THE GLASS BEAD GAME: A gaggle of Dior brand ambassadors mingled with French artists in full ceremonial regalia in the ornate setting of the Petit Palais museum on Wednesday for a ceremony marking contemporary artist Jean-Michel Othoniel’s induction into the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
Othoniel’s uniform was designed by Kim Jones, artistic director of men’s collections at Dior, and guests at the event included Catherine Deneuve; artist Sophie Calle; Kailand Morris, the son of Stevie Wonder and fashion entrepreneur; actor Arnaud Valois, and ballet dancer Hugo Marchand.
After an official ceremony earlier in the day under the dome of the Institut de France, the action moved to the Petit Palais, which is staging a retrospective of Othoniel’s work titled “The Narcissus Theorem,” scheduled to run until Jan. 2. There, former culture minister Jack Lang presented the artist, best known for his large-scale sculptures made of glass beads, with his ceremonial sword.
Designed by the artist with his life partner, the Belgian sculptor Johan Creten, it was in fact an imposing sculpture, with a bronze pommel in the shape of a Borromean knot edged with pearls, and a blade carved from a single block of obsidian.
“Finally, we’ve made a work of art together. This fills me with joy, as does the fact that it takes the shape of a sword. I hope we will continue to do battle together for a long time with this same idea of art that unites us,” a visibly moved Othoniel told Creten in his acceptance speech.
Laurent Petitgirard, perpetual secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, had just one reservation. “I’m not sure that Jean-Michel is really aware that we regularly wear our swords. He’s going to have a slight problem, but we’ll find a solution — perhaps a miniature version,” he said to laughter from the audience.
Othoniel credited Petitgirard with bringing fresh blood to the academy, which has a reputation for stuffiness, as its members — known as Immortals — are appointed for life.
“It’s good to revive it with younger members and to try to make mentalities evolve closer to contemporary art. That’s why I wanted to work on a project with Kim Jones, because I wanted the costume to be proof of that energy, that renewal,” the soft-spoken artist told WWD.
He drew the olive leaf motif himself. “I was lucky that the Academy accepted and that Kim Jones and the Dior workshops were willing to work with me on the design. The way they rendered it through embroidery is amazing, because the drawings were in black and white, so the embroiderers really brought their own interpretation to it,” he added.
Elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, in the sculpture section, at the end of 2018, Othoniel has been active within the institution, helping to set up a new residency for 25 artists that will start next year. “Before I was going there to work wearing a sweater and jeans. Having this costume, going through the ceremony, makes you a little more aware of the importance of the Academy,” he said.