Hauser & Wirth’s newest location—its 17th worldwide—has finally opened in Paris’s 8th arrondissement, on the outskirt’s of the neighborhood’s concentration of galleries on Avenue Montaigne north of the Champs Élysées. Even though it’s not much of a walk, this new location stands out as being in an island of its own—that’s a good thing. The first show mounted at the mega-gallery’s first Parisian space makes it worth the stroll.
To inaugurate the space, Hauser & Wirth has called on Los Angeles–based artist Henry Taylor, who spent two months in Paris over the summer to create the new works on view. Some might say Taylor is having a moment, with this exhibition and a traveling survey that landed at the Whitney Museum in New York last month, but that ignores the fact that Taylor has long been a centrifugal force within LA’s art scene, even when much of the mainstream art world didn’t notice. As ever, he is in fine form.
By and large, what has been exhibited of Taylor’s oeuvre in the past is his paintings, primarily his portraits. But his Whitney exhibition and this Hauser & Wirth show reveal that he is equally adept at creating sculptures and installations.
Both current shows have on view towering sculptures consisting of a rough tree bark. The foliage connected to these structures has been replaced with a full, black afro. Rising 15 feet in the air, the monumental piece at Hauser & Wirth is titled One tree per family (2023).
Elsewhere in the exhibition are other arboreal creations with spindly barks. Two untitled ones on the ground floor are crowned with dozens of empty laundry detergent bottles in shades of orange and blue. They appear ready to collapse.
Taylor’s use of found objects nods to Marcel Duchamp, who plucked bottle racks and urinals from the outside world and called them art. Duchamp’s In Advance of a Broken Arm (1915), featuring a suspended shovel, even seems to have informed one untitled Taylor work consisting of a shovel planted into a cylindrical concrete base. Taylor has attached this tool to a mop, whose near-black head comes close to touching the ceiling.
French art history looms large in these latest works, no doubt thanks to Taylor’s frequent trips during his two-month stay to the Musée d’Orsay to see Impressionist masterpieces. The standout in this regard is Taylor’s take on Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1862–63). Manet’s painting shocked Paris with its naked woman picnicking with two clothed men. Taylor’s painting delivers its own surprise by deliberately making Manet’s provocation seem understated. He recreates the scene with Black people at leisure, along with a black sedan parked in the background. His painting’s knowing title is Forest fever ain’t nothing like, “Jungle Fever.”
Taylor collapses time and geography in a work that shows Josephine Baker, the Black dancer and civil rights activist who left the United States for Paris in the 1920s. She kneels in front of the Louvre; behind the museum is the English Channel, the British Museum, and a ship. The work’s title, got, get, gone, but don’t you think you should give it back?, is a clear reference to the ongoing debates about repatriation of looted art to the African continent.
These are but two of the stunning paintings on view, of which many more are on view. Several are hung salon-style in the upper-level gallery, and it’s worth taking a moment to muse over them.
But I’d like to draw your attention to a work that hangs near the gallery’s entrance that is easy to miss. With its black text against a white background, it looks nothing like the works for which Taylor is best known, but it does contain his sly sense of humor. Its text spells out “Ça y est!,” which is French for “That’s it!” Ironically, the piece could be the first thing you see when you walk in.