The New School of Paris Through Its Pioneering Women (1945-1964)
Curated by Thomas Schlesser
2024 年 4 月 13 日 - 2024 年 5 月 23 日
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NEW YORK, NY, 10002

Perrotin is pleased to present a historical exhibition on the New School of Paris movement, featuring never-before-seen works from private collections and foundations. Exploring the period from 1945 through 1964, the presentation will bring together for the first time a wealth of archives recounting the stories of female gallerists and critics who contributed to the rise of the post-war movement.

This show features exceptional loans and rare archival material, providing an unprecedented glimpse into the lives of these visionary women in Post-war Paris. A 52-minute documentary was produced specifically for the exhibition and will be screened during the show.

The term “School of Paris” was coined by André Warnod in 1924 to refer to the generation of avant-garde artists who flocked to France – particularly to Montmartre and Montparnasse – from all over the world, although artists from Eastern Europe, such as Chagall and Soutine, predominated. This “school” did not have a homogenous style. It was more of a network of sociability, but visually it was dominated by a raging, expressionist aesthetic which distorted lines and colors, and readily borrowed its visions from non-Western cultures.

In 1952, the critic Charles Estienne used the expression “New School of Paris” at Galerie Babylone, continuing the work of other gallery owners – particularly women – who had promoted the various trends in abstraction after the Second World War. Whether it was indeed a “school” is disputed, since its dynamic, anarchic nature made it more of a laboratory of paradoxes. On the one hand, it was believed to represent a certain French spirit while also assimilating the best international artists. On the other hand, it was both figurative and abstract, oscillating between “hot” and “cold” abstraction.The art that emerged in Paris after 1945 benefited from a flourishing market, but suffered from misunderstandings and numerous scandals. Neither the press nor the bourgeois Parisian audiences of the time unanimously appreciated these new trends and critiqued them, as has often been the case in the history of the Parisian avant-garde since the nineteenth-century quarrels over Romanticism, Realism and Impressionism.

The critic Odile Degand recounts: “The first time Lydia Conti displayed a Schneider alongside a Hartung in her gallery window at rue d’Argenson, the glass was smashed: people thought she was making fun of them.”

Nevertheless, within fifteen years, the new style had established itself, enraging advocates of a more traditional, expressionist, dreamlike, Picasso-esque figurative style, such as Bernard Lorjou. The names of Pierre Soulages, Zao Wou-Ki, and Hans Hartung soon became world-famous, the latter winning the Grand Prix with Fautrier at the Venice Biennale in 1960. Four years later in Venice, however, everything came to a head. During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States utilized its soft power to compete against the Soviet enemy and “old” Europe. This strategy proved successful at the 1964 Biennale, where the pop artist Robert Rauschenberg, backed by art dealer Leo Castelli, emerged victorious. This was a triumph for New York and pop art, from which Paris would never recover.

This exhibition tells three stories that have long been forgotten or overlooked. Firstly, it portrays a moment, rather than a movement: the “New School of Paris” was a cosmopolitan, dynamic group of abstract painters (“lyrical,” “action painting,” “calligraphic,” “gestural,” “warm,” and “cold”) that emerged between 1945 and 1964. Among them, Geneviève Asse, Anna-Eva Bergman, Terry Haass, Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu, Serge Poliakoff, Gérard Schneider, Pierre Soulages, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Wols, and Zao Wou-Ki. Why a moment rather than a movement? Because each person involved took part in this collective adventure and brought their own personality to it. But, and this is also what makes the “New School of Paris” so interesting, they eschewed the idea of forming a coherent and homogeneous whole during this period.

