The Cheese Museum

From May 6, 2015 to May 23, 2015
Opening on Wednesday May 6, 2015
“This shop is a museum: Mr. Palomar, visiting it,
feels as he does in the Louvre, behind every displayed object
the presence of the civilization that has given it form
and takes form from it.”
Italo Calvino, Mr Palomar, 1985

Since the early 2000s, Nicolas Boulard has been developing an artistic practice that draws its main sources of inspiration from local products. Being very curious, in fact being a fine connoisseur of the many rules that surround the production and marketing of these products, the turnarounds and other trips he operates while evading them have for example led him to plant a Bordeaux vineyard in Alsace or to forge a vintage of Romanée-Conti. His work de facto highlights the societal problematics whose current news is never conjugated in the past, such as the definition of a territory, of an identity and its boundaries. While the artist willingly cultivates incursions in fields that are in theory alien to the artistic culture, his exploration of viticulture, or more recently of the realm of cheeses, regularly sends him back to major references to 20th century art which are echoed in many of his works.

After mixing art and wine in a set of works that is nothing less than clever and subversive the artist has placed at the centre of his approach the dazzling intuition of a possible coming together of the geometric shapes of minimal art and the shapes of the most common cheeses found on the stalls of our markets. In 2010, while food shopping, Nicolas Boulard noticed a troubling similitude between a goat’s cheese with soft a rind and hard crust shaped as a truncated pyramid called Valençay and a work of art by Sol LeWitt the reproduction of which he had just seen in an exhibition catalogue. It was the starting point of Specific Cheeses which is a multiple-dimension project through which he particularly strives to create several sets with willing producers –so far  Chavignol, Brie de Meaux, Triple Cream, Emmental, Castelmagno – which go back over the 12 Forms Derived from a Cube from a screen-print by Sol LeWitt (1982). The project comes with the setting up of a Brotherhood of members and the creation of a Fanzine whose third issue has just been published.

Although the work of Nicolas Boulard has already been the subject of some initial monographic propositions in institutions - The Rule of Cool at the Clamart Art Centre in 2013, La Suspension d’Incroyance (The Suspension of Unbelief) at the Alsace FRAC (Regional Fund of Contemporary Art) in Sélestat in 2012 - The Cheese Museum constitutes his first personal exhibition in a gallery context. In the manner of Mr Palomar by Italo Calvino who “watched from the outside”, and true to an attitude that underpins the whole of his work, Boulard first grasps that space by testing the rules that determine its functioning. Transformed into a choice dairy shop, the galerie laurent mueller presents with The Cheese Museum a selection of recent and partly unseen before works whose gathering form a dialogue between geometric and organic shapes, all drawn from cheese inspiration.

The Cheese Museum thus offers its attentive visitor’s gaze a set of naturalistic “drawings-papers-cut-offs” - the Swiss Cheeses (2014) -, a monumental painting featuring a thin slice of Mimolette (2014) in the American abstract tradition of the Hard-edge painting, several Portions (2015) in volume displayed on the floor, fragments of geometric shapes specifically inspired by official rules of cheese cutting, an endless post-Brancusi column of goat’s cheeses – Colonne Valençay (2014) – or even a sculpture suspended from the ceiling: an imposing Provolone (2015) born from Nicolas Boulard’s interest in the organic and sensual shapes of Jean Arp. The crossings with great figures of modern art are obvious. They are ubiquitous, immediately perceptible or ambushed; they are in all circumstances infinitely charming, such as this reference to the cover of the catalogue of the exhibition First Papers of Surrealism (1942) imagined by Marcel Duchamp and called in by the artist for his Swiss Cheeses (2014). Although his work on randomness makes up the foreground of these “drawings-papers-cut-offs”, the placing of each perforation being determined by the rigorous observation of slices of Emmental and transferred through a method of laying down a grid on the rectangular space of the paper sheet, one cannot help but comparing the Duchamp cover with the comment that Swiss art historian Stephan Hauser made in the #1 Fanzine of the project Specific Cheeses. Marcel Duchamp was a notorious prankster1, he was a serial pun enthusiast, and the questions of holes, eyes and gas raised by this cover shouldn’t be overly surprising.

The French Paradox2 is the artist’s first monograph and was published in 2011. And just like Christophe Kihm underlined in a salutary way in the book, his project might give rise to smiles but it is nonetheless very serious. One of the corrosive strengths of his always very well-documented work is to actually highlight concrete themes of research. Based on the observation of cheeses and a set of researches on the common etymologic origin of the words “shape” and “cheese”, Nicolas Boulard thus deploys a fundamental reflection on the interrelations between shape and content in the field of sculpture.

Marie Chênel

1 Jean-Yves Jouannais, in his book L’idiotie, art, vie, politique - méthode (ed. Beaux-Arts Magazine, 2003) thus highlights that « the work of Duchamp takes root in the maelström of farce of incoherent arts and in the raucous laughters of the Almanach Vernot” (p. 20). The exhibition of Incoherent Arts where, in the 1884 edition, gruyère sculptures could be seen.
2 The French Paradox, 2011, ed. Analogues, Arles.