reveals quite the contrary: the humble clothes racks are gloriously aglow and the garments on view are wildly eccentric. High-fashion items give insight into the 1990 fashion avant-garde, into the days of Thierry Mugler, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier. The accumulated relics of consumerism have been transformed into historical objects worthy of display in a museum. An artist’s book of the same name is part of the exhibition. Annotated by the fashion historian Matthew Linde, it takes us back to Fleury’s beginnings as an artist, recalling her first work from 1991: shopping bags, unopened and filled with freshly acquired luxury products displayed as a readymade sculpture. Archival portraits of the artist at work are as unlikely as her ‘sculpture’; assuming the role of a consumer, she challenges the notion of the artist as a worker and producer.
In her installation Double Positive, Fleury debunks the tenets of the predominantly male art establishment with inimitable verve. Seen through the lens of Minimal Art, the traces of a personal biography become a vulnerable act of self-exposure. For once, Fleury does not cite Mondrian, Fontana or Gober; her title alludes to Michael Heizer’s Double Negative from 1969: land art consisting of two enormous trenches dug into the Nevada desert. Heizer’s work is about the displacement of material—240,000 tons of desert sandstone—and the resulting negative space; Walter de Maria’s large-scale installation is similarly overwhelming in volume, covering 500 square meters of museum space with standardized plaster rods. Fleury’s Double Positive with numerous racks of identical generic black garment bags aesthetically mirrors the neighboring The 2000 Sculpture.
Prior to the exhibition, Fleury borrowed the space of de Maria’s sculpture and converted it into a venue for a fashion shoot. The museum window became a show window where models paraded the clothes that stylist Ursina Gysi had selected from the artist’s collection. Within the context of art in industrial spaces and the minimalism of Heizer or de Maria, Fleury presents us with yet another reinterpretation of an existing space. Her subversive take does not upgrade former industrial premises into a museum, but in fact suggests the reverse direction. In Double Positive, Sylvie Fleury‘s point of departure is the museum as a green screen for fashion shows, digital lookbooks, shopping malls or even as a post-human, e-commerce storage facility.
The artist's book Sylvie Fleury. Double Positive is published by JRP Editions on the occasion of the exhibition. It features texts by Fredi Fischli, Niels Olsen, Anaïs von Holleben-Peiser, Matthew Linde and a photo shoot by Ursina Gysi and Marc Asekhame. Graphic design by Teo Schifferli.
Text by Niels Olsen and Fredi Fischli