Like a luminous halo with the French capital at its center, the exhibition also explores a group of female gallery owners and critics who were able to see the potential of these artists and promote them, acting as remarkable visionaries. Following in the footsteps of Jeanne Bucher, who died in 1946, these gallerists included Denise René, Lydia Conti, Colette Allendy, Nina Dausset, Florence Bank, Iris Clert, Myriam Prévot, and many others. In the field of criticism, they included Madeleine Rousseau, Odile Degand, Suzanne Tenand, Claude-Hélène Sibert, Dominique Aubier, and Jeanine Warnod. Finally, in the United States, where the New School of Paris was also mainly supported by women, New York’s Betty Parsons, who dared to show Soulages, Hartung, and Schneider as early as 1949, and Peggy Guggenheim, who collected and promoted their work, were included in the canon of female gallerists that helped pioneer this cultural moment.

Lastly, the exhibition also tells the story of the shift in artistic influence from Paris to New York at the famous 1964 Venice Biennale. It shows how this shift led to the marginalization of these artists, as well as the female critics and gallery owners who had worked tirelessly, both intellectually and socially, for their recognition.

Divided into 5 chapters, the exhibition will feature the artists’ work through the vision of pioneering women who championed abstract art of their time.

A dream that seems ambitious, inhuman perhaps

— Marie Raymond
Marie Raymond in her studio, Paris, 1950. Photographer: Willy Maywald.

In the aftermath of the war, Europe was in a state of total disaster on every level. Artist and critic Marie Raymond wrote of “a dream that seems ambitious, inhuman perhaps.” This expression perfectly reflects the ambiguous climate of the time, in which pictorial imagination was underpinned by great hope and inhuman character – both of which belong and are foreign to humanity. Two Germans living in France, both anti-Nazi, perfectly embodied this “dream” formulated by Marie Raymond. On one hand, Wols’ tormented, dreamlike paintings verge on nightmares, which sought to escape the scale of human perception. On the other, Hartung, a friend of Marie Raymond, whose first painting in the exhibition, gnarled and explosive, was produced partly before the war (for the background) and partly afterwards (for the graphics on the surface), the artist having lost a leg in combat in the meantime.

The spirit of a new order

— Madeleine Rousseau
Madeleine Rousseau with two friends, in front of the Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1954.

According to critic Madeleine Rousseau, art entered a new existential phase after the Second World War. She was very close to Hans Hartung, who owed her a great deal in terms of promoting and interpreting his work, especially in regard to Lydia Conti. Rousseau campaigned for an abstraction that combined human expression, history’s political and social torments, and cosmic truths that govern the universe. Rousseau said this was to be the “spirit of a new order” driven by painting. Georges Mathieu and Hans Hartung, with their predominant focus on signs—be it drawn on paper, thrown onto the canvas with a gesture, or scratched into fresh vinyl—were precisely the representatives of what she called “revolutionary art.” For them, abstraction was not just a decorative form but a response to the great questions of civilization, sometimes spontaneous and sometimes more deliberate. It’s also worth noting that both Mathieu and Rousseau (and, to a lesser extent, Hartung) wanted to expose as many people as possible to abstraction. Due to her advocacy of the art form and liberal ideals, Madeleine Rousseau was expelled from the Communist Party in 1949.

Lydia Conti, a brief but decisive career as a gallery owner

Though forgotten by history, a network of women centered around gallerist Lydia Conti emerged just after the Second World War, enabling the New School of Paris to flourish. Almost nothing remains of this little-known and formidably audacious gallery owner, whose career was quite short (1947-1951).

Nevertheless, thanks to the research carried out for the present exhibition, valuable discoveries have been made: we have learned that she was born Lydie Desclozeaux in Toulon in 1902 and died in Grasse in 1982. Above all, for the very first time, we can give her a face as this exhibition has brought to light the only known photograph of her to date, at age 74.

Also displayed is the view of her gallery window at rue d'Argenson in 1948, when she showed a Gérard Schneider and a Hans Hartung painting. The art critic Odile Degand recounts when Conti first displayed works by these artists in her gallery window, the glass was smashed as people thought she was mocking them.

