A roof of opalescent grey/white glass
A pyramidal spire sheathed in the same glass that soars up to 96 m
A framework in stainless steel, titanium or composite material
It was just after the war, the era of liberation and reconstruction that extended to pictorial representation, when Georges Mathieu and Michel Tapié worked in concert towards the recognition of a new art form. Although dressed up in a number of different terminologies according to the promoter – ‘lyrical abstraction’,[i] ‘informel’, ‘art autre’, ‘tachism’ – it could be defined as a common will to redefine varieties of the possible beyond the frontiers already explored by cubism, surrealism, and geometric abstractivism, far from all determinism or formalism. Although the collaboration between Mathieu and Tapié did not start until 1948, it is in the previous year that the premises of this audacious project are to be found.
Georges Mathieu came out thunderstruck and overwhelmed from the historic exhibition of forty paintings by Wols[ii] that opened on 23 May 1947 at the René Drouin Gallery: ‘Wols has pulverised everything. […] After Wols, everything[iii] has to be reconstructed.’[iv] When he takes part in the second Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, where he shows three canvases executed on the floor,[v] and then at the fourteenth Salon des Surindépendants, to which he submits two canvases,[vi] Mathieu receives encouragement from the art critic Jean José Marchand, who finds the canvases ‘very lyrical, extremely moving.’[vii]
It is in this context of artistic shock and the beginning of critical recognition that Mathieu throws himself ardently into the execution of his project, which is to ‘bring together everything that [he] considers as constituting that which is the most alive and show the works together in an exhibition […] revealing how and why this form of painting which is emerging has nothing to do with what continues to be exhibited as contemporary’.[viii] With Camille Bryen, he presents this project to Éva Philippe, the director of the Galerie du Luxembourg. They invite her to exhibit, alongside their own works, those of Hans Hartung, Jean-Michel Atlan, Wols, Jean Arp, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Fernand Leduc. The exhibition opens on 16 December 1947 with the title ‘L’Imaginaire’. In his introduction, Jean José Marchand uses the expression ‘lyrical abstractivism’ and concludes: ‘As of now, the way is open. It’s up to the painters to show us how they use this liberty.’ The starting signal for lyrical abstraction has been sounded.[ix]
It is now 1948 and, having newly taken on board the role of spearhead, Georges Mathieu accepts Colette Allendy’s proposal to organise a new collective exhibition in her gallery. He decides to add to this the sculptures of François Stahly and Michel Tapié, saying of the latter that they have the great merit of ‘furiously displeasing Charles Estienne’,[x] whose rival Tapié will become within the extremely closed circle of French art critics. The exhibition ‘H.W.P.S.M.T.B.’ brings together Hartung, Wols, Picabia, Stahly, Mathieu, Tapié, and Bryen. Several of them write pieces for the catalogue, which thus becomes a multiple manifesto. Mathieu’s contribution bears the title ‘Freedom is emptiness’ and concludes with a concerted freedom of different forms of expression. Tapié for his part argues for combining creative freedom with the present, the ‘day-to-day’, staying away from any form of automatism.
After this exhibition, and as their friendship grows, Tapié and Mathieu make common cause in a distribution of roles that will see Mathieu concentrating on being an artist and Tapié on being an art critic, relying on Mathieu’s works and renown in order to consolidate his critical vision.
In July, the exhibition ‘White and Black’ opens at the Galerie des Deux Îles, recently set up by Florence Bank[xi] and showing monochrome drawings, prints, and lithographs by Arp, Bryen, Fautrier, Germain, Hartung, Mathieu, Picabia, Tapié, Ubac, and Wols. Mathieu asks the art critic Édouard Jaguer for a text and also Tapié, whose last contribution as an artist this will be. In it, Tapié sings the praises of a creative freedom freed from the straitjacket of notions of style and composition, and introduces the concept of ‘informe’,[xii] which he will later develop under the name ‘informel’.[xiii]
Mathieu is aware that while ‘at this point at the end of 1948, manifestations of pure combat have taken place, this does not mean decisive victory’.[xiv] From this moment on, he implicitly passes the baton to Tapié, not without a little apprehension as to the misunderstandings that might ensue: ‘Aware of having accomplished my role, of having done everything that was within my power to do, I know that time is on my side, that the truth will explode one day, that this free Abstraction will inevitably triumph, and I can also foresee that it may well give rise to the greatest of confusions, the greatest of banalities.’
It is in May 1950, at the René Drouin Gallery, where Tapié is now artistic adviser, that Mathieu gets his first solo exhibition in Paris.[xv] This occasion sees the publication in a very limited edition of a poem by Emmanuel Looten, La Complainte sauvage, which is ‘embellished with signs by Georges Mathieu’ juxtaposed on the text.[xvi] In his text entitled ‘Dégagement’, Tapié claims that ‘trusting a Man is to present him with a risk to run.’[xvii] Mathieu will also go on to develop the theme of the aesthetic of risk.[xviii]
Mathieu, who since 1947 has been public relations manager for the transatlantic shipping company United States Line,[xix] is aware of ‘concomitant research’ being carried out in the United States, notably by Pollock, de Kooning, and Tobey,[xx] at this point unknown in Europe, and seeks to defend them in Paris in November 1948 at the Galerie du Montparnasse.[xxi] Because of difficulties in obtaining all the works wanted,[xxii] this project will in the end come to fruition[xxiii] at the Nina Dausset Gallery, after Tapié has suggested that Mathieu organise with him a new Parisiano–Americano confrontation.
This historic exhibition is entitled ‘Véhémences confrontées’ as a reference to the terms ‘véhémentes’ and ‘soufrées’ used by André Malraux when Tapié first introduced him to Mathieu’s work at the René Drouin Gallery.[xxiv] It brought together works by Bryen, Capogrossi, de Kooning, Hartung, Mathieu, Pollock, Riopelle, Russell, and Wols.
In the large ‘poster-manifesto’ that took the place of a catalogue, Tapié talks about ‘informel’, opening the door for a theoretical schism with Mathieu, whose signs are incompatible with the concept of ‘informel’.
For the exhibition ‘Véhémences confrontées’, Mathieu publishes in the English-language magazine Paris News Post[xxv] a portrait of Michel Tapié which begins: ‘It is extremely rare to come across a human being who possesses the curiously assorted characteristics of logic, mysticism, and Dadaism.’[xxvi]
Mathieu,[xxvii] a keen historian, describes a Tapié ‘crushed by a past over-burdened by tradition, religion, and glorious feats (his ancestors commanded one of the four feudal armies of the first crusade) [who] could only have a predominant attitude of refusal: refusal of action by nature, refusal of work by habit, refusal of proof by education, refusal of coherence, or at least of unity, by contagion.’
This ‘cynic of dilettantism’ astonishes and seduces Mathieu by ‘his extraordinary capacity for investigation and osmosis in the domains of the number, the world of sound and the world of the visual’. Reciprocally, Tapié holds Mathieu in high esteem, writing to him in the same year: ‘The cries of silent people of your kind are for me always of the greatest interest.’[xxviii]
In 1951, on the closing down of the René Drouin Gallery, Place Vendôme, Mathieu introduces Tapié to the photographer Paul Facchetti whom he has known since 1948[xxix] and whom he ‘strongly urges to open an art gallery’. So Facchetti employs Tapié as artistic adviser for his gallery, the ‘Studio Facchetti’, which opens in October. In November, the collective exhibition ‘Signifiants de l’informel’, initiated by Tapié, opens. Represented are Dubuffet, Fautrier, Mathieu, Michaux, Riopelle, and Serpan.
In January 1952 Tapié organises, still at the Studio Facchetti, a new Mathieu solo exhibition entitled ‘Le message signifiant de Georges Mathieu’. Of the five works exhibited, two make direct reference to Tapié: Hommage hérétique (1951, dedicated to Michel Tapié) in reference to his Cathar origins, and perhaps also to his opinions on the ‘informel’; and Hommage à Machiavel (1952), Mathieu having used the expression ‘lucid Machiavellianism’ to refer to him.
Tapié begins the exhibition catalogue with this appreciation: ‘To arrive at “style” while avoiding all the academic traps is not the least of the stupefactions that we experience when confronted with the works of Georges Mathieu,’ and concludes that Mathieu ‘allows himself what can be seen as the most perilous challenge of the present age: elegance’.
By having himself photographed on 19 January 1952, on the evening before the private viewing, while he was executing the famous Hommage au maréchal de Turenne[xxx] at the gallery, Georges Mathieu becomes ‘the first to perform action-painting live’,[xxxi] enabling Facchetti to immortalise ‘one of the first ever happenings’.[xxxii]
The exhibition is reprised the same year at the Stable Gallery in New York by Alexander Iolas. This first solo exhibition by Mathieu in New York, entitled ‘The Significant Message of Georges Mathieu’, will lead the New York Times[xxxiii] to say that ‘Mathieu is a virtuoso of the paintbrush’.
