Little known in America, Jean-Michel Othoniel has been tackling issues of identity politics in visually poetic ways for the past 25 years. In Europe, he’s highly respected for his symbolic sculptures and ironic installations that turn the ancient craft of glassmaking into a conceptual art form. Openly gay, the Parisian artist mixes the influences of Marcel Duchamp and Félix Gonz‡lez-Torres, creating enigmatic artworks that evoke the spectral presence of individuals lost to the AIDS crisis. This midcareer survey offers a powerful peek into the working process of an artist who combines whimsy and tragedy.
The Brooklyn Museum rounds up some 70 pieces by Othoniel, ranging from a simple, handmade priest’s robe from 1986, which represents the artist’s mourning for a former lover, to a gigantic necklace of Murano glass beads from 2011 strung in the shape of a phallus. Large glassworks—crafted in a variety of workshops around the world—dominate the colorful exhibition, while smaller drawings, photos and wax pieces punctuate the orderly display.
The 2002 installation Tears consists of hundreds of delicate, handblown hearts, stars and hooks floating in clear glass jars filled with water and dramatically clustered on a long table. My Bed, also from 2002, presents an enchanting place of repose made from reflective glass beads and a silver lace canopy, with oval-shaped cutouts for entering the nest. Finally, 2010’s Precious Stonewall wows viewers with a towering block of blown glass bricks strung with 365 giant cut-glass necklaces: a symbol of the struggle for civil rights that continues to this day.—Paul Laster