Wisps of gold leaf littered the floor of NextLevel Galerie, where Mathias Kiss was in the final stages of mounting his newest grouping of works. As his craftsman Julien painted the interior panel of a giant cornice, the Paris-based design artist explained how he arrived at the counterintuitive notion of ‘brutalist ornamentation,’ which essentially, calls decorative norms into question.
Each of the five pieces - all featuring gold leaf - represents the desire to liberate a certain classical aesthetic without degrading it. ‘Here you have these framing devices whereas my work is to exit the frames,’ he tells Wallpaper*.
Hence the show’s massive focal point, 'Golden Snake', a formation of double-sided plaster cornices extending downward, their vertical thrust jutting into the central space like freeform sculptures. For Kiss, it serves a springboard to think deeper about surface detail. Why, he wonders, do we ascribe decorative value to the acanthus leaves adorning these mouldings, yet dismiss the inset windows on a reinforced concrete building as similarly decorative? ‘This piece represents oversized ornamentation, but it’s also a substantial expression of brutalism in that it breaks with the architecture of the past and all that is referential and academic.’
Kiss knows whereof he speaks, having spent his formative years as a painter and restorer of historic monuments. One glance at his picture frame in wood that angles inward like something out of Magritte’s imagination and you can sense a mind that thrives off twisting the timeless. ‘With these architectural vestiges, you’re not sure whether you’re looking at the world of tomorrow or the world of yesterday,’ he continues.
To the right of the central gallery, a beveled panel in floor-to-ceiling gold (imagine upwards of 4,000 small square sheets) appears like a monolithic mirror, except that you only see an impressionist simulacrum of yourself. Titled 'Projection', its effect, according to Kiss, can feel meditative or spiritual.
The other adjoining room plays backdrop to an arrangement of 24 plaques, each a different shade of gold. If karats immediately come to mind, Kiss also reminds that the number equally applies to hours in a day. And if the near-homophone pairing of or (gold) and heure (hour) might suggest wordplay, he says the focus here is light play, whereby the grouping of gold gradations (champagne, citron, rose) will appear tonally different, both alongside each other and over the course of the day.
‘For most people, gold is just yellow,’ he says, presenting two different tones, one 22-karat. ‘But they are not the same yellow—that’s what excites me.’
He is just as enthusiastic about a dimensionally staggered mirrored piece, Endless, framed in gold. ‘It’s a deformation of its original architecture,’ he says, before suggesting that it could alternately be perceived as a cluster of high-rises—the most brutalist statement of all.
Kiss says he has been finessing these pieces for five years, developing prototypes and variations as private commissions. Aside from the technical aspects, he needed to work through his own aesthetic understanding. ‘Am I doing this because I want to free myself and caricature Louis XIV and the idea of arrogant French culture? Sure, there’s a bit of that. But at the same time, I’m also paying homage.’