Julio Le Parc

Art, Installation Free
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Mesmerising kinetic sculptures incorporating light.

In our age of special effects and CGI, it’s easy to forget how much pleasure can be had from the simple optical tricks of mirrors and lights. Not Argentinian artist Julio Le Parc, though, who’s been making illuminated, kinetic and participatory works for six decades. His cross-career section presented here come across as a sort of mad, wacky funfair: there are buttons you can press to make mirrors wobble, stripy wheels you can spin to dizzying effect, and all sorts of mechanical objects and immersive installations that throw white light into spectacularly strange, shifting patterns – from cascading, smoke-like tendrils to slowly scissoring beams.

Sure, some pieces might seem a bit sedate for modern sensibilities. In a way, though, that’s part of their charm. At its best, the octogenarian’s work has an elemental feel, as if it were modelling some mathematical or universal truth. His machines featuring hypnotically ricocheting ping-pong balls, for instance, suggest the energised movement of gas particles; while, at the other end of the scale, the twirling reflections cast by hundreds of tiny, spring-mounted mirrors resemble nothing so much as a wondrous galaxy or cosmos.

The rear gallery features drawings, many of them intricately abstract and geometric. Yet the stand-out works among them reveal a fascinating and entirely different side to his work: cartoons and grotesque caricatures, satires and political lampoons – many made in France during the May 1968 protests. Unfortunately, however, an attempt to fuse this social commentary with interactivity results in by far the weakest work in the show: a ‘playroom’ where various stereotypical figures – ‘capitalist’, ‘imperialist’, ‘intellectual’, and so on – are painted on suspended punchbags or appear as targets for you to throw balls at. Strangely, these fairground attractions are no fun at all compared to the light-hearted, quick-witted dynamism of the rest of the show.

Gabriel Coxhead



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