Too much monkey business

Jean-Luc Vilmouth is sometimes serious, sometimes comic, and often boring
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The Independent Culture
JEAN-LUC VILMOUTH is a French artist who dresses up as a gorilla, implies that it's a joke and also asks to be taken seriously. I thought this sort of whimsy was out of fashion but Vilmouth has an international reputation and is celebrated at the moment for his fish sculpture at the Waterloo Eurostar terminal. His show at the Camden Arts Centre is called "Animal Public", and I went there with hopes of zoological and even aesthetic fun.

Alas, it's not inventive enough. Take this gorilla piece, which Vil-mouth titles Self Portrait 1952-1994, the earlier date being that of his birth. Free-standing in the centre of the gallery is a life-size figure. We understand it to be a plaster-cast of the artist. Actually, all we see of Vilmouth are his features since everything else is covered by the gorilla costume. On one wall is a coloured photograph of a baby, about a year old, being held by a gorilla. Presumably this photo has been faked up, but it doesn't really matter. We get the point.

Vilmouth is pointing to the ancient origins of humankind and also making a jest about himself. The little conceit isn't original or gripping so the mind wanders to other things. I kept trying to remember how much the French know about Tarzan. There's something childish about this exhibition (which the Camden Arts Centre hopes will be popular with school parties). It's possible that Vilmouth's ideas about animals come from memories of juvenile fiction. I don't want to be quarrelsome at holiday time but I have to say that the show is really not very grown up.

One room is given over to Vil-mouth's public projects - or ideas for them, since not all his architectural fantasies have been built. One of these is a spiral staircase around a palm tree, ending in a platform beneath the fronds. Presumably it would be in some sort of light metal, though the caption doesn't explain the material. My little boy got the association immediately. He says it's the home of Zephir, the young monkey who's a friend of Babar, king of the elephants. And so it is. Could it be that Vilmouth is influenced by Jean de Brunhoff?

One piece, in artistic terms the most trivial in the whole exhibition, is called The Imprint of Siam, referring to an elephant in the Vincennes zoo. Within a large hardboard structure, big enough for one to enter, is a shrine-like pedestal. Placed on it is a porcelain dish cast from Siam's footprints. That's all, except for a photograph of the elephant. Vilmouth himself seems not to have been impressed by the idea, otherwise he surely would have dressed it up a bit.

Some of this show is too casual, other parts too elaborate. It's curiously not like an exhibition at all but resembles a cheap presentation of the artist's proposals for your villa in Nice, your railway station or factory. The architectural proposals, unremarkable in themselves, are installed in a haphazard fashion, models plonked down on a packing case, drawings (reminiscent of Hockney's) half-heartedly suggesting places that might be either real or stage sets.

And then there are two careful and expensive-looking rooms, each containing an installation. The first is called Why did the World Become Round?. Lots of round photographs of round things - a breast, a rotunda, a clock, a wheel, an amoeba and so on - are framed in shiny metal. At the centre of this room is a circular table with a hole in the middle. In this hole is a figure. Apparently he is studying, or being confused by, astral matters.

Most dramatic thing in the Cam-den show is the installation Bar des Acariens. I don't know the generic English word for acariens, but they are mites and ticks. Nasty enlarged photographs give an idea of their looks. Otherwise this bar consists of a dozen round tables, illuminated with pink neon lighting. Perhaps school parties would like to do a project on nits and such-like creatures. It's not a scary work, just not very interesting. Vil-mouth is neither a natural historian nor a metaphysician. That's OK. His problem is that, like so many who wish to entertain, he doesn't realise when he's started to be boring.

! Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Rd, NW3 (0171 435 2643), to 4 June.

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