No doubt the conservation of archives is itself gendered. It would have seldomly occurred to female dealers and critics to keep their own records, and the process of self-effacement gathered pace with the crushing of the New School of Paris by New York in the 1960s. We are therefore exceptionally fortunate to have Lydia Conti’s invitations to the 1947 Hartung exhibition, accompanied with a text by Madeleine Rousseau. There are also other texts by Rousseau, taken from her decolonial magazine, Musée vivant, which supported abstraction (which led to her dismissal from the Communist Party). Generally speaking, these female gallerists and artists were completely at odds with the discourse that championed the New York avant-garde on the other side of the Atlantic. Whereas in the United States there was much talk of autonomy, self-referentiality, and pure forms, the New School of Paris’ style of painting was based on gestures and signs that seemed to reflect human expression, history’s great social upheavals, and the intuition of a cosmic consciousness. Lydia Conti, Madeleine Rousseau, and Herta Wescher, a remarkable art critic writing for the magazine Cimaise, defended these artists and ideas because they believed that this style was emblematic of post-war Paris.

Painting that has become song again

— Suzanne Tenand

Suzanne Tenand was an Egyptologist, an art critic, a connoisseur of past cultures, and a visionary. Tenand equivocated the renewal of post-war painting to “song.” The term “lyrical abstraction” has been primarily used to describe the non-figurative experiments that made Myriam Prévot’s Galerie de France so famous in the 1950s and 60s. But Suzanne Tenand’s “song” is perhaps even more appropriate to bring together Zao Wou-Ki, Hans Hartung, Pierre Soulages, and Anna-Eva Bergman, as Prévot did in her gallery. These artists shared a visual language that sought equivalences with the depth of music. This was achieved through vast swathes of color that capture and reflect the light, similar to melodic variations, and through the use of lines and strokes which impart rhythm – a key term in Anna-Eva Bergman’s work, for example. Tenand said: “If we want to live in our turn, we must not exhaust a treasure, but create values for ourselves that are adapted to our contemporary humanity.” At their exhibitions at the Galerie de France, these artists demonstrated their attachment to ancient cultures in the service of an original, modern and daring language. A rallying cry for a new way of seeing.

Myriam Prévot, from glory to tragic misfortune

Myriam Prévot had a brilliant career that was unfortunately marred by a number of setbacks and ended in tragedy. In the 1950s and 1960s, she worked hard to promote Anna-Eva Bergman, who was far less appreciated at the time. She organized exhibitions of Bergman’s work at the Galerie de France, which she co-owned with art dealer Gildo Caputo, in the heart of the prestigious rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Over the course of remarkable exhibitions that she largely orchestrated, she showed the most singular aspects of Bergman’s work, notably an abstraction based on linear rhythm, the use of a metal leaf, and the telluric and cosmic aspect of her subjects. Myriam Prévot was exceptionally energetic and inventive, which led to some iconographic tributes, including magnificent portraits by Hans Hartung (whose diaries are full of appointments with her). She surrounded herself with exceptional artists, but also managed to support critics like Dominique Aubier, who wrote the first monograph on Bergman in a widely-distributed and legendary collection of small books. A defender of Zao Wou-Ki, Pierre Soulages and many other giants of the time, Myriam Prévot always believed that she could reinvent her profession according to the circumstances. But when New York’s disdain for Paris became too pronounced, and the cultural and economic impact proved insurmountable, the consequences were unbearable. She took her own life in 1977. Now forgotten, she was nevertheless one of the most impressive gallerists of her time.

Dominique Aubier and Anna-Eva Bergman, Galerie de France, Paris, 1962. Photographer: Shunk-Kender.

In infinite extensions

— Herta Wescher
Herta Wescher and Alberto Giacometti at the Venice Biennale, 1956. Photographer: Maria Netter, SIK-ISEA. Courtesy Fotostiftung Schweiz.

