Since early April 2014, Claude Lévêque’s red bolt of neon has surged through the centre of the Louvre’s glass pyramid, adding a defibrillating pulse to IM Pei’s original design, completed just over 25 years ago. Within the past week, the French artist has unveiled four impressive new projects around Paris, some more outwardly visible than others.
In fact, his Louvre creation represented a two-part invitation, and the latest can be found in the subterranean medieval foundation walls of the museum. Here, Sous le plus grand chapiteau du monde (Part 2) ornaments the visitor boardwalk with a snaking violet neon stream overhead and jumbled masses of garden chairs bathed in sharp red light alongside. Dividing this extra-long readymade and the ancient stone – parts restored from the 12th century – is an expanse of white curtain, propelled by fans. The scene continues all the way to an enormous Sphinx – the neon halo-ing the granite sculpture (believed to be 4,600 years old) with a decidedly contemporary aura. A spare guitar accompaniment bathes the hall in sound, despite the tableau suggesting something unsettling—the aftermath of a battle, perhaps.
On Saturday, Lévêque also debuted a solo show, 'Vies de Singes' ('Life of Monkeys') at Galerie Kamel Mennour, timed neatly to FIAC, the city-wide contemporary art fair that gets underway on Wednesday. The street-level space consists of a three words, rendered in blue, white and red neon against a black wall: 'Regarde les rire'. The lower level gallery, meanwhile, features 13 suspended metal playpen-like forms, each enclosing a hanging light. Here, the audio component – a young person wheezing and gasping for air – fills the space. Incidentally, both the sound effects and the unsteady cursive writing come care of 15-year-old Romaric Etienne.
'They’re like elements of physical and mental conditioning,' Lévêque told Wallpaper* on the eve of the show. 'It’s really this representation of confinement that we can have in our heads which would not be necessarily an element for imprisonment but [something] to deprive ourselves of freedom; freedom of thought, freedom to see oneself.'
The interaction of light bulbs and bars – and the fact that all the pieces hang like an immersive mobile – project shaky shadows on the wall, leading the viewer to sense instability. The impression is different yet not entirely dissimilar from Lévêque's third new work, Sonatine, which can be found a few hundred metres from the Left Bank gallery, in the spiral stairwell of the historically classified Hôtel de Mouy, a private mansion.
Spanning three levels, the neon fixtures echo the tracery of the cast iron railing, their pale blue hue (from argon gas) illuminating the wall like a shadow in reverse. Lévêque refers to the effect as a melody; notwithstanding the vague resemblance to a wobbly music staff, the pattern is repetitive, rhythmic and rather beautiful.
Which brings us to his final installation in central Paris (there is actually a fifth, a public commission lighting a tower in Montreuil, east of the city). Beaming from the pediment of the Théâtre de l’Odéon are the words, 'The World is Yours'. Lévêque’s nod to Scarface (remember the blimp scrawling the same refrain?) dates back two years but the original was not nearly as large. As gallerist Mennour explains, such giant signage from the top of a theatre serves as a statement on culture. 'Take, it; embrace it,' he said on Saturday night. He also said the same of the red bolt, which, despite becoming a striking complement to the Louvre’s outstanding presence, is scheduled to come down in January. 'Write them!' mused Lévêque, as if the Louvre’s committee might be persuaded to rethink the decision. 'But beyond that,' he added, 'The idea of a gesture meant to last for eternity – that I don’t understand. It becomes complicated when everything around it changes.'