Review of Ivan Argote: Strengthlessness, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

Ivan Argote is a young Colombian artist, who has been based in France since 2005, where he commenced studies at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Beaux-Arts in Paris. Argote works with a multitude of media, always being provocative in his statements. One of his most widely-known gestures is a graffiti on two Piet Mondrian paintings at Centre Pompidou. Before, he danced to the Cure’s song “Close To You” in front of a black cross by Kazimir Malevich.

Actions by Argote perfectly fit the tradition of public art interventions and interactions with archetypal masterpieces: Russian performance artist Alexander Brener had painted a green dollar sign on Malevich’s Suprematisme in Netherlands (1997), being subsequently jailed for his action; American conceptualist Robert Rauschenberg erased Willem de Kooning’s drawing (1953), however, with the author’s permission.

One of the spots for his interventions was the Paris Metro: Argote walked through the carriages and tried to give passengers coins, the antithesis to the gesture of begging. In another performance, recorded in a video work Altruism (2011) the artist passionately licked a metal bar, shaking the indifference of the crowd through this exhibitionist act.

Ivan Argote’s personal exhibition Strengthlessness recently opened at Galerie Perrotin is the artist’s second solo show at the gallery. The story of a current project arouses with a concrete historical reference: the demolition of the imperial column, a symbol of “false glory”, as it is considered by the Commune of Paris in the Place Vendôme in 1871. Obsessed by semiotics the artist deconstructs symbols of power.

Argote bends a prototype of Luxour Obelisk, animates statues of imperial lions and makes them playing ball, warms up Spanish statues with Peruvian ponchos. The artist creates a complex system of interrelationships between contemporaneity and existing constructions of heritage, loaded with rituality and formed collective habits. The artist’s statement in this project definitely balances between the deconstruction and so-called vandalism of monument-fellers. Argote does it with irony so characteristic to him. His gesture is transgressive; the subversion of inviolable symbols of past ideologies is brutal and irreversible, even though tempered by the artist’s romantic humor.

Argote’s intention is courageous: he intervenes in the general idea of institutionalism, which explains his interest in public spaces. The artist uses the distorted language of official framed culture, compiling artifacts in the smoky museum display vitrines. He lowers the severity of abandoned industrial sites and city sights, inserting personal phrases on the photographs. “- In fifty years you will remember this moment, and will laugh about it. – Well, I planned to die in five”, – reads the viewer on one of the works from the series “New Methods: Five Years” (2014). The text is crucial for some of the creations of the Strengthlessness project and that is quite reasonable regarding the semiotic approach of the artist. The video work Moving ashes (2014) demonstrates the situation when local people of a village in South America are stuck in front of a coal train passing through the valley. The work is augmented by the sculpture, which is a part of a ruined wall with a text graffiti manifestation on it: “We’re happy with all of our problems and tired of all your solutions”.

While inverting and precipitating the relicts of half-dead framed structures of social symbols, Ivan Argote galvanizes and enlivens the past, mulling it over and making it relevant for our today.

Ekaterina Shcherbakova

Ivan Argote, Strengthlessness, until 1 March 2014, Galerie Perrotin, Paris, 76 rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris. For more information visit

1. Views of the exhibition Strengthlessness, courtesy Galerie Perrotin. Photograph: Claire Dorn.