Aubonne, an unassuming suburb north of Paris, is not where you would expect to find the brutalist lair of the late architect Claude Parent, rising like a shark’s fin in a sea of stucco houses. But Obon also happens to be the home of artist Loris Gro, who thrives on the unexpected.
Greo has gained a reputation for his artwork that tampers with viewers’ perceptions, oscillating between reality and illusion. He created an underground sculpture garden that no one could see, destroyed a museum exhibit on its opening night, and shot a two-hour film for one viewer to watch at a time.
As a teenager, he was fascinated by the drawings of Barnett, a utopian thinker who in the 1960s co-developed an architectural theory called “la fonction oblique,” using inclined planes to prioritize space on the surface. Later, as Gréaud established his name as an artist, he looked for a good reason to collaborate with Parent, and finally found it in 2014, in the context of his feature film, Sculpture.
Watch the collaboration of Claude Barnett and Loris Grou
In this exclusive excerpt for Wallpaper*, Loris Grou gives voice to the story of his collaboration with Claude Parent, offering us a glimpse into the creative partnership between artist and architect. From “A Fluid Universe: Loris Gréaud — Claude Parent”, a film directed by Marine Perrault, which will be released in 2024.
The French art dealer Yvon Lambert, who represented Greux and exhibited Barnett’s drawings, arranged the meeting. Gréaud remembers being very nervous. “I walked in and saw a little man, he was very personable, funny, and personable. I tried to explain my idea as clearly as possible: ‘I would like to order a brain design that an actress could walk around and record her brain activity.’ And he didn’t say yes right away. Two weeks later, The father asked Gréaud to come back. He started drawing a building in India ink. He said he wanted to help, but they had to “work together and create a physical model before they end up engineering the mind.”
Chloe Barnett, Claude’s daughter, noticed that Greywood touched something in her father that had been dormant for a long time. As a young architect, Barnett worked with Yves Klein and other artists, but lost interest later in life. “Loris is one of the rare contemporary artists who has reignited this flame, this interest and surprise in art,” she says.
The artist and architect began collaborating every Wednesday to build a model out of clay and wood. Gréaud was impressed that Parent did each of these steps—drawing, modeling, even adding an entrance ramp—for a project that was ultimately surreal. “I understood that there was no utopia for him, because everything had to be buildable,” he says.
Two years after their first meeting, a small plot of land adjacent to Gréaud’s studio was put up for sale. He mustered up the courage to ask Barnett to design a new studio for him, a real building this time. The father quickly agreed.
Knowing that it might be difficult to obtain a building permit for a Brutalist monolith in his city, Grou invited the then mayor of Aubonne to an exhibition about Barnet and Jean Nouvel (the parents’ one-time assistant) in Paris. It worked, and Barnett, who had suffered a stroke three months earlier, lived long enough to know there would be another building named after him. “We went to see him in the hospital,” Gru recalls.
‘Nad (father’s wife) asked us to bring the form. I entered the room and he mistook me for a young architect working on the project. And he said, “Oh, this is the building that the artist ordered.” Bring it here. Now, you’re going to have to fix this slope…’ He didn’t recognize me, but he recognized the work, and the things that needed to be corrected.’ The father passed away shortly afterwards, in 2016.
The design of the building, which is a concrete bunker, is simple in concept. But pouring inclined concrete walls is more complex than pouring straight walls, and it took three years to complete the technical and structural plans before construction began in 2019. Grow took this timeline into account in his planning. However, he could not have predicted Covid, making the project the toughest challenge he had ever faced. “That would be my downfall,” he says, half-jokingly.
Like the rest of the world, he has had to deal with a shortage of construction workers and inflated material prices, which he says have quadrupled his costs. Barnett designed the building so that a “cannon” of light enters through the glass roof and travels downward. However, the roof cannot be installed before the concrete shell is complete. After Gréaud’s concrete supplier went bankrupt, the construction site turned into what he calls “one of the most beautiful swimming pools in the world” for about two years. The artist, who lived next door, could only watch helplessly. “It goes back to the architecture of the mind – when it rained on the building, it rained on us.”
However, the project progressed slowly, and once the black zinc cladding was installed in the summer of 2023, construction was finally completed. In 2020, a year before her death, Nadda went to visit her and told Greud that she felt her husband’s spirit inside her. Chloe says the building is a “return to the perforation of the block to let in the light” and compares it to her father’s church, Saint Bernadette de Banly in Nevers, central France. “It is a refuge, a wall, a grotto that preserves the integrity of the art and the artist, in the same way that Saint Bernadette preserves the integrity of the spiritual and the believer.”
Gréaud’s new studio is called the Atelier, a space where the artist will work alone with his hands in resin, sculpting and painting. When he shows off the site, his enthusiasm reveals that this is not foolishness but an environment that will enhance his creative energy. The integration between his work and the parental building is striking; The ancient artworks placed on the slanted walls look like they were made for this place.
From the outside, the workshop looks small. But inside, it is surprisingly spacious, with four levels and three parallel staircases. To meet height rules, Parent sloped the terrain, placing the ‘0’ level above street level and getting an additional 2.2 meters below it. The underground foundation, a thick slab of concrete, has some of Gréaud’s artwork literally buried within it, invisible to everyone.
Now that the studio is complete, Gréaud has other plans for the rest of the 1,050-square-meter property. His team will continue to work in the original studio next door, which he designed himself. Behind it, his current home will become an exhibition space for what he refers to as “immersive installations.”
Next, a friend, the famous architect Dominique Perrault, would design a new home for Gréaud behind the Parent studio. Perrault says he will bury the house in the ground like an ancient Ethiopian church, and connect the various buildings underground. “There are already a lot of buildings on this small piece of land, so I find it an interesting idea to create another building that connects the existing buildings, but not visually. The idea is to be there and be gone.”
The completion of the workshop coincided with the centenary of the parents’ birth, and it is difficult to think of a better way to celebrate this event. His daughter says: “It is Claude’s last building, the will building.” “But it is a happy testimony, full of vitality, strength and art. It resembles him and proves that his rebellious spirit is still intact.
Gréaud’s solo exhibition “Cortical Nights” will be on view at the Petit Palais, Paris 8e, from October 4, 2023 to January 31, 2024. corticalnights.com