In December 1952, Michel Tapié publishes a book-cum-manifesto entitled Un art autre,[xxxiv] which will be accompanied by an exhibition at the Studio Facchetti. In this landmark of art history, Tapié gives pride of place to the ‘lucid Georges Mathieu’,[xxxv] six of whose canvases are reproduced[xxxvi] alongside Pollock, Sam Francis, Dubuffet, Soulages, Hartung, Wols, Michaux, Riopelle, Fautrier, and Appel. The ‘informel’, which Tapié often defines in a convoluted fashion in the lyrical, mystical rhetoric he affects, is supplemented by the less rigid but equally sibylline concept of an ‘art autre’, extended, according to Mathieu, to a ‘mix of surrealists, expressionists, abstracts, figuratives.’[xxxvii]
On 25 April 1954 Georges Mathieu paints his emblematic Bataille de Bouvines,[xxxviii] a monumental canvas measuring 2.5 by 6 metres, in the presence of Michel Tapié and Emmanuel Looten and under the lens of Robert Descharnes’s camera. Thus does Mathieu move from photograph to film in the documentation of his work. Tapié describes the birth of this ‘key work’ in a brochure entitled 1214 illustrated with images taken from Descharnes’s film, and also in a four-page publication in English in February 1955 in the American review ARTnews under the tile Mathieu Paints a Picture.[xxxix]
In 1954 Michel Tapié leaves the Studio Facchetti to look after, until 1956, Jean Larcade’s Rive Droite Gallery, where he obtains ‘the role of adviser, promoter, discoverer, and defender of living art’.[xl]
On 10 October 1954 Mathieu executes in the space of an hour and twenty minutes his celebrated painting Les Capétiens partout![xli] in the grounds of the château belonging to Jean Larcade’s father at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in the presence of the reporters Gabrielle Smith and Dmitri Kessel from the American magazine Life.
Three weeks later this magisterial work is transported to the Rive Droite Gallery, which proposes a solo exhibition of the same name during the month of November. The exhibition catalogue includes texts by Michel Tapié, the philosopher Stéphane Lupasco, and the American painter Mark Tobey. Tapié considers Mathieu to be one of ‘the few Individuals worthy of this name in the adventure of this art autre’.
Jean Larcade, impressed by Mathieu’s courage and seriousness,[xlii] will give the Capétiens partout! to the Musée National d’Art Moderne[xliii] in 1956. This will be Mathieu’s first work to be owned by a French museum, several years after the acquisitions of the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation in New York.[xliv]
In May 1956 the Rive Droite Gallery puts on a new Mathieu solo exhibition. In exhibiting his recent canvases ‘under Carolingian canopies’[xlv] while playing in costume the role of Charlemagne in a short by Robert Descharnes entitled Couronnement de Charlemagne in which Michel Tapié takes part, Mathieu seeks to ‘reintroduce the notion of play into art and culture’,[xlvi] and this only ‘in the presentation and not in the execution of works’.
In the same year appears in English the publication in homage to Michel Tapié entitled Observations of Michel Tapié[xlvii] edited by Paul and Esther Jenkins.[xlviii] Mathieu closes it with a biographical note on Tapié: ‘His activity during the last ten years reveals itself as of major importance. […] Michel Tapié will have had the great merit of venturing into this domain with extraordinary capacities of investigation and lightning insight.’[xlix]
From 1955 Tapié is working for the gallery owned by Rodolphe Stadler, who is impressed ‘as much by his extravagant culture […] as by his enthusiasm’.[l]
In November 1956 the Japanese magazine Asahi organises in the department store Takashimaya[li] the contemporary art exhibition ‘Sekai konnichi no bijutsuten’ (Contemporary world art exhibition), which will be the first to show ‘informel’ art in Japan via seventeen works from Tapié’s personal collection.[lii] The works of Georges Mathieu, Jean Dubuffet, Jean Fautrier, Sam Francis, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Tobey attract the most interest.[liii]
Tapié plans to get to know the Japanese avant-garde movement Gutai,[liv] inspired by Dada, which he wants to see join the ranks of ‘art informel’, as soon as he sets foot in Japan for the first time.[lv] Yoshihara, the founder and theoretician of the movement, has written the previous year in the manifesto of Gutai art[lvi] that the members of Gutai have ‘the greatest respect for Pollock and Mathieu because their works reveal the howl of matter, the screams of pigments and varnishes’. Mathieu’s exhibition project in Japan in 1957 gives Tapié the opportunity to go there.[lvii]
Mathieu arrives in Tokyo on 29 August and executes ‘twenty-one canvases in three days’,[lviii] watched by a number of journalists, including the spectacular Bataille de Hakata,[lix] which measures 2 by 8 metres and was completed in 110 minutes. On the day of the opening of the exhibition in the department store Shirokiya, which between 3 and 8 September will draw ‘more than 25,000 visitors’,[lx] Mathieu executes an imposing fresco 15 metres long, the Bataille de Bun’ei,[lxi] watched by a dense audience gathered in front of the shop window.
On 5 September Mathieu goes to meet Tapié at Tokyo Airport, accompanied by the painter Toshimitsu Imai, the painter and sculptor Sōfū Teshigahara,[lxii] the surrealist painter and art critic Shūzō Takiguchi, the art critic Sōichi Tominaga,[lxiii] Yoshihara representing Gutai, and Hideo Kaītō from the daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.[lxiv] Before they leave for Osaka, Mathieu and Tapié visit Teshigahara’s studio.
On 10 September Mathieu, Imai, and Tapié are met at Osaka station by the members of Gutai. Mathieu paints in public on 12 September ‘six canvases, one of which, Hommage au général Hideyoshi,’[lxv] measures 3 by 6 metres, on the roof of the department store Daimaru for an exhibition to take place there from 12 to 15 September, in which the canvases painted in Tokyo will also be shown.[lxvi] Then Mathieu and Tapié go to Yoshihara’s home to see the works of the Gutai artists,[lxvii] before leaving for Kyoto. Mathieu leaves Japan on 19 September, while Tapié stays on for his ‘art informel’ exhibition ‘Sekai gendai geijutsuten’ (Contemporary art in the world) at the Bridgestone Museum in Tokyo.[lxviii]
This trip will have enabled Mathieu to extend his reputation to the Land of the Rising Sun, and it will turn Tapié, ‘very impressed by the overall quality’[lxix] of the work of the Gutai artists, into their defender and their official reviewer.
The paths of Mathieu and Tapié will end up separating for business reasons and on account of theoretical disagreements, even though their paths will cross again at the Stadler Gallery. For the duration of a decade, Georges Mathieu and Michel Tapié shared both a friendship and common interests, between the intransigent brio of the one and the elegant contradictions[lxx] of the other. Tapié’s proselytism[lxxi] in relation to Mathieu can be compared to that of the American critic Clement Greenberg in support of Pollock. This rare painter/critic duo, operating together in a mutualist symbiosis, gave rise to a pioneering land clearing of the artistic sector, each calling upon his own methods: zealous activism in Mathieu’s case, and adventurous dilettantism in Tapié’s. They were the most effective protagonists and theoreticians in the development of free abstraction. Although this was finally supplanted in the collective imagination by abstract expressionism,[lxxii] and then transatlantic ‘pop art’, it deserves to be rediscovered today in the light of the aesthetic and conceptual variety of its pictorial production, by the yardstick ofwith regard to its avant-gardism, its international developments and it universalist ambitions, by measure of its irrefutable magnitude.
Director of the Georges Mathieu Committee
[i] Also known as ‘warm abstraction’, as opposed to the ‘cold abstraction’ of the geometric school.
[ii] Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze, known as Wols (no. 27 May 1913 † 1 September 1951).
[iii] In italics in the original.
[iv] Combat, No. 1018, 16 October 1947.
[v] Survivance, Conception and Désintégration.
[vi] Exorcisme and Incantation.
[vii] Combat, 16 October 1947.
[viii] Georges Mathieu, Au-delà du tachisme, Julliard, 1963, p. 46.
[ix] Michel Tapié does not take part in the organisation of the exhibition ‘L’Imaginaire ’, nor in that of the exhibition ‘H.W.P.S.M.T.B.’, contrary to what is stated in the addendum to the reissue by Artcurial in 1994 of Michel Tapié’s 1952 book Un art autre. Moreover, Mathieu notes this in the margin of the copy of the book that is in his personal archives.
[x] Mathieu, Au-delà du tachisme, p. 52.
[xi] Subsequently called Florence Houston-Brown.
[xii] Already used in 1945 in La Voix de Paris by the conservative critic Jerzy Waldemar Jarociński, known as Waldemar-George, referring to Frédérique Villemur and Brigitte Pietrzak; in Paul Facchetti, le Studio, art informel et abstraction lyrique, Actes Sud, 2004, p. 14; by Serge Guilbaut in ‘Disdain for the Stain: Abstract Expressionism and Tachisme’ in Abstract Expressionism, The International Context, Rutgers University Press, 2007, p. 41; and then by Jean Dubuffet in 1946 in his Notes pour les fins-lettrés, the first text of which is ‘Partant de l’informe’; the writer Georges Bataille uses it as early as 1929 in his Dictionnaire critique.
[xiii] For the exhibition ‘Véhémences confrontées’.
[xiv] Mathieu, Au-delà du tachisme, p. 61.
[xv] Mathieu’s only solo exhibition prior to that of the René Drouin Gallery was at the Dutilleux bookshop in Douai in 1942. The Mathieu–Looten duo will be shown again by Tapié in Lille in April 1953 at the Marcel Évrard Gallery.
[xvi] In an avant-garde page make-up that Mathieu will continue to use for a decade in the review United States Lines Paris Review, which he will found in 1953.
[xvii] Underlined in the text.
[xviii] Mathieu, Au-delà du tachisme, p. 208.
[xix] Who operated the liner America on the Le Havre–New York line.
