To conclude its 2023 program, Opera Gallery is thrilled to present ‘‘L’Art informel : le signe et le geste - 1950-1970’’ from October 19th to November 28th 2023, an exhibition-event curated by art historian and critic, Lydia Harambourg.
This artistic movement, which originated in the 1940s, not only flourished in France and Europe but also found its way to Japan and the United States. By focusing on the movement’s historical period, this exhibition delves into the evolution of this post- war art form and its influence on contemporary art. Visitors will have the opportunity to admire - and even acquire - around forty works from this period, featuring renowned artists such as Karel Appel, Jean-Michel Atlan, Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu, Jean Paul Riopelle, Antonio Saura, and Pierre Soulages, all of which showcase the richness of these artists’ plastic proposals.
Great freedom of interpretations
Art informel encompasses a wealth of interpretations, drawing from lyrical abstraction, the Gutai movement, matierism, and spatialism as its main trends. The term ‘‘art informel’’ was coined in March 1951 by art critic Michel Tapié during the ’’Véhémences confrontées’’ exhibition at Galerie Nina Dausset, centered around ‘‘Extreme trends in non-figurative painting.’’ This exhibition showcased works by notable artists such as Camille Bryen, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu, Jackson Pollock, Jean Paul Riopelle, John Peter Russel, and Wols (Wolfgang Schulze). The following year, in 1952, Tapié considered ‘‘art informel’’ to represent ‘‘an other art.’’ Art informel serves as a conduit for expressing feelings and impressions, offering vast freedom of interpretations, fueled by diverse abstract or spontaneous gestural techniques, materials, and mediums employed by the artists united under this banner. The term ‘‘art informel’’ swiftly emerged to encompass artwork created in a subjective, expressive manner, in stark contrast to the intellectual compositions of geometric Cubism or geometric Abstract Art. The artists, eager to explore every avenue of expression through matter, deliberately eschewed figuration in favor of emphasizing signs, stains, traces, or drips of paint on canvases.
From a semantic perspective, it would be fitting to consider ‘‘art informel’’ as the art of the ‘‘unformed’’ a concept that might have been dubbed ‘‘the art of refusal’’ in a different context. In light of this, as the author and curator of this exhibition, Lydia Harambourg, aptly questions in the preface to the catalog, ‘‘How have certain words contributed to the instrumentalization of art history?’’ She further reflects on the matter, stating, ‘‘Lyrism, Informel, Tachisme, ‘Art autre,’ and Action painting are terms used to define an art that each individual embraces according to their pictorial convictions and the temporal fluctuations linked to current events. [...]’’ With this invitation, Opera Gallery encourages the public to engage with the selected works, to connect with their own emotions, and to develop their unique personal definition of this art form known as ‘‘informel.’’
The great figures of art informel
From Karel Appel to Pierre Soulages, via Antonio Saura, Jean-Michel Atlan and Jean Paul Riopelle, Opera Gallery will be exhibiting and offering for sale exceptional works by these great figures who embody ‘‘art informel’’, each in their own way.
Karel Appel (1921-2006), the co-founder of the CoBrA movement, set the tone: he wanted his art to be exhilarating. From his ‘‘paint carousing’’ came wild, volcanic primitivism. His painting was experimental and went beyond expressionism to reach the informal sphere. His vehement palette was fertilized by thick matter in order to create allusive forms influenced by children’s art, while avoiding the pitfall of abstraction. Opera Gallery will be presenting ‘‘Woman and Bird on Beach’’, an oil on canvas from 1956. The gallery has also selected another important work by Karel Appel, ‘‘Le Cri tournant’’, an oil on canvas from 1959, which is described by Lydia Harambourg as follows: ‘‘This scream is a tornado of painting. The swirling subject is sucked into this informal maelstrom of vertiginous impetuosity, leaping on its incommunicability to describe and identify anything. Sign and myth come together in the identity of Karel Appel, whose vision of the world is fractured and tense, and where colour and matter freely celebrate a raw universe of overflowing sensuality’’.
The dramaturgy of Antonio Saura’s painting (1930-1998) draws on a pictorial tradition (Velázquez, Greco, Goya, Picasso) that does not hinder the invention of his own forms. These multiply according to the principle of metamorphosis to reach a baroque expression and the austerity of a palette that is restricted to black and white. Saura’s female bodies have the strangeness of a twilight, mystical vision tempered by the casual manner with which the artist draws. ‘‘Nule’’, an oil on canvas from 1958, stands as a perfect illustration of this technique and will be on show.
A pioneer and precursor of art informel, Jean-Michel Atlan (1913-1960), with his archaic signs framed in sumptuous black, created a painting that revived the great primitive rhythms. It was harsh and sensual, and it drew on the unconscious as much as on a memorial heritage. The artist’s magic of the ideogram was earthly, mystical and prophetic. It prefigured gestural painting and made him the abstract painter of the great cave hieroglyphs. This can be seen in ‘‘Composition’’, an oil on canvas from 1959.
The gestural style of Jean Paul Riopelle (1923-2002) reflected his desire to transpose his impressions of the world and of ever-present nature. A precursor of automatism and informalism, Riopelle used pure colour applied directly from the tube in impastoed or knife-worked brushstrokes, interlocking forms in a circular motion with mosaic-like breaks. ‘‘Untitled’’ (1953) is an exceptional work which is typical of Riopelle’s technique. It will also be on view.
A master of black, a colour that contains all values – ochre, red, blue – in its monochromy, Pierre Soulages (1919-2022) was attentive to the opacities and transparencies of oil in his large segments of black bars, with which he experimented with a rhythm of space and its fragmentation. His abstraction refused any reference to nature. At once a universe and a language, his work – as can be seen here with his painting entitled ‘‘Peinture 92 x 65 cm, 3 août 1954’’, favours matter, whose intense and violent presence contributes to a singular poetry.
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