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Switzerland born 1961

Vital perfection 1993 Materials & Technique: sculptures, synthetic fur, cardboard box Impression: 53/100
Edition: no.53 from an edition of 100, signed and numbered
Publisher: Hervé Mikaeloff
Place Published: Paris
Date Published: 1993

Primary Insc: signed c. inside lid of box, gold felt pen, "Sylvie Fleury 53/100"
Dimensions: 27.5 h x 17.0 w x 9.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1995
Accession No: NGA 95.124.A-B
Image rights: © Sylvie Fleury
  • Laure Genillard Gallery, London,
  • from whom bought by the National Gallery of Australia, February 1995

Sigmund Freud flippantly suggested that ‘in shopping, all women are fetishists’.[1] This box, made in cardboard and lined with snow-white synthetic fur, looks like a luxury presentation device. Stamped ‘VITAL PEFECTION’ with gold upper-case lettering, the bright orange box is strangely without any contents.

‘Vital Perfection

*A luxurious gel-formula eye treatment that protects against the appearance of dark circles, puffiness, and tiny lines, while it delivers vital moisture and imparts suppleness. *Moisturizes and nourishes the delicate eye area that easily shows fatigue, refreshing and revitalizing for a look of sheer radiance. Formulated with specially bonded C and E *Vitamins in the ingredient EPC-K to help prevent oxidation and increase the skin's resistance to tiny lines and dark circles.
* Penetrates with delightful coolness to help reduce puffiness, improve texture, and leave skin supple and resilient.’[2]

Sylvie Fleury has staged three exhibitions titled Vital perfection.[3] The first two―at the Galerie Philomene Magers, Bonn, and at Galerie Rivolta, Lausanne―were in 1991. The third, two years later, was held at Galerie Emanuel Perrotin, Paris. Featuring shoe-boxes―some in piles, some with shoes carefully arranged atop, some open or ajar, their contents strewn around the place―the effect was as if some elegant Parisian had upped and left the wooden floor-boarded, Persian-carpeted, second-floor apartment-sized space.

The artist’s choice of fetishistic objects such as branded, luxury shopping bags―and by extension, imprinted and lined shoe-boxes―is prompted by wider debates of fashion, consumption and gender representation.[4] In the 1990s Fleury used artificial fur and animal prints to cover surfaces in multimedia installations, as part of a strategy to explore gender and ambivalence.[5] By presenting ‘found’ or even ‘bought’ objects within an art context, Fleury sets up a dialogue between the world of fashion and the masculine aesthetic of ‘modern masters’ such as Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys. Modernist aesthetic collides with the seductive, ‘superficial’ materials of contemporary fashion.

The philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin described ‘the sex appeal of the inorganic,’ referring to the desire brought on by looking at clothing. Clothes and other bodily accoutrements—from shoes to chairs and tables—are thus extensions of the body. These prostheses can become the subject of narcissistic obsession, or consumerist fetishes. Works of art are also alluring, the ultimate super-commodity, perhaps. Vital perfection summons up the body, via the absence of any actual figurative elements, blurring the boundary between living entities and inert objects.[6]

Fleury’s titles quote perfumes, books, magazines, videotapes or lines from the ‘literature’ for cosmetics.

By framing these suggestive messages for an audience, I introduce them to be used however they like. I don’t imply any personal relationship towards these messages, whatever their content may be. These messages most probably don’t address the audience in the same way they performed in their original form. I am more interested in the consequence of these transfers, than commenting on my personal attitude or lifestyle. On the other hand, one does not always realize how much one is influenced by the subliminal messages of Harper’s Bazaar.[7]

Fleury’s comment relates to Freud’s theory that repressed subconscious desire can be triggered by unrelated or inappropriate objects. A work such asVital perfection may evoke a powerful response, but cannot gratify. As consumers we lust, but are destined to remain in a state of perpetual arousal: desire without consummation. Fleury hints at the sham-like nature of instant-fix products. She provides us with an object which hints at luxury and fulfillment but is, ultimately, empty.

Lucina Ward
International Painting and Sculpture
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

[1]Sigmund Freud, quoted in Roger Malbert, ‘Fetish and Form’, in Fetishism: visualising power and desire, South Bank Centre, London, 1995; see also Michael Desmond and Ahmad Mashadi, Love hotel: a National Gallery of Australia travelling exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p [5]

[2]http://www.neobeauty.com/shisviteyepr.Shtml (accessed November 2003). Fleury often quotes labelling on perfumes or lines from the ‘literature’ for cosmetics. As well as ‘Vital perfection’ she appropriates ‘Poison,’ ‘The art of survival,’ ‘Private lessons’ and ‘Share the fantasy’, amongst others.

[3] Vital perfection was also the title of the first catalogue/artists book documenting the shopping-bag works, published in Galerie Philomene Magers, Bonn, in 1991; see Elizabeth Janus, ‘Material Girl’, Artforum, May 1990, pp 78–81, at p 80

[4] John-Paul Stonard, Grove Art Online, www.oxfordartonline.com (accessed March 2009)

[5] In other exhibitions, such as The art of survival, she expanded this strategy, making silkscreened, wooden boxes. Slimfast (Deélice de vanilla) 1993 (18 x 15 x 10cm, edition of 250). The art of survival/Baby-doll saloon (with Angela Bulloch), Laure Genillard Gallery, London, 1993 and The art of survival, Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, 1993, Moisturising is the answer, Galerie Mehdi Chouakri, Berlin, 1996, Envy, Galerie Rebecca M Camhi, Athens, and Is your makeup crashproof? Postmasters Gallery, New York, 1997, and Life can get heavy, mascara shouldn’t, Laure Genillard Gallery, London, 1998.

[6] Walter Benjamin’s project, Das Passagenwerk, was finally published in 1982 and is usually translated as ‘The arcades project’; quoted by Michael Desmond and Ahmad Mashadi; see Love hotel: a National Gallery of Australia travelling exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p [5]

[7]‘Enter the Era of Elegance’, interview with Sylvie Fleury, in The art of survival, Neue Galerie Am Landsemuseum Joanneum, Graz, 1993, reprinted at http://www.galerievangelder.com/artists/fleury1.html (accessed November 2003)

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: National Gallery of Australia exhibition SoftSculpture (reference )