Jean-Michel Othoniel’s wave of fire: A tsunami at the MAMC of St-Etienne


Great (in every sense of the word) Jean-Michel Othoniel’s return to his native lands. This is the third exhibition that the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Etienne Métropole has dedicated to the artist. With this exhibition”Facing the dark” Jean-Michel Othoniel crossed another dimension in his work, that of gigantism as his new work The Big Wave specially created for the occasion proves.

From darkness to light

From the darkness of his childhood town, St Etienne. Coal blackness. Blackness of working hardness in a city of metallurgical production. All this deeply marked the young Jean Michel Othoniel who had his first shock in the museum of St Etienne. This encounter with art had a triggering effect. Light will be following the path of artistic creation. From this once black city whose landscape was carved by slag heaps, he wanted to extract himself. The discovery of art has allowed him to broaden his horizons to better return today with a luminous exhibition.

The exhibition proposed by Jean-Michel Othoniel is truly an autobiographical journey.

It is introduced by three small phosphorus paintings, realized in 93 in homage to his favorite work Francis Picabia‘s fiancé. 3 small engaged match scrapers was the first sulphur work to join the collections of an institution.

In the next large room, The Big Wave causes an emotional tsunami. An enormous black wave projecting green reflections into the ground breaks over the visitors. The idea of the wave came to him when he was in Japan at the time of the tsunami. Long-term work from watercolour to final editing. A team work also, in which industrial designers, engineers, assemblers… A project over two years, evolving, with different stages to implement this volume. Jean-Michel Othoniel realizes that he is entering a new stage in his work, the monumental.

This wave really has impressive dimensions, it is three bigger than the one presented at the Crac de Sète during its retrospective in 2017. It is made of black glass blocks blown in India. What interests him is that the brick is usually full and allows constructions that last. Here they are empty and fragile, it is like an anti brick. Beyond the wave it can also represent a cave. The darkness that hides and protects and that allows with a familiar eye to guess things. Black for Jean-Michel Othoniel has not only a negative dimension.

He admits to being very proud of this work and would like it to find its sanctuary, a place where it could settle permanently. The constraints of installation and installation are such that he imagines having to create a specific place around the work.

Six totemic divinities face this wave. Black diamonds for a head. In fact, obsidian blocks, rock born in volcanoes and telluric forces. Stones whose literature lends magic virtues and Mexicans healing virtues. These obsidian heads, remains of a huge block discovered in Armenia, are set in wooden bases. 6 totems that pay homage to the black jaws of his childhood.

Between the two works a video represents a performance that transforms a slag heap into a volcano, thanks to the addition of smoke. And a photographic miniature which illustrates a youthful performance in which Jean-Michel Othoniel puts himself in a priest’s robe facing the wall of a dam whose waterfalls are frozen and which he tries to climb.

Water and fire

We find all the universe of Jean-Michel Othoniel, his taste for metamorphoses, sublimations and transmutations. From the black of his native environment, he creates color with his large pearl necklaces that have made his fame. From a working class town, he joined the golds of Versailles and invented glass water jets. From Vulcan fire (or blast furnaces), it now creates a wave that can extinguish it. From his match scrapers to the light of glass. From that first frozen wave he was trying to cross at the beginning, to the stage he has just crossed to realize this one. Jean-Michel Othoniel plays with opposites and paradoxes. He finally has a very intimate relationship with the elements of his childhood and the natural elements and does not hesitate to fuse water and fire. The alchemy of a great magician.

Jean-Michel Othoniel

Faced with darkness

May 26 to September 16, 2018

The CMAH offers three other magnificent exhibitions in its walls. A great way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this internationally renowned institution.

Valérie Jouve

Shapes of Lives

may 19 to September 16, 2018

A photographic exhibition and a group exhibition entitled“Urban Views” as a preamble.

Conceptual Art

may 19 to September 16, 2018

A focus on conceptual artworks from the CMAH collection orchestrated by Alexandre Quoi.

30 years

Consider the World II

Until 16 September 2018

A very beautiful exploration in the remarkable collection of the MAMC, orchestrated by Martine Dancer-Mourès, who has been the interim head of this institution for 2 years.

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Saint-Etienne Métropole

Fernand Léger Street

42270 Saint-Priest-en-Jarez

Patrice Huchet

Passionate since his childhood about all forms of artistic expression, he began his career in the world of tourism where he practiced travel photography. He then joined a photo agency where he held...

View Profile and Articles


#PARIS Picasso-Rutault. Grand écart is a dialogue between two different creative processes. Until March 24, the Picasso-Paris National Museum confronts a more traditional vision of painting, a canvas completed and signed by master Picasso,…
#PARIS For his first monographic exhibition in France, Simon Fujiwara presents Revolution . The 38-year-old british artist brings together works and installations designed in dialogue with Lafayette Anticipations, the recently renovated cultural space of…
#BESANCON "Je m'appelle Cortana" by Sylvie Fanchon at the Frac Franche-Comté de Besançon proposes a dialogue between Sylvie Fanchon's works and the works of the two Frac Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. Through an easily identifiable practice Sylvie…