[xx] Mathieu confirms that he was ‘the first to mention them to Estienne, to Jaguer, to Guilly, to Tapié ’ (Mathieu, Au-delà du tachisme, p. 59).
[xxi] With works by Bryen, de Kooning, Gorky, Hartung, Mathieu, Picabia, Pollock, Reinhardt, Rothko, Russell, Sauer, Tobey, and Wols.
[xxii] ‘Mathieu pressed them [Charles Egan, Julien Levy, and Betty Parsons] but obtained only a few, unimpressive works on paper’ (Catherine Dossin, The Rise and Fall of American Art, 1940–1980, Ashgate, 2015, p. 61).
[xxiii] In particular, thanks to the loan by the American artist Alfonso Ossorio of works on canvas by Pollock and de Kooning from his own collection.
[xxiv] Cf. Michel Tapié, Un art autre, Gabriel-Giraud et fils, 1952.
[xxv] The ancestor of The Paris Review.
[xxvi] Georges Mathieu, ‘Portrait of the Critic ’, Paris News Post, June 1951.
[xxvii] Whose name in full is Georges Victor Adolphe Mathieu d’Escaudœuvres.
[xxviii] Letter of 10 January 1951, Michel Tapié archives, Kandinsky Library, Paris, quoted by Juliette Evezard for the exhibition catalogue L’Aventure de Michel Tapié, Un art autre, Luxembourg, 2016.
[xxix] Cf. Georges Mathieu, Au-delà du tachisme, p. 73.
[xxx] 2 by 4 metres, currently in the collections of the Pompidou Centre / MNAM, Paris.
[xxxi] Kristine Stiles, Peinture, photographie, performance: Le cas de Georges Mathieu, catalogue of the Mathieu retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, 2003, p. 77.
[xxxii] Frédérique Villemur and Brigitte Pietrzak, Paul Facchetti, le Studio, art informel et abstraction lyrique, Actes Sud, 2004, p. 27.
[xxxiii] By Stuart Preston 9 November 1952, cf. Daniel Abadie, in Georges Mathieu, exhibition catalogue for the Mathieu retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, 2003, p. 263.
[xxxiv] Subtitled ‘Where it is a matter of new unwindings of the real’, and in which the epigraph by André Malraux seems to place it under his intellectual authority.
[xxxv] Tapié, Un art autre.
[xxxvi] Which makes him the artist most represented in the book.
[xxxvii] Mathieu, Au-delà du tachisme, p. 81.
[xxxviii] Currently in the collections of the Pompidou Centre / MNAM, Paris.
[xxxix] In the same section as the article Pollock Paints a Painting appeared in May 1951.
[xl] Xavier Girard, interview with Jean Larcade, ‘Jean Larcade, la galerie Rive Droite’, Art Press, July 1988, p. 33.
[xli] 2.95 m × 6 m, currently in the collections of the Pompidou Centre / MNAM, Paris.
[xlii] Xavier Girard, ‘Jean Larcade, la galerie Rive Droite ’, p. 34.
[xliii] Now housed in the Pompidou Centre.
[xliv] Cf. Daniel Abadie, Georges Mathieu, p. 264.
[xlv] Georges Mathieu, Cinquante ans de création, Hervas, 2003, p. 56.
[xlvi] Mathieu, Au-delà du tachisme, p. 97.
[xlvii] Published by George Wittenborn à New York.
[xlviii] The American painter Paul Jenkins had held his first solo exhibition at the Studio Facchetti in 1954.
[xlix] Originally published in English.
[l] Marcel Cohen and Rodolphe Stadler, Galerie Stadler, trente ans de rencontres, de recherches, de partis pris, 1955–1985, Galerie Stadler, 1985, p. 6.
[li] Cf. Thomas R. H. Havens, Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts: The Avant-garde Rejection of Modernism, University of Hawaii Press, 2006, p. 93.
[lii] Cf. Shoichi Hirai, ‘Paris et l’art japonais depuis la guerre – Réflexions autour des tendances des années cinquante’ in Paris du monde entier. Artistes étrangers à Paris 1900-2005, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 2007.
[liii] Cf. Havens, Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts, p. 94.
[liv] 具体 which, made up of the ideograms signifying ‘tool’ and ‘body ’, means ‘concrete’ in Japanese.
[lv] Cf. Ming Tiampo, Gutai – Decentering Modernism, University of Chicago Press, 2011, p. 91.
[lvi] Jirō Yoshihara, Gutai bijutsu sengen, Geijutsu Shinchō, December 1956.
[lvii] Cf. Éric Mézil, ‘Nul n’est prophète en son pays’, “le cas de Michel Tapié” ’, in: Gutaï, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Ed. du Jeu de Paume, 1999, p. 30–31.
[lviii] Georges Mathieu, Cinquante ans de création, Hervas, 2003, p. 63.
[lix] Also entitled Bataille de Kōan, this being the second battle of Hakata Bay, in 1281.
[lx] Mathieu, Cinquante ans de création, p. 63.
[lxi] This being the first battle of Hakata Bay, in 1274.
[lxii] Founder of the school of floral art Ikebana Sōgetsu.
[lxiii] Who will become in 1959 the first director of the Tokyo National Museum of Western Art, cf. Réna Kano, edited by Didier Schulmann, ‘Georges Mathieu, Voyage et peintures au Japon, août-septembre 1957’, dissertation, 2009; he will declare that Mathieu is ‘the greatest French painter since Picasso ’ (Patrick Grainville and Gérard Xuriguera, Mathieu, Nouvelles Éditions Françaises, 1993).
[lxiv] The most widely read Japanese daily.
[lxv] Georges Mathieu, Cinquante ans de création, p. 63; a work also called Hideyoshi Toyotomi.
[lxvi] Georges Mathieu, Au-delà du tachisme, p. 129.
[lxvii] Cf. Kano, ‘Georges Mathieu, Voyage et peintures au Japon’, 2009.
[lxviii] Also in order to welcome Sam Francis, who arrives on 20 September for his exhibition.
[lxix] Kōichi Kawasaki, Le Séjour de Georges Mathieu au Japon, catalogue for the Mathieu retrospective at the Jeu de Paume, 2003, p. 95.
[lxx] To use the expression of Pierre Guéguen, Aujourd’hui, no. 6, 1956.
[lxxi] Cf. Frederick Gross, Mathieu Paints a Painting, City University of New York, 2002.
[lxxii] Which was defended by an efficient network of influence and assisted by fragmentation and a lack of consensus in France and in Europe, cf. Serge Guilbaut, ‘Disdain for the Stain: Abstract Expressionism and Tachisme ’, in Abstract Expressionism, The International Context, Rutgers University Press, 2007, p. 39.
Ever since Nietzsche and Dada, art has been seen as being absolutely the most inhuman of adventures: only a work worthy of this name gives justification to the present-day pioneers, and what it offers has little to do with pleasure but much rather with the most vertiginous challenge man has had to face, which is to look deep into himself without the slightest safeguard. At that price, a good many apparently unshakeable notions are called into question, if not swept away once and for all.
Michel Tapié, Un art autre: Où il s’agit de nouveaux dévidages du réel, Paris, Gabriel-Giraud et fils, 1952
The name Céleyran refers to a property in the south of France, not far from Narbonne, on the banks of the river Aude and just a few kilometres from the sea. It was here that the artist, musician, art critic, and broker Michel Tapié de Céleyran spent his childhood. If we leave aside its toponymic origin and the family ramifications it obviously evokes – the château of the same name was the summer residence of the young Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, painter-to-be of sulphurous reputation and Tapié’s great-grand cousin – Céleyran undoubtedly sounds like an ‘invitation au voyage’. The magical effect of assonance transports the listener or the reader from the shores of the Mediterranean to the coast of Ceylon. Moreover, magic and voyage are two keywords that Tapié constantly conjured up and repeated like an incantation in texts devoted to the artists he loved. To amuse oneself by listing these – Jean Fautrier, Jean Dubuffet, Wols, Henri Michaux, Georges Mathieu, Karel Appel, Camille Bryen, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Sam Francis, Hans Hartung, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Pierre Soulages, but also Victor Brauner, Jackson Pollock, and Francis Picabia – is immediately to draw up the inventory of painting in the years immediately after the war, to chant an entire pantheon which, although not comprehensive, nevertheless brings into view those artists who, in the era of reconstruction, gave us what was most striking in the realm of art. Tapié was not mistaken – tireless promoter of the ‘informel’ as he was, and later of Gutai, an art he ardently desired to be ‘autre’.
His dense writing, shot through with harshness and sometimes a degree of affectation, was often held against him in terms of the impression people had of his work. The conceptual vagueness of his lexicon and his near-manic references to St John of the Cross, Nietzsche, and Raymond Roussel annoyed Dubuffet and Michaux, who liked precision and fiercely defended their singularity. But a re-reading of his career, which was until recently little known except by a few aficionados, leaves no room for doubt. Tapié had an eye, one of the best in the world of transatlantic art in the fifties.[i] Trained in the sphere of surrealism, at the crossroads of jazz (which he played with passion) and poetry and painting (which he cultivated on the eve of war at the heart of the group Les Réverbères), Tapié was moreover one of the most zealous promoters of Dubuffet and Michaux at a time when their work was known only to a select circle. In May 1946 he was involved in the second solo exhibition of the former at the René Drouin Gallery, contributing to the catalogue of Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie. Two years later, in the same gallery, he literally materialized three of the latter’s exorcism poems collected under the evocative and incantatory title Poésie pour pouvoir, by engraving them in linoleum in the form of illuminations. In parallel to this, Drouin put on the first important exhibition of the poet’s drawings and paintings.
