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Food Critic

Artist Nicolas Touron’s new exhibit at the Virgil de Voldère Gallery in New York City uses most unlikely objects to tell his startling fables of global affairs. Armed primarily with sugar and ceramics, he has set out to portray the world as he sees it, a sphere where the world’s daily machinations can be both overwhelming and terrifying, and things are rarely as sweet as they appear.

Touron, who holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York, presents his work in his first solo exhibition, entitled "Stories, Tails and Adventures." This showing, which runs until August 7th, is the French artist's tenth since arriving on a Fulbright scholarship four years ago.

The bulk of the exhibit consists of two sculptures and walls of ink drawings. The first sculpture, entitled “Soft Landing,†is a dioramic scene depicting a sleek but massive porcelain airliner that apparently failed to defy gravity. Although the title suggests the craft, with ribbony joints of pink silicon, was brought down gingerly, a slew of what seem to be casualties sink beside it: cars, broken-necked flamingos, small aircrafts, toilets, and melted spoons.

The collection’s flagship sculpture piece, “Food Project,†uses porcelain and pastry products as its primary media to construct a scene that suggests a commentary on fossil fuels. A small aluminum rig spouts rainbow sprinkles high in the sky and over to another, which is covered in the colorful confection. Shiny white cars are filled with and fueled by the stuff as they drive among industrial semi-spherical blossoms of red icing and mounds of Nesquick. In both pieces the media, scale, and placement on the floor are all reminiscent of childhood playsets.

Probably the most impressive in the exhibition are the drawings. Employing similar imagery, these fifteen pieces use brightly colored and metallic inks to depict international relations as the circus it often seems to be. The drawings carry with them an implied geography; lands made of sugary pink fluff and stiff lumber are arranged in map-like composition littered with weaponry, news surveillance copters and anamorphic fauna whose anatomy contains everything from Nutella jars to detergent bottles.

Though the art’s choice of imagery and media may seem random and outrageous upon first glance, the exhibit’s title offers insight into its purpose. “Stories, Tails and Adventures†is like a collection of fairy tales for modern times. Long before their capitalization by Disney and on-screen animators, fairy tales were told to children for a much more serious purpose. This narrative form, best exemplified in stories like “Little Red Riding Hood†and “Hansel and Gretel,†was devised over centuries of French and German oral tradition to warn children from an early age of the grave and bleak realities of serfdom. These grim stories served to prepare the young for a life of malnutrition, disease, poverty and exploitation at the hands of feudal lords. At their core, most are terrifyingly violent, but softened by the settings of candy-filled lands and the displacement of human rogues and murderers by animal counterparts. They are fables meant to warn us of the worst of human nature in early childhood before we encounter it.

Likewise Touron’s quixotic narratives, however abstracted, are cautionary tales that sweeten very serious issues in a contemporary world. Instead of dark and dangerous forests, he situates his adventures in industry, urban microcosms and global disputes and laces them with colorful confections and bubble-gum landscapes (not surprising choices considering his past as a professional chef in Paris and Amsterdam).

All in all, it’s hard to say if Touron’s work can be considered criticism. As much as it deals with heavier issues such as unbridled enterprise, xenophobia and warfare, viewers must realize that these realities simply exist, shaping the world we live in and having bearing on our lives. The most apt way to approach a description of what he’s doing may be to simply peg it as observation, for his works seem to pass no blame, contain no call to action, and offer no solutions. They are visual narratives of the artist’s modern-day concerns and fears, told with a playful gravity that is uniquely his own.

Virgil de Voldere Gallery
A.K.A. Slingshot Project
526 W. 26th Street, Room 416
New York, NY 10001

June 23 – August 7, 2005
Monday – Saturday 10 am – 6 pm