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Documents of Action. Works from the Denney and Cordier Collections (1947–65)

This exhibition presents around sixty works from Les Abattoirs, Toulouse. Most of them are from the legacy of the Anthony Denney Collection and are complemented with drawings from the Daniel Cordier Collection. Both these collections are examples of the emergence of art informel in the late 1940s and its rapid commercialisation and assimilation to international modernism.

Artists: Karel Appel, Jacques (James) Brown, Alberto Burri, Christo Coetzee, Jean Dubuffet, Claire Falkenstein, Lucio Fontana, Sam Francis, Hans Hartung, Akira Kanayama, Masatoshi Masanobu, Georges Mathieu, Matta (Matta Echaurren Roberto Antonio Sebastián), Henri Michaux, JeanPaul Riopelle, Shozo Shimamoto, Kazuo Shiraga, Yasuo Sumi, Atsuko Tanaka, Antoni Tàpies, Sofu Teshigahara, Chiyu Uemae and Toshio Yoshida.

The articulation of a theoretical yet also commercial system by the French art critic Michel Tapié helped to popularise abstraction and matter painting, in line with the explosion of Abstract Expressionism in the United States and the investigations of the Gutai group in Japan.

Aptly named art autre by the French art critic Michel Tapié, the movement rapidly acquired international status in the 1950s. Although inspired by artists like Fautrier, its foremost representative was Dubuffet. Soon the label became the inspiration for art informel and other forms of abstraction. Artists such as Fontana and Burri in Italy, and Falkenstein, Brown and Coetzee in Great Britain, adopted ‘outsider’ art as a way of representing the crisis of humanism in post-war Europe. Tapié organised the first exhibition of Jackson Pollock in Paris in 1952 and introduced Gutai, a group of Japanese artists with which he had been familiar since 1957, to European audiences. This helped him to articulate a theoretical yet commercial system that was supported by galleries such as the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York, where Tàpies had been exhibiting since the early fifties, and Galerie Stadler, which represented him in Paris.

This exhibition proposes a re-reading of artistic objects as signs of a past action unknown to the viewer. All the viewer can see is hard matter preserving the traces of a private event, often taking place in the artist’s studio, with the exception of George Mathieu’s large canvasses, which were painted before audiences, or the actions of the Gutai group, which were performed on stage. The possibility of reading painting as a chronicle of events and not just as an image or a vision transformed the artwork into something resembling a document of past actions. Images of Fontana slashing a canvas or members of Gutai tearing up a stretcher acquired the status of the Zeitgeist. They were the icons of an era.

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