Installation view of “Îles Singulières,” Chateau La Coste, Le Puy Ste Réparade, France, 2019. Photo: We are Contents

Shapes From Illusions: A Conversation with Jean-Michel Othoniel

For Jean-Michel Othoniel, glass has “opened up…a realm of endless possibilities,” allowing him to create transformative works on the edge of unreality. Like the 19th- and early 20th-century visionary Paul (Karl Wilhelm) Scheerbart, Othoniel aspires to illuminate the world with complex translucent structures that encapsulate the elemental order of the universe—sometimes benign, sometimes threatening, always beautiful—with glass conjuring water, air, fire, and earth, as sculpture turns into architecture and the architectonic turns into the sublime.

Whether created from delicate strands of glass beads or glass (and now stainless steel) bricks, Othoniel’s works weave a web of illusion and imaginative freedom. In “The Narcissus Theorem,” his current exhibition at the Petit Palais, blue brick rivers, golden lotuses, necklaces, crowns, and wild knots hide within architecture, float on mirrored pools, and hang from the trees, all telling the story of a man-flower who, in reflecting himself, reflects the world around him. As always, Othoniel’s message is one of openness—to ideas, to (re)enchantment, and to change. His work offers an occasion to dream and, at least for a while, to resist the disillusionment of the world.

Rajesh Punj: Many of the works in “Oracles,” your 2019 exhibition at Galerie Perrotin, introduced steel. Do you see glass and steel as elemental, one as necessary as the other?
Jean-Michel Othoniel: I have always used different materials to realize my work, including sulfur, wax, photography, obsidian, glass, aluminum, and now steel. For the first time, I am using metal in a visible way on the surface of the sculpture—before it was hidden behind the glass beads and bricks, used more as an inner skeleton . . .

. . . Subscribe to print and/or digital editions of Sculpture to read the full article.