Alben’s latest solo exhibition at gallery nine5 presents the French graffiti artist’s first foray into sculptures of immense scale. Working through his fascination with accumulated objects, Alben encases found items of visual and personal significance in resin molds of classically canonized figures. The use of discarded Americana that Alben gathers in France, the United States, and China find their homes in busts of Marilyn Monroe, Mao Zhedong, and Greco-Roman Davids, as well as life-sized standing statues of Venus de Milo, Star Wars figures, Disney’s Snow White, and the winged Victoire de Samothrace.
Alben’s background in engineering as an aircraft technician is on full display here. His deft handling of the material is evident particularly in his full-scale molds of Victoire de Samothrace. The hardened resin is manipulated into the soft drapery of a flowing gown and delicacy of feathered wings. Alben’s signature dry humor manifests itself in his Victoire de Samothrace McDonald’s, which is stuffed full of flattened McDonald’s cartons, its stand littered with french fries.
The combining of traditionally important figures finds a platform in Alben’s Mao Star Wars Series, which feature small standing Mao molds outfitted in George Lucas’s Star Wars costume. A menacing Mao Darth Vader is acutely playful, as is the white Mao Stormtrooper. The flashes of recognition serve a dual purpose: one, to remind its viewer of varied cultural experience and two, to question the nature of historical significance. What, if anything, differentiates the dissemination of cultural figures from the two ends of the spectrum: commercialized entertainment and political fortitude?
In his Accumulation Bonbons series, Alben pays homage to his original source of inspiration, Arman, highlighting the characteristics of candy wrappers by enclosing them in minimal geometric shapes. The five pieces are stunning in their simple artistry, working through complementary colors and shapes to grapple with the usage of three-dimensional forms for flattened debris.
His previous work in graffiti-making has left a painterly imprint on Alben’s sculptures. Alben’s eye for mixing tones to create cohesive color statements is apparent in works like Mao Debout Cars, Snow White Bonbons, and Venus de Milo Cars, which feature similar items of varying colors pieced together. Mao Debout Cars, for example, is compositionally sound, with a blue base, yellow shoes, white cars, and a bright red top, crafted from a hundred tiny toy cars.
With Accumulation, Alben has progressed from constantly investigating his own obsession with objects to grappling with society’s preoccupation with tangible materiality. Examining questions of classicalism, history, and importance, Alben asks his viewers to consider what has sustained this massive population-wide agglomeration of items of the past, present, and future.