It was with this gallery owner that Tapié was to start out on his career. He was stunned by Jean Fautrier’s exhibition ‘Otages’, organised by Drouin and Malraux in the autumn of 1945. It was Dubuffet, whom he had met a few months earlier, who took him to it. The painter of Mirobolus blanc became a sort of mentor to the young bassist. He helped him to write, but especially to become known as an art critic, then gave him the keys to the Foyer de l’Art Brut in the winter of 1947–48, in the basement of the gallery on the Place Vendôme. From then on, Tapié was able to put his talent to good use, earning the confidence of René Drouin, advising him and confirming his choices. The role suited him down to the ground – later with Paul Facchetti from 1951 on and then with Rodolphe Stadler in the mid-1950s. His position as artistic adviser went hand in hand with an original way of mounting exhibitions. Prefiguring the persona of the curator, Michel Tapié organised outstanding exhibitions. One thinks in particular of ‘Véhémences confrontées’ shown at the Nina Dausset Gallery in March 1952, for which Tapié represented the ultimate and most contemporary exhibition curator.[ii] The invitation card and booklet accompanying the event described it as ‘the confrontation of the extreme tendencies of the non-figurative painting of the United States, Italy, and Paris, presented by Michel Tapié’. As a perfect impresario or director, he exhibited the paintings all together, confident in the exercise of his eye and of that ‘something’ that we call instinct, shying away from imposing too much control. In this respect, the Francis Picabia retrospective that he put on with René Drouin in 1949 reminds us just how fine-tuned Tapié’s knowledge of Dadaism was, and reminds us too of his contribution towards a better knowledge of the movement at the moment of its historicisation. In his writing, the innumerable references made to the work of Tristan Tzara or Marcel Duchamp bear witness to this openly declared lineage. For him, ‘Dada was the big break’.[iii] The movement confirmed the demise of the old order of art and set out into what was to go beyond it. Such reiterated acts of homage on Tapié’s part sought to reflect a desire for the advent of something new that might shine forth beyond Dada, as a follow-up to the horrors of war. Moreover, the opus of another heir of Dadaism, ‘Dubuffet the Terrible’ as he liked to call him, caused him to write of Dubuffet’s work: ‘It was given to him to see that otherness’,[iv] something he would subsequently seek to define. It was with this in mind that he was led to approach the artists and the art that he was the first to call ‘informel’.
The term ‘informel’, which is too broad a term, as Tapié admitted, was inspired by the emergence of artistic productions that bore no resemblance to anything that had come before. What did Michel Tapié see in this? The excessive, almost obsequious insistence on matter on the part of Fautrier and Dubuffet endangered the classical notion of form, which had already taken a knocking at the hands of the cubist movement as well as from the attack launched by the Dadaists. To start from the formless became a credo as well as a formidable method by which the body displayed itself to view indirectly. Under cover of the commemoration of what was unspeakable about the war (Fautrier), or of legitimate provocation in the face of a cultural order to be rejected at all costs (Dubuffet), these painters undermined the very foundations of painting by refusing the grid and by asserting the importance of pictorial matter and the gesture that moves it. New spaces opened up. These invoke haptics, where touch and movement come together. And what do the painting habits of Wols, Mathieu, Hartung, Soulages, and Riopelle share, if not the possibility for those seeing them, looking at them, scrutinising them, to feel within themselves the gestures and rhythms that these artists imprint on the surface of the canvas? Dubuffet wrote in 1945 that the condition for a work to be successful, inventive, and powerful lay in this: that the viewer, whom he called the user of the painting, should be in a position of re-acting.[v] We do not doubt that Tapié very often re-acted the paintings of those who he loved to defend and to exhibit. And if there is something ‘informel’ about it, as he writes, it is not so much in the absence of form (the canvas is saturated in a form ‘deeply renewed’) that it lies, but in the impossibility of ‘telling’ these paintings properly; that is to say, describing them according to the methods customarily used by the critics.[vi] The astonishment that these painters provoked and continue to provoke has its roots in a form of suspension of judgement that their works arouse. Faced with this superposition of gestures and temporalities, silence jostles with astonishment which, in Fautrier, Wols, Soulages, or Hartung, blurs what was considered to be one of the duties of an artist: to prioritise legibility by means of smooth craftsmanship. Not that these works are illegible in the sense of confusion, on the contrary, but because in them something opened violently, creating a gash that rendered visible that ‘espace autre’ that Tapié knew how to recognise.
This task of surveyor of the new post-war sensibility, of which Tapié was one of the foremost practitioners, went with a search for talents that were capable of opening up this space, or rather these spaces. Once he had recognised them, Tapié confronted them. There too, the lexicon he employed is an indicator of his taste, particularly that of vehemence. The exhibition ‘Véhémences confrontées’ records this extreme vitality, this passionate energy that the exhibited works transmitted. It is also the expression of a will towards internationalisation distrustful of nationalist rivalries, and paradoxically fascinated by the United States. Tapié knew the American scene through Georges Mathieu and Alfonso Ossorio, whom Dubuffet had introduced to him. Opened in quick succession in March 1952, ‘Véhémences confrontées’ and the Jackson Pollock exhibition which Tapié put on at the Paul Facchetti Gallery evidenced an audacious spirit of openness towards the innovations of American abstract expressionism. Few Parisians and even fewer French people shared it at the time. In particular, these exhibitions sought to define a community of the ‘informel’ covering both shores of the Atlantic. The articles written later for Georges Mathieu and destined for the transatlantic luxury review United States Lines: Paris Review confirm his knowledge of what was happening in New York. This is no doubt a manifestation of the taste for adventure mentioned above that would, it would seem, lead him to Japan.
It was after reading the Gutai newsletters passed on to him by Japanese painters Domoto and Imai, who were living in Paris, that he went there for the first time in 1957 accompanied by Georges Mathieu. The adventure here was about discovery, a play of echoes, and confrontation, certainly, but also confirmation. Because his contact with the Gutai artists, with whom the bonds strengthened with each trip that followed, seemed to endorse one of Tapié’s profound intuitions: art is the product of its era, and the closest of artistic affinities can be woven between, for example, the work of Pierre Soulages and that of Kazuo Shiraga, from one point to another of the human world. Despite the fact that they draw upon different cultural sources, this formal closeness between their works met a requirement stated in Un art autre: ‘More specifically in the so-called artistic domain, I sought out the company of works chosen only for their high degree of “magicity”; any other artistic quality can be excused only in terms of what it contributes to this optimum magical return.’[vii] The obscure term ‘magicity’ is admittedly difficult to grasp, but it is an expression that confirms, once again, the strange effect that these works had on those who witnessed their emergence. In short, it concerns a magic operation by which what is offered to the eye does not merely represent but rather causes the body and the soul to experience something in a concrete manner (is not Gutai translated, precisely, by the notion of ‘concrete’?) beyond the barrier of language – a magic that continues to operate today.
Confrontation rhymes with the taste for danger, adventure with risk-taking. Tapié was aware of this, aware also of the exercise of his own eye and its aesthetic and historical value, indubitable as it is sixty years later. In 1961, returning from the Land of the Rising Sun and as a preface to a publication devoted to the Japanese avant-garde (a joint project with his Japanese counterpart Tôre Haga), Tapié wrote in an assured and, with hindsight, fair manner: ‘A certain type of Japanese art criticism, moreover generally connected to international organisations of art critics, will take exception to big traditional names that they refuse to consider from the authentic standpoint of artistic quality rubbing shoulders with those of an avant-garde which, up to the last few months, was not recognised because it refused to play the game of their avant-garde: to these critics, I issue an invitation to come back in a few years, as I did to their Western counterparts ten years ago.’[viii]
PhD in the History of Art
[i] See in particular Juliette Evezard, ‘Un art autre: Le rêve de Michel Tapié de Céleyran, il profeta de l’art informel (1937–1987): Une nouvelle forme du système marchand – critique’, thesis defended 16 January 2015, supervisor Th. Dufrêne, Université Paris-Ouest-Nanterre-La Défense, forthcoming.
[ii] Astrid Handa-Gagnard, ‘Art autre, informel et internationalisation’, in Un art autre? Artistes autour de Michel Tapié, une exposition, Christie’s Paris, 31 January – 29 February 2012, Paris, Christie’s, 2012, pp. 34 sq.
[iii] Michel Tapié, Un art autre: Où il s’agit de nouveaux dévidages du réel, Paris, Gabriel-Giraud et fils, 1952.
[iv] Tapié, Un art autre. See also ‘Dubuffet, the Terrible’, New Post, Nov. 1950; republished in Paintings by Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Matisse Gallery, 9 January – 3 February 1951, New York, Pierre Matisse, 1951.
[v] Jean Dubuffet, ‘Notes pour les fins lettrés’, Prospectus aux amateurs de tout genre, Paris, Gallimard, 1946, p. 75.
[vi] Here it is essential to refer to Hubert Damisch, ‘L’Informel’ , Fenêtre jaune cadmium, Paris, Seuil, 1984, p. 131.
[vii] Tapié, Un art autre.
