Claire Fontaine’s “Working Together”: Cheek vs. Chic


There is no Claire Fontaine—rather, she’s a collective named for a French notebook company and composed of two Paris-based artists, Fulvia Carnevale of Italy and Englishman James Thornhill. But it’s clear from “Claire’s” first show with Metro Pictures that their audacity demands a bit of anonymity; the semi-conceptual exhibition “Working Together” simultaneously tickles your funny bone and pokes you in the eye.

You might call the contents minimalist in light of the low-budget simplicity of these works; most pieces would get hauled away by sanitation workers if you moved them into the street. Some of it actually is trash: Fontaine has filled eight clear plastic bags with empty soda cans and suspended them from the ceiling. There’s also a hand mirror on a spinning wire and a scaffolding partially wrapped in Christmas lights. In another room, there’s a deliberately static, barely audible video of poet Douglas Park reading a dense text about assistants. And as people do with assistants, no one spends more than a few minutes paying attention to it. A series of monochrome paintings with text silk-screened onto them might seem like art, but they soon prove more artful than artistic.

Insouciance is one part of Fontaine’s modus operandi; the other part is pure cheek. The text on the paintings consists of an interview from the British edition of Harper’s Bazaar between Marc Jacobs and Richard Prince discussing a work-for-hire the latter did for Louis Vuitton, in which the pretentious languages of artspeak and fashion-hype slam together hilariously: “RP: . . . I studied the history of Louis Vuitton. It was all about changing and working with the monogram.” Another painting finds Jacobs glibly comparing the Vuitton logo to Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. Fontaine calls these Joke Paintings, and while the joke is mostly on Jacobs and Prince, it’s also on you—specifically the way you conflate art, fashion, and commerce, and how you’re a sucker for letting artists be “free.” Fontaine’s sauciest move along these lines consists of framing a blank check (kept behind the front desk) made out to the collective and signed by Metro Pictures co-founder Helene Winer. It’s entitled Trust.