Thursday, November 8, 2012


My Way, a retrospective of the work of French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, covers the period of the past twenty-five years. Upon traveling through the exhibit, a transformation of Othoniel’s style is apparent. The exhibit begins with his earlier works, which include small wax sculptures of various orifices and genital shapes. The sculptures are intimate and challenge the viewer with grotesque images of the human body. Over time his works become less unappealing in their representation of the body and more decorative in nature.

            Othoniel’s most recent sculptures involve large-scale beads of blown glass.  He creates necklaces, knots,  strings of beads that hang from the ceiling, and adornments on bedroom furniture. He identifies these magnified necklaces and knots as stand-ins for the human body, calling them “shadows of a missing person.” His concept involves transformations of the body or disappearances, and the human scaled necklaces evoke this message. 

Othoniel creates a fantasy world with his new medium of blown glass. The ceilings drip with stringed beads that mimic rosaries and necklaces.  A gigantic double loop of black glass beads, Black is Beautiful, recalls a woman’s pearl necklace. The sensual curves and lustrous quality of the glass make the sculpture erotic by suggesting a female form. This fanciful jewelry can seem superficial, however, when compared to his earlier sculptures. My Bed is an intricately adorned bed covered in glass beads and lacy metalwork. The covers are embroidered with pink dots that resemble nipples. The piece is enticing and extremely sensual, but lacks the intellectual appeal of his previous works. 

The exhibit is pretty with its glittering bead work, but the viewer is left to wonder what idea is being communicated or if the idea matters at all. Othoniel’s older works provoke viewers to ponder human sensuality and desire through imagery that is sometimes gruesome. Contrastingly, his newer works of glass invite the viewer to admire the surface, distracting them from whatever message lies beneath. Othoniel’s past works seem more effective in propelling the audience to think, and although his transformative glass sculptures are similar in subject matter, it is not translated well through the medium. 

The last room of the exhibition contains Othoniel’s preparatory watercolors for recent projects and a short film. The film chronicles Othoniel’s process, and documents how his sculptures have been displayed in other settings. The once-empty necklaces gain meaning when they are shown draped over trees in New Orleans. They suggest a light-hearted Mardi Gras event but also the more sobering vision of African Americans lynched in those very trees. The film gives the sculptures some much-needed substance, which is lacking when they are displayed in the museum setting. 


  1. You do a good job here of pointing to the tension between sensual beauty and "gruesome" provocation in this show. I am also impressed that you manage to discuss so many of the pieces in the show, and discuss them well. However, I do think there is a thread between the two phases of his work, and not just a direct contrast. For example, you mention the giant necklaces' evocation of lynching, which doesn't mesh with your characterization of those works as strictly "aesthetically pleasing." Perhaps explore the early and later works' similarities a bit along with the differences you articulate so well. Also, you could use a stronger conclusion.

  2. You do a good job of presenting a formal analysis of selected Othoniel pieces and providing context for certain works. I think you have the beginnings of a couple solid points but don’t fully develop them. Running throughout your review is the issue of human presence, or lack thereof, in Othoniel’s work but you don’t solidify that argument at any point. Wrapping up that point in your conclusion and possibly addressing it in your intro would make this review stronger.