[viii] Michel Tapié and Tôre Haga, Continuité et avant-garde au Japon, Turin, Edizioni d’Arte Fretelli Pozzo, 1961.
Michel Tapié was not entirely one of those critics who, by putting their signature to manifestos nowadays historic, irrevocably took their place in the pantheon of art criticism. How are we to define the multifaceted activity of Michel Tapié, who seemed to prefer the sensational event to the monument?
Of all the adventurers, discoverers of artists, and writers on art of the second half of the twentieth century, both French and international, Michel Tapié is not only the one who transformed the profession by adding to the traditional activities of this role other activities (artistic adviser, publisher, broker, collector), but he is also the only one who could boast over 180 artists in his ‘stable’. Of course, it might be objected that of these, proportionally few have passed into posterity. But among the impressive number of artists who made up his stable, a few knew unprecedented success; today their works are to be found in the most illustrious collections and on the walls of modern art museums the world over, and the names of d’Appel, de Kooning, Dubuffet, Fautrier, Fontana, Francis, Hartung, Mathieu, Michaux, Pollock, Riopelle, Shiraga, Wols, and others, bore (at least for a moment) the stamp of Michel Tapié. Who else but Michel Tapié could declare ‘I am informal art’? Charles Estienne and Jean Paulhan tried, but in vain.
The following lines, written in 1938 to his wife Simone, marked as much by enthusiasm as by uncertainties, are those of a young provincial who left the Tarn, the land of his birth, to become a jazz musician in Paris, convinced of his fame to come:
I am so technically competent that I have great confidence, but I feel so incompetent the moment the question of business arises, I don’t have the strength to act alone.[i]
They are not without an echo of the numerous remarks that he will address to the gallery-owning partners he would count on to realise and financially manage his dream: the theoretical and commercial system of ‘art autre’, of which he is the inventor.
To start with, there is nothing of the businessman about Michel Tapié de Céleyran. Born into one of the most ancient families of the Languedoc, the house of Toulouse-Lautrec,[ii] he is the only member of the family who has to work for a living. Bolstered by the hopes of his parents (aristocrats who knew nothing of Parisian life and were themselves poor managers of their illustrious family heritage), Michel Tapié, self-taught musician,[iii] is already aware of his limits when it comes to such questions of money, which are beyond him. But if he certainly does not possess the qualities of financial manager, nonetheless his disinhibition in relation to the necessity to make a career, his outgoing personality inherited from his aristocratic lineage, his thirst for adventure, and finally his eye, made of this dreamer the known and recognised art critic, artistic adviser, and collector whose stratagems are on many occasions well served by his candour.
On 14 August 1948 Jean Dubuffet is not mistaken when he describes the charisma of his neighbour Michel Tapié – whom he met during the winter of 1945 when the latter moved into his studio at 114bis Rue Vaugirard in Montparnasse. Sharing as they did a common passion for art and literature, the two strike up a friendship and Jean Dubuffet is able to savour the infectious enthusiasm of his new friend, as he expresses in a letter to Gaston Chaissac:
He knows how to talk about things, with an infectious enthusiasm, and he sees a lot of people, and he has the gift of inspiring interest and sympathy in everybody.
It is this sociability, a disconcerting facility in forming relationships in the Parisian world of art and society, that seduces Jean Dubuffet. He will write:
As singular patronymics, to those such as Agamemnon and Anacreon must be added M. Magnificat, Parisian grand financier, and M. Carissimo, rich Roubaix wool merchant. It is of course Michel Tapié who knows people with such singular names.[iv]
These unquestionable qualities that Dubuffet sees as being a major asset lead him to advise Tapié to give up music in favour of writing about art. Tapié is willing to listen and is happy to follow his advice – after all, up to then music has scarcely enabled him to make a living. So he accompanies Dubuffet on visits to exhibitions, one of which will play a determining role: his visit in October 1945 to the exhibition entitled ‘Otages’ of the works of Jean Fautrier, with André Malraux writing the preface. Michel Tapié is ‘impassioned’.[v] This exhibition marks a cut-off point in the history of abstraction, which is no longer only geometric. It also constitutes a fundamental event for Michel Tapié, who is from then on convinced that it is he who must defend this new form of painting.
From this time on, Jean Dubuffet has no hesitation in welcoming him into his prestigious intellectual circle revolving around the emblematic figure of Gaston Gallimard: Georges Limbour, his childhood friend and other acquaintances met during the war; Jean Paulhan, former director of La Nouvelle Revue française; Joë Bousquet, collector; Jean Cassou, former assistant curator at the Musée National d’Art Moderne; the novelist André Malraux; the editor Pierre Seghers; Marcel Arland, writer of critical articles at the NRF; Louis Parrot, contributor to the publishing house Les Éditions de Minuit; the poet Francis Ponge; Raymond Queneau, the writer and reader at the publishing house Gallimard; and Charles Ratton, director of a gallery specialising in primitive art, Rue Marignan. Moreover, Jean Dubuffet introduces him to René Drouin, owner and director of the gallery of the same name in the Place Vendôme, for which Tapié will become artistic adviser in 1947. Before this, Jean Dubuffet entrusts him with editing the catalogue for his exhibition ‘Mirobolus Macadam et Cie ’, which opens in June 1946 in this same gallery. This first publication leads him to write a series of articles in Juin, a political, economic, and literary weekly[vi] [Photograph 3]. His career as a writer on art has taken off at last. And, on 15 November 1947, when he opens Le Foyer d’Art Brut in the basement of the René Drouin Gallery, Jean Dubuffet can leave the next day in all tranquillity for Algiers, El-Goléa, and Tamanrasset, where he spends Christmas. He hands over the keys and the reins of the Foyer de l’Art Brut to Michel Tapié, who has proved his efficiency. In fact, he has just introduced him to the medallions of Henri Salingardes. This discovery leads the young ‘temporary’ director of the Foyer de l’Art Brut to further things, so he becomes a talent hunter and in no time has demonstrated the full acuteness of his expert eye. When he discovers the work of the Frenchman Xavier Parguey, the Czechoslovakian Jan Krizek, and the Spaniard Miguel Hernández, Jean Dubuffet congratulates him:
I’m enchanted by the news from l’Institut de l’Art Brut. Congratulations! I can’t wait to get back to Paris to see it all. You seem to have made some very interesting discoveries. I have just today received your two catalogues. Hernández is extremely interesting.
Overawed by his protégé’s discoveries, though not without his jealousy having been aroused, Jean Dubuffet compliments him in a letter that conceals all the acrimony which will ultimately push him to distance himself from the world of Art Brut less than a year later, when the Foyer de l’Art becomes a not-for-profit association (11 October 1948):
I am bowled over by your drive and by your discoveries and I warmly congratulate you.[vii]
It is also his eye and his outgoing personality that lead Michel Tapié to become friends with Georges Mathieu, whom he meets at the Wols exhibition opening at the René Drouin Gallery on 23 May 1947. At the time he is a young man of twenty-six, director of public relations and publicity for the shipping company United States Lines in Paris and painter in his spare time. He is rapidly seduced by Tapié’s illustrious lineage – ‘one of the oldest families of the Languedoc’, he will later write.[viii] Soon the two join forces in order to defend lyrical abstraction and counteract the geometric abstraction, neo-constructivism, and abstraction-création that Mathieu cannot bear. The gestural painter will set in place three ‘combat exhibitions’ – showing artists with whom Tapié will soon start working:[ix] ‘L’Imaginaire’, organised with Camille Bryen (at the Galerie du Luxembourg, directed by Eva Philippe),[x] which brings together fourteen non-geometric abstract artists;[xi] ‘H.W.P.S.M.T.B’ (at the Colette Allendy Gallery),[xii] whose title is made up of the initials of the surnames of the artists;[xiii] and ‘White and Black’, the third combat exhibition (at the Galerie des Deux-Îles,[xiv] directed by Florence Bank).
After these three exhibitions, where Mathieu emerges as the leader of the new abstraction, the painter decides to stop organising combat exhibitions, thus leaving the space free for Michel Tapié, who continues to promote the form of abstraction that the critics have baptised ‘lyrical’ and, at the same time, the paintings of Mathieu, who becomes his trailblazer.
And it is through his activities in defence of Mathieu that he decides to make himself known abroad as an artistic adviser and exhibition organiser. He loses no time in contacting Alexandre Iolas, the director of the Hugo Gallery in New York, who confesses in one of his letters that he will trust Tapié’s judgement:
I’m so excited by the possibility of collaborating with you and exhibiting Mathieu, whom I like very much, and I hope everything comes off […] as I have complete confidence in your taste.[xv]
Here Tapié is using what will become his method: every time he meets an artist, collector, or dealer, he strikes up an epistolary relationship. These letters²² have two objectives: to constitute a network of relations, and to provide information on the exhibitions he will orchestrate. The method is not without bearing fruits, because his name is already doing the rounds of New York before he even gets there. Iolas moreover rises to the bait in conveying to him the degree of confidence that he has in his taste. Michel Tapié thus creates for himself an aura at a distance as well as an address book for which international gallerists will employ him. From this point on, his eye is recognised by his contemporaries and little by little his name becomes a label for those painters bearing the stamp ‘Tapié’.
