This week we are looking back at ‘Abstract or Not’, hosted at the gallery during spring and summer 2019. The show included works by Georges Braque, Nicolas De Staël, Jean Dubuffet, Jean Fautrier, Raymond Hains, Alain Jacquet, André Masson, Joan Mitchell, Judit Reigl, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva.
The exhibition explored different interpretations of abstraction, through a selection of artworks produced from 1943 onwards. The selection of works will show how the concept of abstraction can be open to interpretation, and also the role that figuration has played in influencing or informing the artists' work. Before the Second World War, abstract art was represented by artists such as Kandinsky, Mondrian and Malevich, portraying a non-objective style with no formal subject. This changed radically in the second half of the century, with gestural application and the experimental use of colours and mixed media at the basis of creation. The act of painting itself became an essential part of the artwork, emphasising physicality, materiality and texture. In the selection of works at Olivier Malingue, the link to reality is ambiguously present, leading the viewer to understand how subtle and illusive the line between figuration and abstraction can be.
The artists on view share between them many of the concerns addressed by their practices. Abstraction allowed them to master the components of reality without excluding the associations and feelings they produced as individuals. The landscape and the human figure, the architecture and geometry, shaping both indoor and outdoor spaces, were now placed between figurative and abstract with renovated urgency. As a result, the pictorial translation of this phenomenon was different from what "Abstract" looked and meant before World War II.
In their paintings on display, Braque and De Staël respect the order of the lines structuring an outdoor scenario while representing it, while Fautrier, Dubuffet and Masson represent nature in its details, employing the lenses of existential concerns and experimentations.
Mitchell and Riopelle found themselves engaging with abstraction first as individuals - and later on as a couple - to then return to a solitary inquiry. While for Jacquet "abstract" becomes a synonym of a suggestive illusion, Hains and Vieira da Silva eradicate abstraction from its naturalistic components, to re-contextualise it, and develop new conversations and forms of exchange with urban landscapes and environments.
The works showcased in this exhibition have been attentively selected to provide an overview on the different forms "Abstraction" can assume. Each account of Abstraction encountered in this exhibition can be endlessly questioned, and yet still it won't be possible to determine on which level each of them includes or excludes figuration.