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An Open Mind
By Gloria Carnevali, May 2017
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
The works of the pioneers in twentieth century modernism are seething with artistic concepts, some of which are applied in full while others are merely suggested, hinted at, left to ferment and eventually come to life in other artists’ works.
The great Russians in the first three decades of the last century left open spaces
in their canvases; manipulated size, location and colour to an extreme; mixed traditional
and industrial materials; hinted at series, at hazard as part of creation, at the
haunting ability of lines to recall fixed perceptions and then turn them inside out;
they even created mechanical artworks. There were also the Western and Eastern European
artists, the Dutch group De Stijl, Georges Vantongerloo, Lajos Kassák and Henryk
Berlewi, each one of them pushing the boundaries of perception into unknown territories.
Given two world wars and leaders who had notions on what art should be like, read
Stalin and Hitler, this avant-
In 1939, Denise Bleibtreu, a young woman bored with the work that she and her sister were doing at their apartment in Rue La Boétie, creating fashionable materials for the Paris magazins, took time off to join the accolade around Jacques Prévert in the Café de Flore. There she met a designer who had studied at the Hungarian Bauhaus. His name was Victor Vasarely. All through the war they made plans to open a gallery. When the Denise René Gallery did open in 1944, Vasarely had the first solo exhibition of his life. And so things started.
In retrospect, what can one say was the lifetime achievement of this Parisian gallery owner, so little known in Great Britain? One only has to go through the list of exhibitions on the current Galerie Denise René website to grasp that her entrepreneurship was so swift and successful because she knew the art, she understood the artists and she had a very good sense of what the patrons wanted. Her moves could have been inscribed as golden rules in a manual to aspiring gallery managers of the period, more or less like this:
One: set off with a splash to surprise and call for attention (an unknown and exciting artist´s exhibition, like Vasarely´s).
Two: if you do get and audience (and she did, in a post-
Three: start debates on different artistic trends in the gallery; this will clarify ideas, define ways to continue and attract artists of all sorts (she had intellectual and drinking soirées on Saturdays).
Four: begin selecting the artists whose work satisfies your ideas and organise collective exhibitions as often as you can (in 1946, she presented 33 artists in just one show, most of them household names nowadays).
Five: if sales are hard to come by, change the context, establish relations with galleries abroad (1948, Tokanten Gallery in Copenhagen, for instance) and present your artists there. Then import them back glowing in foreign prestige.
Six: if the exterior relations were deemed successful, keep them up and accept participating
in mixed exhibitions with artists from the host country (Linie 1949, Copenhagen;
Klar Form, 1951-
Seven: bring the concepts out, organise startlingly shrewd thematic exhibitions, like Diagonales in 1952, and the famous Le Mouvement of 1955, invented by Denise René and Vasarely in which Pontus Hulsen and Roger Bordier collaborated, and which has gone down in history as the birth of kinetic art.
Eight: be notoriously the first in doing something, like giving Mondrian his first solo show in Paris, or Albers, for that matter.
Nine: expand your clientele; produce your own editions of prints and multiples for the smaller wallets of young or less affluent collectors (these are still so popular that sell almost like originals).
Ten: be present at the international art fairs, as one of your artists may win the first prize like Julio Le Parc at the Venice Biennale (this was a must for her until well in her nineties).
Eleven: if you have too much demand, open your own galleries in other artistic cities like Dusseldorf and New York.
Twelve: if your empire collapses, retrench and continue (which she did after the 1970s oil crisis).
André Gaston Heurtaux, Composition No 18, 1933-
Although a random collection, the An Open Mind exhibition has nonetheless gathered
works in which some of the main concepts mentioned above are evident. There is the
austere constructivism of André Gaston Heurtaux (1933-
Geneviève Claisse, Quark bleu, 1975, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm
Geneviève Claisse in Cercles Vert/Noir (1969-
Both Carlos Cruz-
Francisco Sobrino, Structure Permutationnelle, Edition 1_3, 1966-
The sculptors Francisco Sobrino, in his Structure Permutationelle (1966-
Denise René died in 2012, eleven months short of the century. She wanted the works of her personal collection to belong to the French museums. The ones in the Maddox Arts Gallery come from the Denise René Gallery where her nephew Denis Kilian, as current manager, continues in the same spirit to champion works of artists capable of enriching our perception with resources of our age and time.
Cambridge, April 2017