But this is not his only asset. Michel Tapié also looks to his artists committed to the cause of lyrical abstraction in order to make new discoveries. So it is that when, in January 1951, Georges Mathieu is invited to visit the Milanese collector Frua de Angeli at his villa in Positano, he becomes a precious eye for Tapié, who is not free to go along. In fact, Mathieu takes advantage of this visit to go on a tour of Italy, and thus meets the painter Giuseppe Capogrossi, by whose works he is seduced – and he communicates his enthusiasm to Tapié. Two months later, Capogrossi’s works are included in a manifesto exhibition, ‘Véhémences confrontées,’[xvi] organised by Tapié and shown at the Nina Dausset Gallery, 19 Rue du Dragon. The catalogue will give rise to the term ‘art informel’, coined by Michel Tapié.
Subsequently, in the summer of 1951, he is taken on with a salary by the photographer Paul Facchetti at his studio of the same name, 17 Rue de Lille, Paris, initially in order to look after his art publications. On Mathieu’s advice, the director of the premises puts at Tapié’s disposal a space for his activities as an art dealer. To begin with, he is self-employed in this, but the gallery is rapidly looked after by the Facchetti couple, who turn the studio into a veritable art laboratory. And so, Tapié becomes an employee of the gallery in the role of artistic adviser.
Tapié has every reason to develop stratagems to make Mathieu known and to keep him in tow, as he did to continue his prospections, as he confirms in the following words addressed to his sculptor friend Maria Martins in his comments at the first hanging at the studio on 9 July 1951, where, displayed on the walls, were works by Picabia, Dubuffet, Fautrier, Mathieu, Michaux, Riopelle, Serpan, Ubac, Ossorio, and Maria Martins:
Mathieu is doing well and I must do everything possible to hang on to him and then give him a little contract. I foresee a very great future for him; Malraux holds him in high regard and he is loved by one and all; Serpan is my latest discovery and he has immediately found favour with difficult people like M. Frua de Angeli and M. Catton Rich.[xvii]
Thus, working at the Studio Facchetti not only enables him to develop his constellation of artists by constantly finding new talents whom he brings together around the core group comprising the artists present for the first combat exhibitions, but also to consolidate his innovative vision in the role of artistic adviser to a Parisian gallery. In fact, he very quickly turns towards American artists, to whom he writes numerous letters aimed at making himself known and dazzling them by emphasising the modernity of his approach, the better to attract them. He even goes so far as to write to Jackson Pollock:
I will keep you informed of developments in this activity, which I aim to make very different from the norm of art galleries but based on my experience, which has proved to me that it is necessary to change certain aspects of practices that may have been effective twenty or thirty years ago but which seem completely out of date today.[xviii]
In order to try to forge links with American artists, he takes advantage of an encounter six months earlier, when he was still at the René Drouin Gallery. Michel Tapié had received a visit from Alfonso Ossorio, an American artist of Philippine origin and a collector of works by Jackson Pollock, among others. At that moment he wanted to acquire a Dubuffet painting. Tapié was attracted both by his opinion of the works of Dubuffet and by his talent as an artist. He writes to Dubuffet:
I am also very interested in Ossorio’s work, and I asked him to leave me a few of the works that he showed me for a few days so that I can ponder over them.[xix]
Six months later, the first Parisian exhibition of the works of Alfonso Ossorio opens at the Studio Facchetti: it is a success and influential reviewers write about it. Thomas Hess, the manager of the American monthly The Arts News, visits the exhibition, as does Betty Parsons. This is the opportunity for Tapié to establish a business relationship with the New York gallery owner considered to be the symbol of the new art. And indeed, she has attracted Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman, showing them in a large modern architectural space designed to showcase large-scale works.
At the Studio Facchetti, Tapié’s idea is to adopt the American method without yet having been to the United States. He shows exclusively living artists and mixes young American painters so far little known in France with his European artists. He promotes his exhibitions very widely and conceives them as veritable ‘happenings’. Tapié sees America as a promised land. He quivers in anticipation:
If only I could develop contacts both here and in New York, where so many things are happening!
However, although he waits for more than five years – until December 1956 – before finally going there, this doesn’t prevent him from making contacts, at a distance, via the expert and complicit eye of Jean Dubuffet, starting in October 1951. Accompanied by his wife Lili and Alfonso Ossorio, Dubuffet is totally overwhelmed by New York and Chicago and, filled with optimism for the roles of art critic and artistic adviser, sends Tapié gallery owners, artists, and collectors. Glasco, Pollock, and de Kooning are revelations, whose work he sends photos of to Michel Tapié, who in turn wastes no time in including them in his constellation by showing them in his exhibitions.
It is in the Studio Facchetti that Michel Tapié, with the help of Ossorio, organises Jackson Pollock’s[xx] first Paris exhibition, which will have considerable impact and which Michel Tapié will constantly talk about.
It is at the Studio Facchetti that his manifesto-work, Un art autre où il s’agit de Nouveaux dévidages du réel, will be unveiled. Its aim is to ‘theorise’ the aesthetic that is common to the works that he brings together under the banner of ‘art informel’. The book Un art autre proposes a new response to the debates between the partisans of abstraction and those of figuration, and offers a means of going beyond national frontiers because it defends forty-two international artists. The ideology it develops will form the basis of the commercial system that Michel Tapié is beginning to put in place. It is intuitive and personal and does not establish any real criterion that might lead to a clear definition of ‘art informel’. Killing two birds with one stone, this publication establishes both the myth of his invention of ‘art informel’ and that of his persona. In fact, by making of his intuition an indicator according to which he can – or not – attribute this label to a work that he ‘receives’, ‘art informel’ becomes intrinsically linked to the personality of Michel Tapié. This leads to a shutting-off of the label ‘art informel’ which, implicitly, can only be delivered by Michel Tapié.
Having completed the manuscript in August 1952, on his second visit to the twenty-sixth Venice Biennale, Michel Tapié publishes his book at the beginning of December 1952. It is presented at an exhibition of the same name organised at the Studio Facchetti,[xxi] which the cream of Parisian society and personalities of the international art world such as Sidney Janis and Darthea Speyer rush to see.
The ‘art autre’ system is on the move.
Following upon his activities at the Studio Facchetti, Michel Tapié works as artistic adviser to several galleries, in France and abroad. Two galleries open successively in Paris: the Rive Droite Gallery and the Stadler Gallery.
Like Paul Facchetti, the directors of these galleries, Jean Larcade and Rodolphe Stadler, start off as art dealers. They ask Tapié to guide the artistic choices of their galleries and to create communication links between the artist, the dealer, and the collectors. Given that Michel Tapié was always short of money and an amateur as a manager, it is understandable that he sought the support of dealers who financed the career he had always dreamt of. In 1954, shortly after he was taken on for fifteen years by Rodolphe Stadler, and while still working for the Rive Droite Gallery, Michel Tapié, now aged forty-five, has already approached the Zoe Dusanne Gallery (Seattle), with whom he sketches out a few plans; has shared a project with the Evrard Gallery (Lille); has allied himself with the Spazio Gallery (Milan) directed by Luigi Moretti (architect); and has, for a short time, been advising the Martha Jackson Gallery (New York). With the latter, he embarks on a ‘grand-style secret manoeuver whereby by paying more money she would get more contracts for her gallery’.[xxii]
His aim being to build a stock of the best works by the best artists, Michel Tapié orchestrates a real dealer system. He takes the lead of a veritable coalition of galleries who join forces (their finances) to multiply his chances of offering the biggest contracts to those artists of primary importance whom he can convince thanks to the international dimension of this coalition. By advising these different galleries simultaneously, Michel Tapié creates a synergy that enables him to put on travelling exhibitions. An artist of the ‘art autre’ constellation can now be sure of being exhibited in France, the United States, and Italy. Aware of having at last found his invention, he writes in a letter to Luigi Moretti:
My plan is more certain than ever. I have all the right cards in my hand […] and I can bring to fruition in the coming years a ‘business’ to rival that conducted in the twenties and thirties by the great dealers like the Rosenbergs and Paul Guillaume.[xxiii]
So Sam Francis got it right when he said to Yves Michaud on the subject of Michel Tapié, ‘He’s a very active guy, the entrepreneur type.’[xxiv] He is as much an entrepreneur as an adventurer when he roams the world in search of new artists to add to his constellation. In Italy, he sets out to meet the artists Burri, Capogrossi, Dova, Fontana, and Moreni, and gets to know the gallery owners Enzo Cortina (Cortina Gallery), Carlo Cardazzo (Galleria Del Naviglio), Beatrice Monti (Galleria dell’Ariete), and Luciano Pistoi (Notizie Gallery), with whom he will work closely. In March 1960 he will make Turin the capital of ‘art autre’ by creating – with the support of the artists Franco Assetto; Franco Garelli; Ada Minola, jewellery designer; and Ezio Gribaudo, artist and art publisher (Éditions Pozzo) – the International Centre of Aesthetic Research (ICAR) [Photograph 21]. He will put in place a programme of exhibitions for his constellation of international artists. The exhibition catalogues, published by Pozzo, will spread the thinking of ‘art autre’ in Italy.
Thus it is that Michel Tapié knows how to mobilise and create all the resources he has at his disposal (art dealers, channels of communication, art publishers, artists, collectors, and galleries) in order to realise his personal vision of art and the structures he is creating out of it throughout the Western world.
