Designer Mathias Kiss lights up Paris’s NextLevel Galerie with "Ornementation Brutaliste"
With the exhibition "Ornementation Brutaliste", on show from 30 May to 18 July, French designer Mathias Kiss demonstrates his virtuoso handling of gold in a series of dazzling installations. Numéro met up with him.
Marrying craft knowhow - learned during the 15 years he spent with the Compagnons du Devoir - and a passion for contemporary experimentation, French designer Mathias Kiss produces stunning, iconoclastic installations. His current exhibition at NextLevel Galerie was the design event of Paris’s recent gallery weekend. Numéro talked to a soon-to-be design great.
Numéro: A very impressive sculpture in gold, hanging from the ceiling like a stalactite, welcomes visitors to your exhibition. Can you tell us more about it?
Mathias Kiss: The principal piece in the exhibition is in fact a cornice that I decided to detach from its traditional setting. Usually this architectural element is to be found at the periphery of a room, following the wall… I wanted to take it out of this yoke and place it in the middle of the room. The cornice thus becomes a sculpture. Folded and gathered in on itself, it seems to drip from the wall. The essence of my work is to be found in this piece: taking a classic element and giving it its freedom. And it mirrors my own personal trajectory. I started out with the Compagnons du Devoir, learning my trade on historic monuments for 15 years… But it also made me want to free myself from this kind of academicism. The cornice doesn’t take a back seat, it’s massive, phallic, out there. The Haussmannian cornice is something from a lifestyle of several centuries ago. I don’t want to draw a line under the past, but rather to adapt it to contemporary culture. Pierre Soulages took oil painting, the same technique employed by painters in the Renaissance, and used it to produce monochromes. My ambition is the same: to take a classic vocabulary and materials and invent something else from them.
Numéro: You’re exhibiting your own very personal version of the monochrome, in gold, like a giant doorway onto the sun. What makes gold an interesting material for you?
Mathias Kiss: This monochrome, which is almost 2 m high, is a curtain of gold, a burst of light in the room, like a ray of sunshine. I designed it like a door. It’s a tableau vivant that evolves with the changing light over the course of the day. I also see it as a cloudy mirror - a blind window - in which you never quite see yourself completely. You can make out your silhouette, but never all the details. This abstracted reflection is fascinating, and encourages people, I hope, to dream, but also to think. Gold is light, it’s life. It’s not only opulence or kitsch old-fashioned gilding. Gold also allows you to think about power - women’s power of seduction helped by accessories and jewels; the power of men who have always fought each other to possess gold.
Numéro: What other pieces are you showing?
Mathias Kiss: 24 panels of A4 format in gold, using 24 different kinds of gold - from pink gold to champagne gold via Versailles gold or Regency gold… It’s by showing them next to each other that you perceive all the subtleties. Gold isn’t a colour, but a multitude of variations and nuances. And gold is far from being fixed: certain tints evolve with time... In the exhibition you’ll also find the idea of the frame. A frame is usually something that’s in the background, framing something else. With me it frees itself from this academicism, moving from the background to the foreground to become a subject in its own right.
Numéro: Is the idea of “freeing oneself from academicism” what we should understand from the title of your exhibition, Ornementation Brutaliste?
Mathias Kiss: These two movements have often been set against one another and caricatured. On the one hand, ornamentation which is said to have got stuck in the 18th century, with the figure of the craftsman applying gold leaf, and the acanthus-leaf motif; and on the other, Brutalism which came out of Modernism with its angles and straight lines, its minimalism and rigour. I try to propose, in both cases, a free and contemporary approach.
By Thibaut Wychowanok
Photos © David Zagdoun