Ideal Palace celebrates 110 years with Jean-Michel Othoniel’s ‘The Dream of Water’
Treasures and Fountains - Postman Cheval's Ideal Palace
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jean-Michel Othoniel Adagp, Paris, 2022
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Ideal Palace celebrates 110 years with Jean-Michel Othoniel’s ‘The Dream of Water’

Jean-Michel Othoniel sculpts a series of glass sculptures and fountains as a homage to the architecture that sits in its backdrop.

by Anushka Sharma
Published on : Aug 29, 2022

Architectural landscapes of the yesteryears, reservoirs of a time-honoured genius, become muses for what is to come and mise en scènes for the novelty to unfold. Albeit standing in stark contrast to each other, the past and the present often interweave to create a harmonious tapestry rich not only in art and design, but also history and culture. One such rendezvous is brought to life by French artist Jean Michel Othoniel in his solo exhibition titled ‘The Dream of Water’. The exhibition celebrates the 110th anniversary of the construction of Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace, which is also where the exhibition is hosted. Created especially for this unique place in Hauterives, France, the art exhibition continues from 15 May to 6 November, 2022. “This exhibition gave me the opportunity to realise the dream of the postman who built this amazing monument more than 100 years ago,” says Jean-Michel Othoniel. “He always wanted his architecture animated by water but did not have the chance to make it work so my sculptures and fountains are the living spirits of this artist,” he adds.

Jean-Michel Othoniel, 2022 - Postman Cheval's Ideal Palace Image: Courtesy of Jean-Michel / Othoniel Adagp, Paris, 2022
Treasures and Fountains - Postman Cheval's Ideal Palace Image: Courtesy of Jean-Michel Othoniel Adagp, Paris, 2022

This surreal and revered historic monument was built in the late 19th century by one man alone: Ferdinand Cheval, often called Postman Cheval. The caves, the niches and the labyrinth of details speak of the 33 years that the self-taught artist and architect spent sculpting the palace. Othoniel’s large-scale glass sculptures and fountains that embellish the interiors and exteriors of the palace draw inspiration from its colossal silhouette and the preparatory drawings by Postman Cheval. Othoniel's interventions bring Postman Cheval’s dream to life by animating the palace with water features such as fountains and waterfalls. What emerges is a perfect dialogue between two singular artistic universes that meet between sculpture, construction and architectural follies. “This drawing helped me to understand how water was important in the Postman’s vision of his project. You can see in the drawings how the water was supposed to flow all around the architecture,” shares the sculpture artist.

Preparatory drawing for the Ideal Palace - Black ink Image: Courtesy of Jean-Michel Othoniel Adagp, Paris, 2022
Watercolours on the preparatory drawing by Ferdinand Cheval from 1882 Image: Courtesy of Jean-Michel Othoniel Adagp, Paris, 2022

What fuelled Othoniel’s creations was not just the sculptor’s mind at work. At the Ideal Palace, Jean-Michel Othoniel takes inspiration from the caves, niches and alcoves he explored as a six-year-old. The idea of sublimating the material and the process of creating a fantasy, an intrinsic part of his work, establishes a playful interaction with Ferdinand Cheval’s magnum opus. As a result, the nooks and convolutions conceal jewels, incandescent bricks, luminous pearls and other treasures imagined by the artist. Water and light come forward as protagonists, while fountains and ponds forsake their dormancy during the exhibition. “These two elements have been very important in my work since the beginning of my career–coming from the dark to the light and working with materials that are fluid which become solid like sulphur wax or glass,” the artist explains.

Oriflammes - Postman Cheval's Ideal Palace Courtesy of Jean-Michel Othoniel Adagp, Paris, 2022
Treasures and Fountains - Postman Cheval's Ideal Palace Courtesy of Jean-Michel Othoniel Adagp, Paris, 2022

The Ideal Palace was built to perform with the changing light of day and the variations of the seasons. The same intention guides Othoniel’s contemporary art. Behind the gates designed by Postman Cheval to safeguard his treasure of stones, the artist has placed Oracle, a sculpture of golden bricks made in India. In the heart of the exhibition space, two light sculptures mirror the shape of the stumbling block, the stone that gave rise to the Ideal Palace. Suspended from hooks placed by Ferdinand Cheval, the light recreated in glass illuminates the sculpted ceilings and walls. Jean-Michel Othoniel has crafted six stained glass windows that wash the light entering the gallery in colours. Their patterns recall forms inspired by nature and its abundance, a shared propensity for both artists. Created exclusively for the site, they are ensconced in their ideal place under the sentence written by hand by the exalted Postman ‘Where dream becomes reality'.

Stained glass detail - Postman Cheval's Ideal Palace Courtesy of Jean-Michel Othoniel Adagp, Paris, 2022
Stained glass preparatory pencil drawings and watercolour - Postman Cheval's Ideal Palace Courtesy of Jean-Michel Othoniel Adagp, Paris, 2022

“I wanted to stay as close as possible to the architecture and the elements the postman used, like representation of trees, plants, natural elements, human figures and animals. So you can find in my glass sculptures some homage to the free spirit of the palace itself,” says Othniel. Invited by the Director of the Ideal Palace, Frédéric Legros, the contemporary artist takes up the challenge of introducing his sculptural art subtly into the unique fantasy created by Postman Cheval. Othoniel’s poetic works in glass extend on the tradition of master glassmakers from Murano, with whom he collaborates to create his ensembles. ‘The Dream of Water’ lays bare a present-day fantasy that roots from and branches into the Ideal Palace, a relic embodying the dreams of one, now a haven for the creations of another.

The exhibition ‘The Dream of Water’ will remain on display from May 15 to November 6, 2022 at The Ideal Palace in Hauterives, France.

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