Michel Tapié makes innumerable trips to these countries which, at that very moment, are in the process of opening up to the outside world. He explains his taste for travel thus:
The facility of access to information thanks to modern solutions to problems of communication led me to take art on its own scale, which has become that of our planet, and, as an art lover, I moved into travel, first in Europe starting in 1947, and then all over the world starting at the end of 1956, visiting artists and organising exhibitions (in particular between Europe, the US and Japan), which has enabled me to take stock of art as adventure.[xxv]
In 1957, at the invitation of Antoni Tapiès and Antonio Saura, Tapié goes to Spain, to Madrid and Barcelona, where he exhibits his artists alongside Spanish artists, who from now on bear the stamp ‘art informel’.
A year earlier, when the Japanese artist Hisao Domoto mentions Gutai to Michel Tapié, the latter is interested and quickly starts up a written correspondence with Yoshihara Jiro, the leader of the Gutai group. So they organise an exhibition entitled ‘Contemporary World Art Exhibition’, which opens in November 1956 in the Takashimaya department store in Tokyo. From a distance, Michel Tapié lends a few works from his personal collection to the exhibition, which displays original artists from the ‘art autre’ constellation. This exhibition marks the arrival of ‘art informel’ in Japan and is the beginning of Michel Tapié’s fame in the country. In the exhibition catalogue, he is described as being the ‘pioneer of the movement’, and the press talks about the ‘informel cyclone’. A month later, in December 1956, the Gutai manifesto is published in the art magazine Gueijutsu Shincho, and Michel Tapié takes a number of artists from the group into his constellation. Subsequently, he goes back to Japan innumerable times and meets Atsuko Tanaka, Kazuo Shiraga, and the other members of the group. He organises numerous momentous festivals mixing international ‘informel’ artists and Gutai.
In 1970, known as he was as a promoter of ‘art autre’, he goes to Iran guided by the young artist Hossein Zenderoudi and is received by Farah Diba. For a while he is artistic adviser to the empress, while at the same time he becomes artistic adviser to the Cyrus Gallery, situated in the Maison de l’Iran (65 Champs-Élysées, Paris). The gallery shows Iranian artists that Michel Tapié associates with ‘art autre’.
As of now, the ‘art autre’ system is international. It extends across the world, and these artists whom Tapié takes into his constellation as he discovers them nurture it.
Adventurer-traveller, man of wit and invention, he knows very well how to play a double game with the artists or the art dealers with whom he works. Inclined as he is to dream up unrealistic projects – is he feigning or is he sincere? – he does not hesitate to share his dreams with artists, dealers, and collectors, sometimes sceptical, often won over. Sometimes he boldly promises international gallery owners to organise exhibitions of coveted artists and often gets the agreement of dealers seduced by the importance of improvised projects. This form of agreement, by a ricochet effect, also enables him to obtain the consent of artists who, in some cases, have never even heard of Tapié. It is thanks to this swashbuckling that important international artists, seduced by Tapié’s sometimes chimeric relations, rally round the constellation of ‘art autre’, enabling the dream to become reality. Sometimes Tapié suggests creating and financing the catalogues for exhibitions that he has proposed and then ends up sending the bill to the gallery owner who, despite having been duped, is nonetheless delighted to have been given, keys in hand, an exhibition bearing the ‘Tapié’ stamp. Sometimes he even goes as far as manoeuvring to take over the work of an artist to the detriment of even influential gallery owners. At one point Tapié made an agreement with Dubuffet to thwart the activity of his New York dealer, Pierre Matisse; he also got together with Frua de Angeli and gave him to understand that if he broke with Matisse, he would undertake to take all his work, thus squeezing out the dealer with whom Tapié nonetheless tried, but in vain, to maintain good business relations. Tapié the strategist even envisaged dealing in parallel with other galleries in order to ensure, in the event of war with Pierre Matisse, the successful distribution of Dubuffet’s work. So, to attract the sympathy of coveted artists, he went as far as to accept the plan – inventive to say the least – proposed by the New York gallery owner Martha Jackson. ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ … she proposes getting Jackson Pollock to sign a contract with Tapié. In order to do this, she suggests that the latter write to Pollock (who is on the point of leaving his dealer Sidney Janis) to invite him to the opening of the Rive Droite Gallery. Pollock is dreaming of a trip to Europe without his wife and he likes beautiful cars, so it’s the perfect opportunity to lure the artist into their net! In order to persuade him to travel to Paris, Mathieu has to offer to drive the artist to Venice and Rome in his Rolls-Royce. The plan falls through.
To conclude, Michel Tapié has moved, in a very short time, from being a young provincial, a bohemian musician, and an artist out of pique, to being a redoubtable and obstinate tactician, opportunistic artistic adviser to the biggest collectors and to dozens of international galleries.
Sporting in society his cigar or his pipe as well as his monocle, giving him the air of a grand seigneur, and narrating his innumerable travels all over world to anyone willing to listen, Michel Tapié forces artists starting out in their careers and collectors and art dealers starting in the trade to concede a certain admiration. It is this aura that leads them to grant to his ‘eye’ a determining power in their career. Claude Bellegarde declared: ‘You know Tapié was a bit of a dandy, but a dandy from another century!’[xxvi]
It was no doubt this same admiration that led Paul Jenkins one day in Saint-Germain-des-Prés to come out with these inspired words to the sculptress Claire Falkenstein:
Michel Tapié is very busy in Paris and seems more active than ever. What a beautiful presence this man possesses. I was in Saint-Germain drinking a beer at the Flore; I look across the street and see Tapié at a bus stop. It was the first time I’d seen him from a distance. All I can say is what a presence his presence is. The bus could easily have been a chariot of gladiators with six white horses on the point of taking off for the sun.[xxvii]
Paul Jenkins will go so far as to write a book entitled Observations of Michel Tapié,[xxviii] bearing witness to his admiration for the art critic and artistic adviser. He will solicit the participation of his artist friends in the ‘art autre’ constellation: John Hultberg, Henri Michaux, Claire Falkenstein, Georges Mathieu, César, and Mark Tobey, who will paint Tapié’s portrait. Finally, over and above this work, a number of artists will paint or photograph the features of their mentor: Appel, Battaglia, Dubuffet, Facchetti, Falkenstein, Calder, Brown, Garelli, Gribaudo, Tapiès, Minola, Motonaga, Newman, and Lemaître.
One of the many portraits that Dubuffet painted of Tapié, Michel Tapié soleil, which is now in the Centre Pompidou, is a reminder of the extent to which this art critic, artistic adviser, and collector managed to turn his ‘master stroke’ into a durable system that spread its influence for a long moment on a world transformed by it into an international artistic scene, opening the way for other promoters of the art we know today.
PhD in the History of Art
[i] Letter from Michel Tapié to Simone Tapié, Paris, 1938 (Tapié archives, Kandinsky Library, Paris).
[ii] The Toulouse-Lautrecs; Vicomtes de Lautrec et de Montfa, his surname; that is to say, the association of two noble houses, Toulouse and Lautrec, which has existed since 1196.
[iii] He plays five instruments: piano, vibraphone, clarinet, saxophone, and double bass.
[iv] Letter from Jean Dubuffet to Jean Paulhan, 9 June 1946, reproduced in Julien Dieudonné and Marianne Jakobi (eds), Dubuffet–Paulhan, correspondance 1944–1968, Les Cahiers de la NRF, Paris, Gallimard, 2003, pp. 302–303.
[v] Letter from Jean Dubuffet to Jean Paulhan, 27 October 1945, reproduced in Dieudonné and Jakobi, Dubuffet–Paulhan, correspondance 1944–1968 p. 244.
[vi] This weekly, the organ of the Union Nationale des Combattants des Maquis de France, was published between 19 February 1946 (date of the first issue) and 7 January 1947 (date of the forty-seventh issue).
[vii] Letter from Jean Dubuffet to Michel Tapié, 15 March 1948 (Tapié archives, Kandinsky Library, Paris).
[viii] Georges Mathieu, Au delà du Tachisme, Paris, Julliard, 1963, pp. 56–57.
[ix] Respectively for each exhibition: Brauner, Ubac, and Atlan; Wols, Hartung, Stahly, Picabia, and Fautrier; and Bryen, whom Michel Tapié will include in Un art autre (1952).
[x] From 16 December to 5 January 1947, 15 Rue Gay-Lussac, Paris, Ve.
[xi] Arp, Atlan, Brauner, Hartung, Leduc, Mathieu, Picasso, Riopelle, Solier, Ubac, Verroust, Vulliamy, and Wols.
[xii] Colette Allendy Gallery, 67 Rue de l’Assomption, Paris, XVIe.
[xiii] Hartung, Wols, Picabia, Stahly, Mathieu, Tapié, and Bryen.
[xiv] The Galerie des Deux-Îles is situated at 1 Quai aux Fleurs, in the fourth arrondissement of Paris. The exhibition opens on Monday 19 July 1948. Michel Tapié exhibits alongside Arp’s drawings, prints, and lithographs, as well as Bryen, Fautrier, Germain, Hartung, Mathieu, Picabia, Ubac and Wols.
[xv] Unpublished letter from Alexandre Iolas to Michel Tapié, 5 October 1950 (Tapié archives, Kandinsky Library Paris).
[xvi] It will be on show from 8 March 1951 until 31 March 1951.
[xvii] Unpublished letter from Michel Tapié to Maria Martins, 26 July 1951 (Tapié archives, Kandinsky Library, Paris).
[xviii] Unpublished letter from Michel Tapié to Jackson Pollock, 17 July 1951 (Tapié archives, Kandinsky Library, Paris).
