Let It Be

PUBLISHING info: LOG 13-14: Observations on Architecture and the Contemporary City, Cynthia Davidson, ed., fall 2008

Who better to chart the vicissitudes of 1968 than Jacques Villeglé, who has solely worked with the medium emblematic of the time – the poster – or as it is better known in French, in Paris in May 1968, l‘affiche? To be clear, it is not simply the poster that comprises Villeglé’s work, it is des affiches lacerées – posters cut from the billboards of the Parisian street, posters pasted one atop another on large placards of wood; posters torn, worn, ripped by the random passerby, sullied, soaked, and partially effaced by the weather, accidentally and inadvertently collaged to such an extent that, as Villeglé says, the “the political slogan becomes illegible and the commercial smile of advertisement loses its efficacy.”1 What Villeglé extracts is a partly nonsensical, partly profound fragment – that of immediacy, of accident, of transposition – not as a trace or representation of the city, nor as a found, indifferent object whose status as art is conferred by the choice of the artist-genius, but banalities, particularities, specificities of time and place, vestiges of the city, of the street, transpositions of instrumental action imbued with emotion.

That said, there is really nothing more to say about Villeglé’s work. One could describe what one sees: Lettrism from Boulevard Raspail, for example. One could say what happened: Text lost of meaning. One could refer it to something else: Text that reminds one of the nonsensical work of the Dadaist’s, or of poetry, in which language becomes a material construction. One could talk of Villeglé’s process or the war-torn state of Paris when he began to work: That he began working when the poster and the 50-centimeter bands of color that separated them on the 30-by-40-meter billboards that lined the street were the only vestiges of color in a postwar France; that his work is often considered in the tradition of the objets trouvés of Duchamp, but that Villeglé was more inspired by the theater of Alfred Jarry, and in particular, Ubu le Roi, a play that was running in Paris at the time and that made language material; that instead of found objects Villeglé considered his works appropriations, a tradition that he created to incorporate accident and emotion. One could associate them with objects of their time, those like Yves Le Bleu, Arman, Raymond Hains, and classifying them, as they traditionally are, within Nouveau Réalisme, a movement codified by Pierre Restany in 1960, and prophesied by Villeglé’s 1958 treatise, On Collective Realities. One could speak about that which is lost in translation: That lacerated is an inaccurate and reductive translation of the French lacerée; that in French the connotations are far richer, far broader, not only conjuring up the many states of ripped, shredded, torn, and cut, but referring as much to the sociopolitical state of France as to the philosophical underpinnings of existential notions of consciousness that were in the air at the time,consciousness defined as a cleavage, a fissure, a consciousness of the world; that Villeglé originally appropriated the term déchirée (meaning shredded or torn apart) for his first exhibition from Jacques Fauvet’s book La France Déchirée (published in 1957) to conflate the aesthetic act with a political condition; that in Villeglé’s double appropriation the cutting or tearing referred as much to the collective, anonymous, sociopolitical actions of random passersby as it did the intentional, aesthetic act of the artist.


1. Jacques Villeglé, Catalogue Raisonné, DVD edition (Paris: UR / Unlimited Responsibility, 2003).

Work: Writing