In an article published in March 1958, the German art critic Herta Wescher spoke of Anna-Eva Bergman’s “infinite extensions.” These extensions are the reveries that occur when the imagination encounters a painting created with extraordinary technical mastery. In addition to Bergman’s use of metal sheets to achieve a mirrored effect, we should mention Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s tracing of mesh that form complex graphic architectures, Terry Haass’ etching of clouds, and Geneviève Asse’s use of matterism. More specifically, Herta Wescher sang the praises of a style of painting “that cannot be grasped by its appearance,” and what these four female artists have in common is their spiritual, sometimes even mystical interests. Herta Wescher had several opportunities to champion the “Paris School” in the 1950s, and even to assert its influence on American painting. Without going that far, we should note that the shamanic, meditative, and ecstatic character commonly attributed to painters such as Mark Rothko, for example, was an essential aesthetic feature of the work of Bergman, Vieira da Silva, Haass, and Asse, independent of what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic.

Acidic sparring, irritating to the eye

— Claude-Helène Sibert

Observing the “New School of Paris,” the critic Claude-Hélène Sibert referred to the paintings of the period as “acidic sparring, irritating to the eye”— in other words, the opposite of decorative, bourgeois comfort. This is exactly what Serge Poliakoff wanted to fight against as soon as he began to gain recognition. He reworked the elaboration of his fragmented forms, quivering brushstrokes, and chromatic ranges in order to escape the trap of what was considered good ornamental taste. As for Gérard Schneider, he was a fan of Gustave Courbet and steeped in classical culture, like many artists of the “New School of Paris.” Instead of denying this heritage, he freely appropriated it, stimulating perception to the point of pushing it to aesthetic extremes that were “irritating to the eye.” Poliakoff and Schneider both immerse viewers through their use of color and texture. But, their respective styles represent the “sparring” that Claude-Hélène Sibert spoke of: Poliakoff stabilizing space through vibrations, Schneider disrupting it with explosive strokes.

1964 : Clement Greenberg’s doubts amidst the change in Venice (collection of the INHA-Archives de la critique d’art)

Surprisingly, in France, the notion of the New School of Paris was vigorously opposed by the local artists who nevertheless benefited from it. Pierre Soulages did not want any association, any more than any other painter of his generation. And famous critic Pierre Restany played both sides throughout, celebrating this stronghold when it worked to his advantage, and not hesitating to heap scorn on it depending on the circumstances. In 1964, there was a major change: Robert Rauschenberg won the Venice Biennale and Paris was discredited, even humiliated, which provoked a huge crisis. Restany, for his part, laughed in his corner and, in a letter to Léo Castelli now on display, expressed his disdain for Denise René and Myriam Prévot. But there was something even more remarkable: Clement Greenberg, who spearheaded campaigns to denigrate Paris throughout the 1950s, suddenly expressed a change of perspective in a letter to Restany. It must be said that Greenberg himself lost out in Venice, since it was American Pop that triumphed rather than Abstract Expressionism. Be that as it may, Greenberg said in this letter that he felt no schadenfreude (sad joy) at Europe’s demotion because he was sure that Paris, having lost its (supposed) arrogance, would very soon come back to the fore.

As the 50th anniversary of the New School of Paris was celebrated in 1996 with a dedicated exhibition at UNESCO, French art critic Pierre Descargues wrote to the exhibition’s curator Henry Galy-Carles to express surprise that the post-war movement would be given exposure, since it was generally despised in France. However, he muses that perhaps one day France will regret having favored art from other countries over the one made in France. He thus implies that it will be worthwhile to reconsider this forgotten, or even occulted, “moment” of the New School of Paris.

Portrait of Lydia Conti, Vallauris, 1978. Photographer unknown.

Lydia Conti

Virtually nothing was known about the brilliant and audacious woman who ran a small gallery on rue d’Argenson, not even the dates of her birth or death. However, through recent research into the New School of Paris, it was discovered that she was born Lydie Desclozeaux in Toulon in 1902. She studied political science and was married to Joseph Pugliesi-Conti, who came from a large military family. While it is not clear how or why she opened her gallery at 1 rue d’Argenson, she organized several legendary exhibitions there, including one in February 1947 on Hans Hartung’s work. The acclaimed show in 1949 was accompanied by a catalog featuring a special text by Madeleine Rousseau, and one on Hartung, Schneider, and Soulages. Her gallery may have been small, but it gave countless young people the opportunity to witness the art of the time, including the future Louvre Museum director Michel Laclotte and artist Jacques Villeglé. After rue d’Argenson closed, she worked at Galerie Carré for a while, bringing in Hartung and Soulages, but soon retired from her work. She died in the South of France in 1982. A single photograph of her at the age of 74 was recently discovered.