[xix] Unpublished letter from Michel Tapié to Jean Dubuffet, 11 January 1951 (Tapié archives, Kandinsky Library, Paris).
[xx] This exhibition opens at the Studio Facchetti on 7 March 1952.
[xxi] It opens on 17 December 1952. It is the gallery’s fourth group exhibition after ‘Signifiants de l’informel I’, ‘Signifiant de l’informel II’, and ‘Peintures non abstraites’. Michel Tapié shows the works of Appel, Arnal, Bryen, Dubufet, Étienne-Martin, Falkenstein, Francis, Francken, Gillet, Galsco, Guiette, Kopac, Mathieu, Ossorio, Pollock, Riopelle, Ronnet, Serpan, and Wols.
[xxii] Unpublished letter from Michel Tapié to Jean Larcade, 13 August 1954 (Tapié archives, Kandinsky Library, Paris).
[xxiii] Unpublished letter from Michel Tapié to Luigi Moretti, 8 June 1954, (Tapié archives, Kandinsky Library, Paris).
[xxiv] Yves Michaux, ‘Sam Francis, Paris, années cinquante’, Art Press no. 137, July–August 1988, p. 21.
[xxv] Michel Tapié, Esthétique, Turin, International Center of Aesthetic Research, 1969.
[xxvi] Author interview with Claude Bellegarde, Neuilly, 13 October 2010.
[xxvii] Unpublished letter from Paul Jenkins to Claire Falkenstein, n.d., (Box 7, File 61, Falkenstein Papers, 1914–1997, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington).
[xxviii] Paul Jenkins, Observations of Michel Tapié, Wittenborn, New York, 1956.
In my view, the contemporary art market was invented by two principal protagonists, between whom the exceptional gallery owner René Drouin was the subliminal link. In reality, the direct relations between Leo Castelli and Michel Tapié – the two people in question – were but few and far between.
Castelli, who was briefly an associate of Drouin’s, contributed considerably to the hegemonic expansion of the United States, where he arrived as a refugee at the beginning of the Second World War.
Having been for a time Drouin’s artistic adviser, Tapié, for his part, laid the groundwork for a commercial system which prevailed as long as it remained at the service of the artists – that is to say, up until a recent date at which, by a sort of premature inversion of the norms, certain artists decided to put themselves at the service of the system.
Tapié’s publication Un art autre, written in advance of the 1952 exhibition of the same name at the Studio Facchetti, will for all time be the manifesto of this system.
Over and above the notion of ‘informel’ that he theorises, and which should no doubt be defined (even questioned, if we were art historians – which at the gallery we are not!), Tapié has at his disposal – first with Drouin, then Facchetti (Studio Facchetti), Larcade (Rive Droite Gallery), and Stadler (Stadler Gallery) – a set of rules that we would today call ‘marketing’. By these rules, art was destined for the international stage, where the curator was supposed to guide tastes and forge links between artists, dealers, collectors, and institutions, and where publicity and public relations (underpinned by the publication of catalogues-cum-art books) and exhibition design, as well as the propagation of press articles, would also be the tools used for the essentialisation of criticism as the cornerstone of the objectification of a creativity revealed and of necessity destined for posterity.
Objectification? I might as well confess that it was neither Tapié’s critical apparatus nor his literary style that led me to foresee the tenor of this exhibition.
Posterity? Of the more than 180 artists said to populate ‘Tapié’s stable’, and whom Juliette Evezard identified for her thesis, many have been lost to memory. More or less than usual? I can’t tell.
As for Tapié’s capacity for having identified and sometimes made famous a few of the most important visual artists of the twentieth century, it seems to me that he had very few alter egos.
It is to this Tapié, to this ‘Great Eye’ if ever there was one, that through this (hopefully rigorous) selection of works by artists dear to us – a painter per painting – we desired to pay homage in an exhibition to be held at Fiac from 18 to 21 October 2018, then at our Rive gauche gallery from 27 October to 22 December 2018.
A catalogue will be co-published with Skira. Three very detailed essays written by Juliette Evezard, Ph.D. in the History of Art, Baptiste Brun, Ph.D. in the History of Art, and Edouard Lombard, Director of the Comité Georges Mathieu will be included in this book. My three forthcoming posts will propose a preview of these texts…
Le grand Œil de Michel Tapié, 80 pages, 29 €, Co-publishing Applicat-Prazan / Editions Skira Paris, Design Communic’Art, Distribution Editions Skira Paris
© Applicat-Prazan, © Éditions Skira Paris, 2018
ISBN 978-2-37074-086-1, Registered May 2018, Printed in Belgium by Geers Offset, Photos © Art Digital Studio, Photo cover © Arnold Newman/Getty Images
 Juliette Evezard, ‘Un art autre: Le rêve de Michel Tapié de Céleyran, il profeta de l’art informel (1937–1987): Une nouvelle forme du système marchand – critique’, thesis defended 16 January 2015, supervised by Th. Dufrêne, Université Paris-Ouest-Nanterre-La Défense, forthcoming.
I was in Maastricht when I learnt that Monsieur de Givenchy had passed away.
At the age of 51, I have acquired the conviction that a professional life is a construction that we build through the people we meet, some more significant than others, some decisive.
It was Hugues Joffre – the then Chief Executive of Christie’s France who recruited me to become Managing Director – who proposed the position of Chairman of the Board to Hubert.
It is thanks to Hugues – and to Christie’s – that I met him.
In the context of one of my principle missions of the moment, which was to build the operational framework of the Parisian office of the company, particularly in the domains of human resources as well as the development of the premises at avenue Matignon, the presence of Hubert often proved to be a genuine resource for me.
He later accepted a seat on the Board of Lasartis, the advisory company that Hugues and I set up after we had moved on from Christie’s.
On his own initiative, Hubert organized a reception for us in his Parisian home to which he invited close friends to help launch us.
I started out in the Haute Couture industry. For everybody there, just as there was Monsieur Dior, or Monsieur Saint-Laurent, there was Monsieur de Givenchy.
Amongst the people I met who happened to be decisive in my professional life, there was Monsieur de Givenchy.
The decision whether or not to add an Artist’s name to our sales programme is always long in the ripening. Although we operate in the secondary market, our choice of works is never dictated simply by opportunity.
We are of course art dealers, but we have always endeavoured to conduct our business in a way that would meet with gallery-owners’ approval. We do not work in the same way as they do, since we mainly show works by Artists who are no longer alive, but like gallery-owners, we operate strict standards and persevere in the course we have set ourselves, working within our particular area of expertise, never departing from our convictions – in most cases, regardless of the vagaries of market conditions.
This involves self-sacrifice, sometimes luck and always satisfaction.
Believe me, it can create complications! But it underpins our whole way of working and, I like to think, is what makes it relevant and meaningful.
Like primary-market operators, we publicise our programme of art works chiefly through solo exhibitions or, less frequently, theme-based exhibitions, by publishing catalogues and by disseminating information well beyond the circle of our clients, making use of the modern means of communication offered by new media.
The difference is that we cannot count on new works becoming available all the time, since the oeuvres we showcase are no longer being added to and are therefore intrinsically finite. However, attending seven art fairs a year spurs us to overcome this gigantic obstacle by presenting art works – again, I like to think – as excitingly as if the Artists were alive.
Ultimately, this will probably be impossible: “Vulnerant omnes, ultima necat.”
In this context, from time to time I have opted to show paintings by Martin Barré – sparingly, but of my own accord, because it is my profound belief that the market is now ready to do justice to a body of work that has long been celebrated by the most attentive and discerning critics, Art historians, Artists themselves and keen collectors.
As I see it, Martin Barré’s chief quality is that he both continues and refounds Abstraction in the purest sense – an Abstraction that springs from and is measured by the yardstick of the great avant-gardes from Cézanne to Malevich and Mondrian, and is comprehensive, exacting, radical and uncompromising.
In my view, calling Barré “an abstract landscapist” is no truer (and no less true) than accusing him of “betraying the Jeune École de Paris”. Describing his work as “neo-Baroque” is no truer (and no less true) than labelling it “process art” or “conceptualism”. Talking about “craftsmanship” is no more (and no less!) relevant than saying that he “rejects the lingering vestiges of Suprematism”. I also think that, contrary to appearances, his work does not radically shift direction. Quite the reverse. Its successive phases form a path that amounts to much more than merely formal development, however rigorously thought-out that form might be. In this sense, I am convinced that Barré is first and foremost a Painter, meaning an Artist who uses matter, colour, tools and canvas or paper to express something that cannot be expressed in any other way.
I have never been interested in and have rarely been convinced by what Painters say about their work or what has been written about it. What interests me is what they do and what I perceive of that. Indeed, I subscribe to the view that a work no longer belongs to its creator once the creator has fulfilled their purpose in expressing it.
Barré is often described as the forerunner of minimalism, but for me it would be far more appropriate to describe him as ultimately and primarily the begetter of an Art in which “less is enough”, since, in the silent space of the canvas and beyond, in the space around it, he encompasses everything.
It is a tricky business hanging Barré’s paintings among other art works, especially at an art fair, so uncomfortably does the reductionism that was his credo sit with the prevailing hubbub, in which the silence it refers to can no longer make itself heard.
But that is just too bad. We will put up with it!
For the first time in very many years, the gallery will be showing a painting by Martin Barré – at TEFAF Maastricht.
Perhaps it will presently be followed by others…!
Translation Victoria Selwyn