Born and educated in Paris, Cyril Duval has made his home in Tokyo, where the culture informs his witty riffs on art and retail design. John Stones talks to the media savvy artist with a penchant for self-promotion
Imagine Austin Powers pretending to be Philippe Starck, art directed by Marcel Duchamp and scripted by Oscar Wilde, and you will get somewhere near to imagining the creative presence that is Cyril Duval.
‘It is Item Idem. What are you going to do about it?’ his website cheekily declares. The Latin doggerel functions as branding for his curious mix of art and design. On leaving art college in Paris (where he was born in 1980), Duval landed some work project managing for Comme des Garçons in Tokyo, and ended up staying put and making the metropolis not only his home but the inspiration for his work.
‘Tokyo is different to Paris, which is perfect for art galleries. In Tokyo, culture is something else,’ he explains. ‘Art here is really product design, or graphic design, or interiors, or fashion. Contemporary Japanese culture focuses on what really matters or helps daily life. Most famous artists in Japan are really designers: Tadao Ando, Rei Kawakubo and so on.’
‘So my projects are very often related to retail culture,’ Duval says. ‘I guess it comes from living in Japan. Very often, retail locations become my playground to create cultural dynamics.’
And one such is his best-known work – the Tokyo flagship store he created for German fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm.
It is a riot of junk, and couldn’t be further from the dazzling stores of Ginza, where world famous architects fight it out over who can create the most exquisite and daunting retail spaces. Instead, Duval looked to Tokyo’s homeless for visual inspiration. ‘I guess Willhelm and me are friends for a reason,’ he says. ‘He asked me to design his shop using recycled elements and trash, because he was afraid that an architectural studio would create fake trash.’
So is this shop an artwork or a piece of design? ‘It is an art-related installation for retail design,’ he replies, but immediately points to its converse, The Wrong Store, which uses the language of retail for art. Inspired by conceptual artist Maurizio Catalan’s Wrong Gallery, The Wrong Store presents a window on an impenetrable world of desirable brands. But this time it is not a real store, but an installation for the Galerie Frederic Giroux in Paris in 2006 (and the beginning of an ongoing and close collaboration with Tobias Wong, who opened a similar Wrong Store in New York).
In the current environment, where prima donna superstar designers flaunt ‘design art’, Duval’s work can seem critical rather than mere absurdist fashionista posturing. But it would be a mistake to see it simply as a Marxist critique of commodity fetishism.
‘I am more playful than critical,’ Dual ventures. ‘I like being the devil’s advocate – invading retail cultures, collaborating with big brands is a wonderful opportunity. Artists are always very shy of their money jobs, but I try to make them the starting point of my creations.’
Not biting the hand that feeds without being gobbled whole is a game that Duval plays with some virtuosity, and armed largely with humour. His website abounds in little jokes, and he has an irrepressible whimsy – for instance, his e-mails are signed off ‘via blankberry’.
However, not all share his sense of humour. Louis Vuitton, for instance, censored a shop window featuring playful use of its branding for a project in collaboration with Colette in Paris earlier this year.
What the French luxury brand made of the coat he made for a show in New York that combines Louis Vuitton items and burnt tyres, dedicated to Joseph Beuys, one shudders to think.
Duval is currently working on a denim-related project that will be auctioned at the Paris Fashion Week in the autumn for Lee Cooper, as part of the Designers Against Aids project (along with, he is proud to say, the likes of Paco Rabanne and Ora Ito). And without a hint of embarrassment, he says he is also busy with ‘self-promotion’, developing and advertising the Item Idem brand. ‘I am not media shy at all,’ he winks. ‘The media are always interested in the artist, and this is a fantastic window for us to express ourselves and collaborate.’
Duval, who once art directed the fashion pages of Tokion magazine, is unable to suppress the urge to art direct this profile. ‘Can we do it a little bit “sassy”, but very tight/clever at the same time?’ he requests. Welcome to this, Duval’s latest art work invading the world of design.