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A Glittering Honor for a Master of Glass

A Glittering Honor for a Master of Glass

PARIS — At a ceremony on Wednesday, the artist Jean-Michel Othoniel joined a single of the loftiest cultural institutions of the French condition, the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and became immortal.

“Immortals,” as the academy’s inductees are named, normally dress in a vintage interpretation of the inexperienced-embroidered uniform initially essential under Napoleon. Othoniel decked himself out in Dior.

As the ceremony proceeded under the gilded dome of the Institut de France, Othoniel glittered like the coloured glass bead sculptures for which he is recognized.

The artist drew an unique layout for the olive branches that historically adorn the immortals’ costume. A team of Dior artisans lavishly embroidered the branches, with shiny gold strands and environmentally friendly silk, onto the breast, lapels, cuffs and waist of Othoniel’s black tailcoat and trousers, ending their development with little glass pearls.

“It is much more than an report of apparel,” he instructed his fellow immortals and guests. “It is an enveloping and protective sculpture.”

These are heady times for the grasp manipulator of glass, 57, who suddenly became well known in 2000 when he reworked the entrance of the Palais Royal Metro here into a double cover of colored glass beads.

His induction into the prestigious French academy coincides with “Narcissus’ Theorem,” a main retrospective of his get the job done at the Petit Palais that opened very last 7 days and runs as a result of Jan. 2, 2022. Much more than 70 works put in in the museum’s halls and backyard garden are being proven in France for the initially time, 10 decades following his very last retrospective at the Pompidou Centre.

The Petit Palais, crafted for the Universal Exposition of 1900 as a temple to Beaux-Arts elegance, is the ideal environment for Othoniel’s joyful reinterpretation of the fantasy of Narcissus, who died staring amorously at his have reflection and was resurrected as a flower. Long gone is the undercurrent of death that marked Othoniel’s early creations his goal here is to embrace lifestyle.

“My position as an artist today is to convey marvel and enchantment,” Othoniel mentioned in an interview, as he strolled by means of the exhibition. “I requested myself, ‘What’s the Mona Lisa of the Petit Palais, what’s the masterpiece?’ and last but not least, I recognized that the masterpiece is the architecture by itself. So I created a dialogue concerning my sculptures and this device of goals.”

At the museum’s entrance, on the grand stairway primary up to a carved stone arch and gilded bronze gate, Othoniel joined 1,000 aquamarine-colored glass bricks manufactured by craftsmen in Firozabad, India. The function, known as “Blue River,” welcomes people as it flows down to the sidewalk down below.

The artist’s most recognizable parts are sculptures in which he loops jointly big vibrant mirror-glass baubles crafted in a workshop in Basel, Switzerland. In the backyard, Othoniel has suspended glass necklaces in gold on trees and centered monumental gold lotuses in reflecting pools.

“Jean-Michel is as significantly a poet as a sculptor,” claimed Christophe Leribault, the outgoing director of the Petit Palais, who took more than as director of the Musée d’Orsay on Oct. 5. “Never have we supplied a carte blanche so broad to an artist.”

Othoniel grew up in a modest center-course relatives in Saint-Étienne, a town in central France whose coal mines ended up still lively through his childhood. “It was a very unhappy, incredibly tedious city,” he said. “It didn’t lend by itself to dreaming.” He took refuge in the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, the town’s little but extraordinary modern art museum.

Throughout summertime vacations, his moms and dads (his mother a teacher, his father an engineer) explored Europe — and its museums — by car. His regular visits to the home of an aunt and uncle in Andalusia opened him up to the loaded architecture and seductive energy of southern Spain. “For a little boy, to pass kilometers of orange groves and to scent the perfume of orange flowers, it was magic,” he claimed.

At 18, Othoniel still left Saint-Étienne for Paris. He worked in a modest, unbiased artwork studio for a yr before earning a degree at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris-Cergy outside Paris. In the 1980s, the college was rising as a middle of conceptualism and ventures in combined media.

“It was truly an experimental school, in which we had classes from images, layout and poetry to literature, English, portray and sculpture — all of it mixed up,” he claimed.

In his early decades as a sculptor, Othoniel tried out performing with wax, sulfur and obsidian, ahead of going to glass. He even now often functions in obsidian, a black volcanic glass. At a sword presentation that followed his induction as an “immortal” on Wednesday, he gained his individual model of the ritual saber. He experienced carved its broad blade from a chunk of obsidian the Belgian sculptor Johan Creten, his companion of 33 decades, intended its outsized double-knotted bronze tackle.

He lives with Creten in an apartment in the Marais district. For the previous 8 months, they have labored together out of a broad red brick creating created a lot more than a century in the past as a metallurgy factory in Montreuil, a Paris suburb. The key function and exhibit location for Othoniel’s sculptures sits in a huge corridor under a forged-iron and glass roof. There are workplaces, a garage for storage, a workshop, assembly spaces and a studio for photography shoots.

As very well as locating artwork-globe success, Othoniel has come to be a favored of the Paris fashion world. The Fondation Cartier gave him a solo clearly show in 2003. Louis Vuitton and Chanel have commissioned him. The cult fragrance maker Diptyque developed an “Othoniel Rosa” scented candle and eau de toilette.

Othoniel claimed he experienced lengthy resisted getting to be a member of the Académie, which he deemed a stuffy point out institution for outdated and protected artists, right until some youthful users altered his mind.

Now he has embraced his new status as a chief of the arts in France. He was lately named director of the Villa Les Pinsons, a cultural residence for 15 young artists owned and operate by the Académie considering that the 1950s in the city of Chars, 30 miles north of Paris.

“I want to make the Académie far more modern day, to function to transmit what we know to the youthful generation — and support the older types as very well,” he mentioned. He joins an elite club that consists of the photographers Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Sebastião Salgado and the architect Norman Foster.

Very long after the Petit Palais exhibition ends, Othoniel will go away a everlasting mark on the building with a generous donation.

While scoping out the museum spaces for the show, Othoniel explained, he recognized that the dome higher than the museum’s grand Art-Nouveau staircase was bare. “There was a quite tiny hole at the prime of the ceiling. And I said to myself, ‘Ah, if there is a hole, it is for the reason that there was a time when a thing was hanging listed here,’” he mentioned.

He remembered “The Crown of the Night,” a hanging sculpture in colored glass beads that he had put in in a forest in the Netherlands many years prior to and then stored away in bins. The operate in good shape the Petit Palais space correctly, so considerably so that Leribault, its director, mentioned he would purchase it and dangle it there forever if the museum could obtain the revenue.

“So I reported, ‘Listen, Christophe, I am prepared to give it to you!’” Othoniel stated. “The Petit Palais is a totally free museum, so anybody can appear, each time, just for five minutes, to see my Crown.”

“It was meant to be,” he extra. “Destiny. It had to happen.”

And so it did.

Charlotte Pressure contributed study.

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