Jean-Michel Othoniel

Grand, bulbous, and unabashedly beautiful.

Jean Michel Othoniel stood with his artwork in his studio
The studio of Jean-Michel Othoniel filled with beads and hanging sculptures
close-up of glass beads
5 images

Jean-Michel Othoniel was born in 1964 in Saint-Étienne, France, and is now based in Paris.

Career

The artist has worked on a series of prominent public commissions and installations, encountered by millions at locations including Parisian subway station Palais-Royal - Musée du Louvre, the illustrious Château de Versailles, and Doha’s Hamad International Airport.

Accolades

In 1996, he was granted a residency at Rome's Villa Medici - a significant art historical site and former home to the French Academy, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Cardinal Alessandro de' Medici (Pope Leo XI).

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Practice overview

There are no limits to what Othoniel can imagine with glass. With a three-decade-long career behind him, his monumental sculptures only continue to grow in scale and symbolism. Utilising unorthodox materials including sulphur, wax and volcanic glass, Othoniel explores the possibilities of material, and how such materials reveal the poetic fragility of human experience. Colossal beaded necklaces are a central motif. With no-one wearing the chains, they represent “absence” and the ephemerality of life. Byzantine dances from the Middle Ages are an important influence, as well as the complex forms of nature. Resisting trends within conceptual art in the 1990s, Othoniel wanted to create something unabashedly beautiful.

Whether draped in doorways of buildings for works like Peggy’s Necklace (2006), or dancing through water in Alfa (2019), the gravity-defying sculptures exude a majestic harmony between lightness and weight. Similarly, tragedy and beauty are intertwined. The Precious Stonewall (2010) and Scar Necklace (1997) are made of hand-blown glass coloured in deep saturated tones. Both pieces are sites of memorial and grief. The former lamenting the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the latter in honour of artist Felix González-Torres - a significant influence for Othoniel - who died of AIDS in 1996. These works prompt us to remember the lives lost from the LGBTQI+ community and resonate on both personal and political levels. Through his monumental sculptures, Othoniel creates allegorical worlds of melancholy recalling the opulence of a bygone era.

“Beauty was taboo, because people thought it was not radical enough.” Jean-Michel Othoniel