The Centre Pompidou
May 22, 2013
The Centre Pompidou brings together for the first time the work of one of the greatest painters of the second half of the 20th century, a master figure of abstraction: Simon Hantaï. Five years after the death of the artist, the Centre Pompidou dedicates an original exhibition to Hantaï’s work - the first in over thirty-five years. Through more than 130 paintings created from 1949 to the 1990s, this exhibition, unprecedented in its scale and retrospective character, bears witness to the importance and abundant richness of a body of work that has today gained international recognition.
The last retrospective dedicated to Hantaï’s work took place in 1976 at the National Museum of Modern Art a few months before its transfer to the Centre Pompidou. Since then, Hantaï had been invited to numerous museums in France, Germany and to the Venice Biennale in the French pavilion (1982), but the opportunity to see his work later became extremely rare. Hantaï then voluntarily withdrew from the world of art, refusing to exhibit except on exceptional occasions, up until his death in 2008.
Best known for what the artist called «folding as method» initiated in 1960, Hantaï’s work takes place in successive moments of astonishing diversity. The exhibition opens on the first years of creation that followed his arrival in France and offers a chronological reading of his artistic journey from the 1950s: surrealistic paintings, such as Femelle Miroir, 1953, to gestural paintings, such as Sexe-Prime, Hommage à Jean-Pierre Brisset, 1955, sign paintings such as Souvenir de l’Avenir, 1957, to those consisting of small brush strokes: that period ends with paintings of writing. This first phase, largely unknown, culminates with two masterpieces from 1958-59 brought together for the first time: Écriture Rose and À Galla Placidia.
From 1960, with the follow-up to Mariales, Hantaï painted a previously folded surface ‘blind’ by covering it with colours: «This time colour is the principal means... Light seems to come into the colour from behind, in the way of a stained glass window. In truth, colour is light» (Dominique Fourcade). From then on each series of paintings made use of this method in very different ways: Catamurons, 1963, Panses, 1964-1965, Meuns, 1967-1968, Études, 1969, Blancs, 1973-1974, Tabulas, 1973-1982 finally enabled Hantaï to develop and renew formal and original compositions, often of large size. It is then that he confirmed his position as as one of the greatest colourists of his time. Hantai’s work was very present at the time on the French scene and had a strong impact on younger generations of artists. A long absence followed, punctuated by rare events such as a new series of works, the Laissées, which was to appear in the 1990s. In it one sees Hantaï cutting out the great Tabulas of the 1980s and extracting fragments from them that became, in their turn, completely separate works. Ending on this series, the exhibition will constitute the extraordinary rediscovery of a dazzling artist who is numbered amongst the most important figures of the second half of the 20th century.