Installation view of “Les Lalanne,” 2019. Photo: Christopher Stach, Les Lalanne © 2019 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY/ADAGP, Paris, France, Courtesy Kasmin

Les Lalanne

New York


Les Lalanne, the French husband-and-wife team of Françoise-Xavier Lalanne (1927–2008) and Claude Lalanne (1924–2019), worked and exhibited side by side, like flora and fauna. Claude Lalanne’s works tend toward botanical forms, while the efforts of FX (as he was known) generally involve fanciful portrayals of animals, though they mixed it up a bit. Their recent exhibition consisted of a delightful selection of more than 30 decorative and fine art pieces completed since 1969, ranging from large, bizarrely ornamental pieces to small sculptures. These works employ a variety of metalworking techniques and sometimes stone. The show opened with a settee backed by a pair of facing crocodiles, a bit flattened for comfort, like the croc-hide seat cushion. The beasts straddle curling twigs and branches that twist into function as the bench’s arms and legs.

This selection of Les Lalanne’s work included some of the finest later examples of the Surrealist movement: whimsical, humorous, fanciful imagery in inexplicable narratives. The crocodile bench was accompanied by a pair of matching torchères, one placed on either side. On the wall behind it, hung a mirror entangled in vines housing small, sculpted birds (a frequent theme for the artists). A knee-high marble table cut into the emblematic, simplified silhouette of a bird completed the ensemble. A small symbolic head rises from one end of the otherwise flat surface, while the black metal supports resemble fowl legs.

Next, four child-sized copper chairs draped with cast hides surrounded a sitting monkey supporting another knee-high coffee table. The tableau was completed by a pair of bronze, cast-twig sconces. (The lamps made by Les Lalanne accommodate either wax candles or electric simulacra.) The purely sculptural works included a life-size, stylized, aquiline ram accompanied by a pair of torchères composed of intertwining forms that co-mingle plant life and tusk-like shapes, as well as an incongruous, waist-high red apple.

The show included a selection of small creatures on plinths and pedestals, which blend the anatomies of various animals and plants—electroplated cabbage leaves are welded onto a rabbit and make up half a standing bird; another, mostly rabbit creature has fish-shaped wings. A horizontally bifurcated duck was intended as a maquette for a floating restaurant. It sports propellers, a rudder, and a rear flag. Continuing through the animal kingdom, two small herds of life-size furry sheep faced one another—one group embellished with wheels (a sign asked viewers not to take a seat and roll about). There was a large hanging candelabra of branches festooned with leaves and monkeys, accompanying other primates, such as a large cast iron baboon stove that wields its hinged door like a shield. Many other absurdities completed the exhibition, inviting us down the Lalanne rabbit hole.

Sculpture mourns the death, on April 9, of Claude Lalanne in Ury, France.