Aude Moreau Triumphs In Montreal At Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran

 Installation view, Aude Moreau, Less is More, 2018, Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montreal

Aude Moreau
Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran

By JAMES D. CAMPBELL November, 2018

Aude Moreau’s latest solo exhibition at Ertaskiran is a cinematographic triumph and episodic tour de force. It captures the Toronto cityscape after dusk with both clarity and high drama. We hear the insistent thumping of helicoptor wings and realise that the artist is on board one, that this is her rotating eyrie and purview for what is unfurling in front of our eyes. And now it is our eyrie as well, as the helicopter swings low and around downtown high rise towers, and we see that offices in the towers have been lit and blacked-out in sequence to form words. The words seem quixotic even as they spell out a phrase that we are all conversant with. The grandeur of the endeavour is immediately felt in both forebrain and solar plexus. The only question we are left with is: Why?

The project is the latest – and arguably the consummation up to now -- in a series of site-specific interventions that Moreau has been executing since 2010 in major cities across North America. This exhibition brings together the large-scale projection of the film -- which takes up a huge wall in the gallery space, dwarfing the viewer -- together with a series of framed photographs documenting the public intervention that took place in and around the Toronto-Dominion Centre in Toronto from September 2 to September 4, 2017.  

This bracing, vertigo-inducing and entirely enthralling large-scale installation used the lighting grid of the office towers to spell out the phrase “LESS IS MORE OR” across the towers’ several facades in hundred-foot-tall letters on the upper levels. Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, these TD skyscrapers embody the German-American architect’s enduring desire to distil and meaningfully convey the bare essence of form by exposing the exoskeleton of the building as a minimalistic, functional icon.

The framed prints on paper in the second room in the gallery complement the film and anchor its linguisticity as environing medium. They include Less is More or - Sept. 02-042017(inkjet print on paper, 110.5 x 147.5 cm (43.5 x 58"), edition of 3 + 2 Aps), Less is More or - Sept. 02-04, 2017, #4, 2017, (inkjet print on paper, 104 x 79 cm (41 x 31"), edition of 5 + 2 Aps) and several others.

Aude Moreau, Less is More or - Sept. 02-04, 2017, #4, 2017, (inkjet print on paper, 104 x 79 cm (41 x 31"), edition of 5 + 2 Aps)

As a response to Mies van der Rohe’s aesthetic/protreptic, Aude Moreau poises herself halfway between hands-on logistical legerdemain and transcendence. Her project cuts bold new angles in a wide swathe across the city’s skyline and, after dusk, the words “LESS IS MORE OR” form an electrifying, edifying inscription that gives a whole new meaning to the specified architecture of the downtown core. The endeavour took months of planning, consultation and collaboration with a specialized film crew, office and security staff, electrical contractors and a host of other players.

Moreau’s spirit of criticality (here functionalism dictates form) infuses each project she undertakes. She is at once operating within the ambit of the architectural while preserving a critical perspective outside it. She says: “By playing with these superstructures’ typical, squared luminous emanations, I engage with architecture from within.” But she further notes that the Toronto project was perhaps her most complex and demanding work. [1] 

Installation view, Aude Moreau, Less is More, 2018, Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montreal

The phrase “less is more” was famously stated and repeated as a personal aesthetic mantra and commandment by van der Rohe, who like others associated with the Bauhaus school and movement emigrated to the United States before World War II. His 'Less is More' seems to judiciously and succinctly define a phenomenology of making and signature modernist ethic. This phrase was originally employed by German architect and designer and leading exponent of the Modernist movement Peter Behrens (d. 1940). He acted as mentor to the young architect. He enlisted him to work on aspects of the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft Turbine Factory in Berlin, between 1907 and 1910. Behrens, perhaps the most influential German designer of the last century, was responsible for nurturing the fledgling careers of a number of gifted younger architects, including van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and others.

As recounted by Detlef Mertins in his monograph Mies, the 21-year-old van der Rohe recalled designing the glazing of the west courtyard elevation of the factory, and it was while struggling with this elevation that he was was first introduced to the phrase ‘less is more’. 

"I heard it in Behrens’s office for the first time,” he later recalled. “I had to make a drawing for a facade for a factory. There was nothing to do on this thing. The columns were 5.75 meters (19 feet). I will remember that until I die. I showed him a bunch of drawings of what could be done and then he said, ‘Less is more',” but “he meant it in another way than I use it.” [2]

Installation view, Aude Moreau, Less is More, 2018, Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montreal

Mies would go on to employ the phrase as a maxim, an injunction to others and himself in terms of his reductive spirit as an architect interested in achieving an extreme and ergonomic simplicity of form, as demonstrated in his powerhouse, minimalist buildings wrought in glass and steel. Interestingly, as we follow Moreau’s in-flight trajectory on board the helicopter, we superimpose over the facade of van der Rohe’s Toronto TD Centre buildings that of his 38-story Seagram Building on Park Avenue in Manhattan and elide them in our mind’s eye. These consummately elegant structures effortlessly articulate the central tenets of modernism.

Installation view, Aude Moreau, Less is More, 2018, Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montreal

The “Or” added to the phrase in the piece transforms it and renders it open to interpretation, according to Moreau. “I wanted to revisit the interpretation of the evolution of modernism and the possibilities of what is to come . . . to say ‘what now?” [3] The addition of “OR” opens up the statement “less is more” to an uncertain future, and is perhaps a warning to the curious about the fruits of unfettered capitalism and its discontents. There also seems to be an inherent political message in her inscription on the nightside of the cityscape. Perhaps the artist is suggesting that either less is more or too much or not enough. If the latter, then take heed and mind your maxims, Moreau seems to suggest.

Moreau has done similar projects in Montreal (memorably with the Stock Exchange Tower), New York (World Trade Center) and downtown Los Angeles, but perhaps nothing as magnified in scale and possessing such consequential gravitas as her Toronto work. “It was my chance to reflect on Mies van der Rohe's emblematic statement on architecture and minimalism in the context of our time,” Moreau says. “In this site-specific intervention, I am adding the least possible, using what is already present. That is minimalism.” [4] Is this minimalism with a well-machined façade?  Or is it minimalism with a manifestly human face? One in which a certain criticality pertaining to the built Utopian dream worlds of late Modernity is still possible? It is for her viewers to decide. WM

[1] Aude Moreau, quoted in Jaren Kerr “TD Centre Marks 50th Anniversary with Minimalist Message in the Sky”, The Toronto Star, Sept. 4, 2017.

[2] See Detlef Mertins, Mies, (London: Phaidon Press, 2014).

[3] Aude Moreau, op. cit. 

[4] Aude Moreau, op. cit.


James D. Campbell

James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.

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