Cyprien Gaillard

“I’m interested in things failing, in the beauty of failure, and the fall in general,” says 28-year-old mixed-media artist Cyprien Gaillard, who clearly has a healthy appetite for destruction. He’s also garnered quite a following for his brand of high-grade vandalism, afrequent target being the hulking modernist apartment complexes that sprung up in postwar European capitals with the promise of creating harmonic urban living. Gaillard loves these architectural failures—in 2008 he even recycled blasted cement from a housing-project demolition by turning it into a grand Egyptian-style cenotaph for a show in London.

Watch Gaillard’s Desniansky Raion, scored by Koudlam:

The French-born Gaillard recently had his first high-visibility American showing in the New Museum’s youth-obsessed survey “Younger Than Jesus.” But he was just a cool kid about Paris when he and a gang of friends started nabbing industrial fire extinguishers; they would head to the closest unpopulated park, set off the extinguishers to create clouds of smoke, and record the carnage on video and film. As Gaillard tells it, he began to phase out the presence of human figures from the work, focusing instead on the abstract impact of the smoke clouds on the landscape. That project has eventually developed into Real Remnants of Fictive Wars,a six-part 35mm film and photo series of smoke clouds in different environments. In Gaillard’s recent series of “New Picturesque” paintings, smoke reappears. The artist applies white paint over flea market–style landscape paintings, eliminating the narrative elements in favor of a defacement. Gaillard has even set off smoke at Robert Smithson’s monumental Utah earthwork, Spiral Jetty. Like Smithson, Gaillard believes that time moves toward chaos, but calls his own recent sculpture work “post-entropic—in pursuit of the big moment after the chaos.” In Crazy Horse (2008), a 28-minute video scored by his longtime collaborator, musician-performer Koudlam, Gaillardrecords the onetime Sioux-driven effort to outdo Mount Rushmore by carving the largest sculpture in the world, the Native Americanwar hero Crazy Horse, into the Black Hills of South Dakota. The project honors the heritage of North American Indians, but the carving itself may not be complete for another 80 years—when everyone originally involved has already died. Gaillard also makes his own monuments, like a massive graffiti-stricken bronze duck, which was installed at a housing project before being transferred to the artist’s recent solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany. It’s a tribute to good intentions, the exhilarating chaos of public space, and it was probably insanely inconvenient to ship.

Photo above: Cyprien Gaillard in Berlin, March 2009. Denim jacket: RRL by Ralph Lauren. Fragrance: POLO Explorer by Ralph Lauren.