The first part of the exhibition will focus on Photorealism as it emerged in the United States from 1965.
© Richard ESTES / Bus avec reflet du Flatiron Building, 1966-67, huile sur toile, 36 × 48 pouces
It was no longer a question of painting reality, the world (urban or bucolic landscape, bust or full-length portrait, still life, cars or machines) by placing the easel in front of the scene, but, by pinning up a photograph in the studio which was to play the role of model, it was a question of painting a photograph, i.e. a reality invented by a technique which was more than a century old.
It is therefore the aesthetics of photographic art (framing, contrast, blurring, overexposure, defects in printing and development) that becomes the resource of this brand new pictorial expression.
A photograph stops an image that our eye usually only perceives unconsciously. The photorealist painter will therefore carry out photographic campaigns in the street, everywhere, to find the image that interests him pictorially. He will take up the challenge of reproducing the photo (or several photos, it doesn't matter) with maximum precision and fidelity.
In 1969 Ivan C. Karp opened his O.K. Harris art gallery in New York, then Louis K. Meisel opened his own in 1973, a period of growing success for photorealism, which seemed to offer a particularly attractive, inventive and innovative alternative to Pop Art, and for which these two gallery owners were the true promoters of this new avant-garde.
The term « Photorealism », coined by Louis K. Meisel, gradually took hold after other expressions found in the titles of group exhibitions such as « Realism now » (New York, 1968), « Radical realism » (Chicago, 1971), or « Sharp-focus realism » (New York, 1972), which clearly refers to the « focusing » of a camera lens.
Another term appeared immediately in Europe: « Hyperrealism », coined by Isy Brachot in Brussels, where the pictorial technique of absolute precision seemed to be privileged over the use of a photograph. We can thus observe that the use of the word Photorealism, in Germany (Württemberg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Wuppertal in 1972-1973) or in England (London in 1973), was rivalled by the word Hyperrealism, in Belgium (Brussels in 1973) as well as in France (Paris in 1973 and 1974). The two terms tended to become synonymous in the contemporary art world despite their obvious conceptual differences. It should be noted that similar attempts have been made, such as « Super realism » (Baltimore, 1975).
© Robert BECHTEL / 56 Chrysler, 1965, oil on canvas
It is time to say how important the appearance of Photorealism / Hyperrealism was in those years 65. Here are works of art that invite us to see what, either because it is too banal or because it is very unrewarding, we refuse to see.
At stake is the truth or otherwise of the representation we make of the world we live in.
Here are paintings that brutalise our usual conception of modern art, namely that the artist's gesture, dissolved in its perfect technicality, disappears, as do the autonomy of colour and the harmony of forms, in favour of a neutral and distanced descriptive literality.
During the retrospective, the layout of the exhibition space will first of all propose a group of works by the artists who approached this new pictorial style at the end of the 1960s, a trend without manifesto, without even the will to form a coherent group, but of an artistic renewal that considerably modified our view. Then followed the 13 founders (mentioned by Louis K. Meisel in 1985 in his book « Photorealism » / Editor: Harry N. Abrams) of the first generation of this new artistic movement.
© Ralph GOINGS / Interior, 1972, Oil on canvas, 36 x 52 in. (91.4 x 132 cm.)
In this first section we will be exhibiting works by American artists from artists' studios, museums, galleries and private collections.
We are thinking in particular of Duane Hanson (1925-1996), Ralph Goings (1928), Audrey Flack (1931), Richard Estes (1932), Robert Bechtle (1932), Richard McLean (1934-2014), Charles Bell (1935-1995), Robert Cottingham (1935), Ron Kleemann (1937), Tom Blackwell (1938-2020), Chuck Close (1940-2021), John De Andrea (1941), Ben Schonzeit (1942), Don Eddy (1944), as well as John Kacere (1920-1999), Jack Mendenhall (1937), John Clem Clarke (1937), John Baeder (1938), David Parrish (1939), Vija Celmins (1939), Paul Staiger (1941), Noël Mahaffey (1944), Gus Heinze (1926), Denis Peterson (1944), as well as the Anglo-American Malcolm Morley (1931), and the Englishman John Salt (1937)
© Franz GERTSCH / Medici, 1971–1972, Dispersion auf ungrundiertem Halbleinen, 400 × 600 cm
Completely outside the American cultural field, three European artists produced works that can be described as photorealistic:
French artist Jean Olivier Hucleux (1923-2012),
the Swiss artist Franz Gertsch (1930-2022),
German artist Gerhard Richter (1932), the latter's approach offering a counterpoint that problematises our relationship to the image and to visual memory in a very different way from the former.
Other artists could have been chosen, such as Joseph Raffael (1933-2021), Reynard Milici (1942), or the Taiwanese artist Hilo Chen (1942), who was often present at the first collective exhibitions.
This first section devoted to Photorealism lays the foundations for what we will more readily call the Hyperrealism of the generations that followed up to the present day, the subject of the second section of our project.