Nicolas Boulard, Dairy and Minimalism By Dorothée Dupuis
Text: Dorothée Dupuis Photography: Cortesía del artista
When Sol LeWitt produced a series of serigraphs in 1982, titled Forms Derived From a Cube, it was unlikely he imagined how his work, along with the artistic movement to which it belongs, minimalism, would leave a mark on the collective artistic imagination. During the 60s, minimalists tried to distance themselves from the notions of artistic gesture and expressiveness, using elementary forms, both because of their formal purity and for being able to be constructed by industrial processes without requiring manual intervention from the artist. Although at a distance, it can be said that they freed art of many fastidious notions like style and personality, they failed to completely erradicate the figure of the artistic hero, of the genius. Therefore LeWitt and Donald Judd, along Dan Flavin, Frank Stella and many others, found a solid place in the history of art and are regarded as demigods, especially in certain universities who see a reference in American art, and a current current that will never grow old in minimalism, for being perhaps the last great art movement, before the neo folly of the 80s, which shatters the notion of linear progress in the history of art that critics like Clement Greenberg, among others, defended until their death.
This dense artistic background was presented to Nicolas Boulard, visual artist, at a cheese stand in a French market. His gaze swept the different products: goat cheese, cow chese, white, off-white, gray, small, large, round, square and pyramid shaped. Suddenly, he realized that the Valençay, a type of goat cheese, which is a pyramid with a truncated tip, has exactly the same shape as one of the forms derived from a Sol LeWitt’s Forms Derived From a Cube, which he was studying at the time as he underwent research for a project.
For two years this observation seemed absurd to him, but after discussing his vision with some friends, he began to discover a series of coincidences, which could hardly be called that. For example, the word fromage (cheese in French) has the same etymology as the word form (form). The word fromage holds the description of its shape. He began to investigate, and came across a variety of anecdotes linking cheese to the history of form and art throughout countless ancient traditions of different cultures. Based on these reflections, Nicolas began to hold wild conferences that present the results of his research, he published a fanzine about it, and finally decided to recreate Sol Lewitt’s Forms Derived From a Cube using a piece of cheese.
One should be aware of the fact that Nicolas Boulard’s obsession with the relationship between form and gastronomy goes quite a way back. Being the son of a Champagne maker, one of his first work subjects was wine and the secular rules that must be followed to produce it. Among other works, he managed to make wine out of water (an old Catholic history) conducted a sample of red to white wine following the Fibonacci sequence, produced a fake vintage Romanee-Conti during a year during which there was no production, planted Bordeaux grapes in the courtyard of an arts center in Alsace and made wine from grapes purchased in grocery stores and supermarkets from a small town (not only drinkable, but delicious) in the suburbs of Paris.
Made out of polyethylene, the 12 molds created by Boulard, were used to form edible collections of three cheeses up to today: Brie, Emmental and Castelmagno. Sol LeWitt would most likely roll over in his grave; in this case the organic forms take liberties with the geometry. The Emmental performs much better than the Castel-magno, which has a strong tendency to collapse in its corners, winning in taste all it loses in formal majesty. Overall, the result is great, and to see these well aligned cheeses, photographed according to the initial layout of the LeWitt prints, one might err and take them for true minimalist sculptures, which perhaps they are.
The artist does not stop here: Boulard invented a whole ceremony to accompany the tasting of these cheeses, including the manufacture of special clothing, a curious mix between a graduation gown and Masonic suit. He invites a congregation of personalities from the world of art to form his college tasters, taking advantage of the gregarious habits of this breed, who indulge in getting together like most professionals, drinking and eating delicious things while discussing art and life. Boulard accomplishes the feat of bringing together minimal art, conceptual art and relational aesthetics in a single project, in a postmodern spin which commenting with humor but without irony about the performative change our lives, now that political action definitely lost its reach over the reality.
Also, on a more philosophical level, Boulard’s project underscores the subtle way in which human beings seek to shape their environment, and how context directly influences such attempts. Thus Boulard explains how cheeses become smaller as their manufacturing sites come close to major cities, while in villages lost in the mountains they remain huge: incomprehensible contingencies of space and conservation. By the way, Sol LeWitt and the minimalists ideated this repertoire of forms in the context of New York in the 60s, at a time that allowed them to think of industrial progress as something liberating for the artist.
Although the Specific Cheeses project originates from the French culinary tradition, it shows us something universal about the static of our identity in absolute essence, especially during these times of globalization and of the rise of a blameless fear of otherness. It reveals France as a brand, while it still thinks of itself as a political leader in the world: and the figure of LeWitt defeated by the form of a Brie cheese also makes us think of the fall of American influence in general, both in the field of arts and in others. But, is it so bad? Personally, I don’t think so. Everything is instantly better, washed down with a beautiful glass of Pomerol and a spread of Saint Marcellin on a piece of toast.