The Chimney is pleased to present "Laughing at clouds", the first solo exhibition of French artist Gilles Barbier in New York City. Born in Vanuatu, an archipelago located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, Barbier’s multifaceted practice borrows from science fiction, comics, literature and cinematography to create new cosmogonies. Building onto the symbolism and otherworldliness of Mary Poppins’ enchanting story, Barbier transforms the Chimney into a surrealist set. This new commission presents numerous black levitating umbrellas installed at different heights. Strings of speech bubbles fall from their hinged ribs like raindrops. While the exhibition echoes the playful tale of the mysterious nanny and her extraordinary powers, as well as René Magritte’s and Salvador Dalí’s fanciful landscapes, Barbier ties in his social engagement through his fantasy worlds filled with vernacular motifs and pop culture.

Gilles Barbier’s interest in chance and role-plays dates back to the early 1980s, and more specifically to his reading of Luke Rhinehart's "The Dice Man" (1971) – a fictive psychiatrist's autobiography written by George Cockcroft. The protagonist's life takes an absurd turn when he decides to submit his actions to the randomness of the dice. Escalating to the extreme spectrum of human vices, Rhinehart’s incoherent and anti-conformist behaviors pulverize the concept of logic and categorization.

Similarly, Barbier adopted this method early on in his career and designed a checkerboard where each square had an assigned statement. As he rolled the dice, this artistic injunction would have to be interpreted through a work. This mechanized working strategy resulted in “Pions” - one of his most identifiable body of work in which Barbier creates pawns as miniature clones of himself that impersonate archetypes such as Pope, Geisha, Imperator, Cro-Magnon, E.T.

In The Chimney, the overcrowded ceiling confronts viewers with numerous copies of the same object. Tinted by Mary Poppins’ realm and childhood’s imagination, umbrellas become object of teleportation and traveling vessels that allow the journey through alternative realities and times. Like whirling black holes, these protective shelters are portals that defy distance and the constraints of the body. The dozens of immaculate speech bubbles are waiting for viewers’ imagination to be projected onto them. For Barbier, this form of text graphics – a recurrent motif across his oeuvre, enables the passage of words into the pictorial sphere and testify to the limits of images. As the artist explains, speech bubbles constitute “a hole in the image (…), a shelter for language.” These comical balloons infiltrate, disrupt and “oxygenate” the image with their luminosity. As a metaphorical crack in the visual system, they suggest the possibility of metamorphosis – an ideal feature of the artist’s ecosystem.

In 2018, Barbier was seized by the massively distributed and mediatized scene of Donald Trump standing alone under an umbrella, engaging with journalists, while his wife Melania was left behind under the rain. “Contemplating on this incomprehensible gap, I told myself that love meant to stand next to one another while outside of this tiny protected territory, life is a little harder,” he explains. “We have all experienced the happiness of holding and talking to each other under an umbrella while water, anger or hatred submerge it all. This habitat is very fragile and unstable, hardly bigger than a hat, but it can also be a cathedral if one makes the effort to inhabit it, and I find this more beautiful than a castle in Versailles.”

In The Chimney, Barbier invites the audience to restore dialogue under this protective roof, to engage in an exchange and resist the siren calls of hermetic monologues and manufactured facts. Armed only with crook handles, he calls out to our profound desire for intimacy, and encourages us to maybe even sing in the rain.

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With the support of CNAP Centre national des arts plastiques (National Centre for Visual Arts), France

This exhibition is part of Brooklyn Falls for France, a cultural season organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and FACE Foundation in partnership with Brooklyn venues.

Brooklyn Falls for France is the Cultural Services of the French Embassy's first-ever Brooklyn-focused multi-disciplinary cultural season running from September 2019 through January 2020 in partnership with Brooklyn venues. The program aims to highlight Brooklyn’s vibrant French and French-speaking cultural life and underscore the cross-cultural dialogue between Brooklyn and Francophone countries.



the artist

Photo by Jean-Christophe Lott

Photo by Jean-Christophe Lott


GILLES BARBIER (b. 1965, Vanuatu) studied literature in Aix-en-Provence (France) and fine arts at the Beaux-Arts in Marseille.

Barbier is represented by the Galerie GP & N Vallois, where he had several solo exhibitions, his next one scheduled in 2020. Other solo exhibitions include: World Wide Wave, La Villa Beatrix Enea, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Anglet, France (2017); Echo System, Musée national d’art contemporain, Seoul, South Korea (2016); Écho Système, Friche de la Belle de Mai, Marseille, France (2015); Le Cockpit, le Vaisseau, Ce que l’on voit depuis le hublot, Espace Claude Berri, Paris, France (2008); Gilles Barbier, Carré d'Art, Musée d'Art Contemporain de Nîmes, France (2006); Gilles Barbier, Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany (2014); Gilles Barbier, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, United-States (2001); Copywork, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, United-States (1999).

His work was exhibition in notable group exhibitions at Grand Palais, Paris, France; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France; La Maison Rouge, Paris, France; MUCEM, Marseille, France; Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France; MAC VAL, Vitry-sur-Seine, France; Tri postal, Lille, France; Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Lille, France; Biennale de Lyon, Lyon, France; Musée d’Art moderne et d’Art contemporain de Nice; Musée Regards de Provence, Marseille, France; Friche Belle de Mai, Marseille, France; Maison Guerlain, Paris, France; Von der Heydt Kunsthalle, Wuppertal, Germany; Biennale de Wuzhen, Wuzhen, China; Taipei Biennale, Taiwan; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Busan Biennale, Busan, South-Korea; Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, Dubai.

Barbier’ work can be found in many permanent collections, including: Centre Pompidou, Paris, France ; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France ; MAC/VAL, Musée d'Art Contemporain du Val de Marne, Vitry-sur-Seine, France ; Musée d'Art Contemporain (MAC), Marseille, France ; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, United States; ARCO Foundation, Madrid, Spain; Fonds National d'Art Contemporain, Paris, France ; Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, Paris, France ; Carré d’Art, Musée d’art contemporain, Nîmes, France.

Gilles Barbier lives and works in Marseille, France.