Cyprien Gaillard

It’s hard to think of a young artist whose career has had an upward trajectory as steep as 31-year-old Frenchman Cyprien Gaillard. His early video works of quasi-socialist Western European housing tracts in ruins had all the lyricism of landscape painting and the biting youthful nihilism of street art. This formalist and wayward dynamic has been a calling card for Gaillard, who has transformed everything from fire-extinguisher smoke to a pyramid of free-to-open beer cartons into social performance pieces. In 2011, he appeared at the Venice Biennale, opened a solo show teeming with playful takes on global architectural icons at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and has also contributed work to a group show at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, which stars his appropriation of the Cleveland Indians’ emblem. A fluorescent-light version of this smiling native was recently installed on the crown of a Cold War–era building in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz (Native Americans have been an occasional reference in Gaillard’s work, perhaps due to Western glorification of their totemic statues while simultaneously speeding their decline).

Gaillard has lived in Berlin for the past two years but doesn’t have a studio there. “I don’t speak a word of German,” he admits. “I can’t read subway ads or understand TV. I also don’t get the conversation happening to me, so I’m never the victim of someone else’s conversation, which is a luxury.” Gaillard has just picked up and moved to L.A. to work on his next feature-length film, but hopefully he will return. “The Berlin art community is good,” he says, “but no one wants Berlin to turn into an artist El Dorado.”

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Photo: Cyprien Gaillard at Haus der Statistik in Berlin, October 2011. All clothing: Gaillard’s own. Art: Cyprien Gaillard’s Neon Indian, 2011, Neon tubes, steel construction. Installation view: Haus der Statistik, Alexanderplatz, Berlin.