Architectonic Harmonies 2023.05.13 - 2023.06.27
Thomas Canto：Architectonic Harmonies
For his third solo exhibition at Matthew Liu Fine Arts, Architectonic Harmonies, French artist Thomas Canto simultaneously embraces and disrupts the architectural quality of his work by establishing a processual connection with the history of abstract art. More specifically, the artist refers to the avant-gardes of geometric abstraction of the twentieth century. Therefore, the modernist architect Le Corbusier is a central figure in this exhibition. While he revered painting, his impact on modernism was mainly as a ground-breaking architect, by devising the Modulor, for instance, a calculation of the average proportions of the – male – human body in relation to built spaces. The body is a key element in Thomas Canto’s work. In previous works, he recreated a vanishing line materialized by nylon thread and modular elements of painted wood and acrylic glass. However, the movement of the viewer uncannily objectified this “point of view”, which was supposed to be an ocular, internal phenomenon. In his new ensemble of works, the artist complexifies this experience by disturbing the notion of viewpoint itself. To do so, he turned to the avant-gardes, where points, lines, and grids were discussed and used, and picked up by architectural movements such as Brutalism, a development the artist admires, in order to build urban spaces. Thomas Canto’s new sculptures playfully explore these urban superimpositions of tunnels, roads, colors and light effects expanding the works beyond their material composition.
Born in 1979, Thomas Canto started his career as a painter at the end of the nineties, before he became interestedin geometric modular abstraction. Soon enough, he endeavored to create meticulously built sculptures inspired by kinetic art which he has been exhibiting worldwide ever since. His work not only recaptures its use of geometric displacements of shapes but also its simplicity of making, contrasting with the magic of the artworks’ physical presence, elaborated by an association of handmade techniques and industrial materials. Thomas Canto’s deep knowledge of the tradition of geometric abstract art not only informs his own work but also his investigations. These include, for his monograph Still Lifes of Spacetime, (2020, Les presses du Réel, NewYork Metropolitan Museum library Collection), two interviews, one with the recently deceased pioneer of Op and kinetic art Carlos Cruz-Diez, and another with Xavier Veilhan who, like Thomas Canto, embedded similar references in his own art. Recently, Thomas Canto worked on the project Exponential Urban Symphonies for the Paradise Foundation in Incheon (South Korea), which is in direct correlation with Architectonic Harmonies, with the added reference of artistic and architectural avant-gardes of the past century.
Thomas Canto’s experience of the city as a young urban artist informs his appreciation of the visual language of abstraction and its development into kinetic art. The latter opened a territory of exploration for the artist since his art creates a form of recognition and disruption of the point of view. For him, the vanishing line is experienced and complexified by the urban maze. His embodied experience of the architectural spaces in the city is not simply that of the busy passer-by, but one where the crevices and higher platforms are potentially used for a drawing. Graffiti, that he used to practice in his early years, reverses the experience of the city, suggesting other perspectives and viewpoints, as well as projected vertigo and sudden consciousness of the immensity of the city's labyrinth. Thomas Canto has been extrapolating from this deconstructed experience of the city and creating a similar experience for the viewer through an ensemble of works based on linear and geometric compositions. He has now ar rived at a point in his investigation into the superimposed shapes of urban spaces, which is not only concerned with spatial rhythms but also their history and temporality. Indeed, be it in Isle of Dogs in London, or Pudong in Shanghai, there is a futuristic feeling in these accumulations of high rises, as if one has been extracted from the present and propelled into a time yet to come. This is probably why Thomas Canto became interested in the Futurist's willingness to ban tradition. Modernism’s dream was to create a new world disconnected from ornament and built upon geometric rules. Our urban present is the Futurists’ future.
Nevertheless, despite being immersed in a modernist world, we seldom recognize the causality between the abstract avant-gardist art of the twentieth century and our buildings, roads, traffic signs, public transport vehicles, and design, amongst others. In this exhibition, a number of sculptural wall works recreate perceptions of urban landscapes, from a distanced point of view, such as the sculpture Parametric Contemplation, with its horizontal grounding planes and the verticality of what looks like high rises, to which are added circular shapes which can evoke a satellite or a star – natural and artificial phenomena now intricately inhabiting our subconscious. Modulor Expansions playfully engages with Le Corbusier’s Modulor while contemplating the evolution of architecture into a maze of mirrors and glasses, providing a web of vanishing lines too vast for human perception. Thomas Canto’s recent use of dichroic glass allows the artist to play with atmospheric fluctuations of light (this type of glass reacts chromatically to light).
The artist creates expanding sculptures using color and light projected onto the surrounding surfaces beyond the works themselves. This denotes his recognition of the modernist incorporation of vectors and planes into our everyday lives but also of the unruly and playful extrapolations they conveyed, of which Renzo Piano, Gianfranco Franchini and Richard Rogers’s Pompidou Centre is the more direct example.
Other works, more abstract, directly quote Piet Mondrian or Joseph Albers, such as Modulor Expansions with the use of primary colors, and Brutalistic Transparencies with a visual quotation of Homage to the Square (started by Albers in 1949) challenged by their articulation with “forbidden” colors and shapes for the historical artists, the most obvious being the diagonal for Mondrian. Thomas Canto’s work does not recreate modernism; it is informed by a whole century of its iconoclastic recuperation. The heterogeneous aspect of our cities is thus embraced and celebrated, while their avant-gardist and somewhat inflexible theory is mixed with new materials and contemporary perspectives. This association of architecture and modernism is a snapshot of the present, the Futurist’s future, and our new reality.