Martin Barré – The Art of lessness

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