Portrait of Collette Allendy. Photographer unknown.

Colette Allendy

Colette Allendy (1895-1960) lived in a house on rue d’Auteuil that also served as a gallery. She had the unusual habit of welcoming visitors to her home in an intimate and informal setting surrounded by books and magazines. Critic Odile Degand described Colette Allendy as “the most charming woman on earth, very out of touch because she lived in Auteuil, far from the center of Paris; she was a delightful hostess.” But despite her cozy bourgeois home on the Right Bank, Colette Allendy promoted painters that were considered to be highly radical, such as the German artist Wols, members of the Cobra group, and, later, Yves Klein. One of her most notorious exhibitions was "HWPSMTB" (short for Hartung, Wols, Picabia, Stahly, Mathieu, Tapié, and Bryen) in April 1948, which featured a mix of “lyrical” and “informal” works.

Portrait of Myriam Prévot, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1969. Photographer: Hans Hartung.

Myriam Prévot

Myriam Prévot’s (1923-1977) story is one of romance, brilliance, and tragedy. Art critic Jeanine Warnod recalled: “Her vitality, energy, and effectiveness were evident in everything she did.” She had a unique personality that was reflected in her signature butterfly glasses and constant smile. She first worked at Galerie Drouin before setting up her own gallery with Gildo Caputo in the early 1950s. Galerie de France was strategically located at a key address on rue Saint-Honoré, near the powerful Galerie Charpentier and the Élysée Palace. It showcased works by Hartung, Soulages, Zao Wou-Ki, Manessier, Music, Alechinsky, and Serge Poliakoff. Myriam Prévot also represented Anna-Eva Bergman from 1958 onwards. Her energy and constant risk-taking led to many successes but also to bitter disappointments. The failure of two Hartung exhibitions in the United States in 1975, one in a gallery and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, severely impacted her, and tragically, she took her own life in 1977.


The Fondation Gandur pour l’Art

The Fondation Gandur pour l’Art was established in 2010 by Jean Claude Gandur to make his internationally significant collections accessible to a wide audience. Based in Geneva and recognized as a public utility, the Foundation strives to preserve, document, enrich, and exhibit its collections in renowned institutions in Switzerland and abroad. In order to contribute to the understanding and preservation of the global cultural heritage, it develops a sponsorship program that supports projects in university research, restoration, or the safeguarding of heritage.

ACA (Archives de la critique d’art)

The ACA is an institution in service of the living memory of contemporary art. Since their founding in 1989, they have collected, preserved and promoted the activities of art critics from the second half of the twentieth century to the present day. In 2014, the ACA became a Research Cluster supported by three main partners: the International Association of Art Critics – AICA, the National Institute of Art History – INHA (Europe’s largest library of art history), and the University Rennes 2. The specificity of the collections – focusing on art criticism and the original connection between cultural heritage and current discourses on art — makes it a unique place and an internationally acclaimed resource.

Fondation Hartung-Bergman

Founded in 1994, the Fondation Hartung-Bergman is the result of the lives and wishes of two very important painters of the 20th century: Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman. Very few institutions in France and abroad have managed to preserve in their spaces for pictorial creations, the creations themselves, and the memory of a daily life in the same location. Since 2022, the Foundation has been open to the public and works in the general interest by making its architectural and artistic heritage known to people from all over the world through local and off-wall exhibitions. In this context, it invites academics, curators, historians and critics in residence to work with its archive collection.

Portrait of Thomas Schlesser. Photographer: Roberto Frankenberg.

Since 2014, Thomas Schlesser has been the Director of the Hartung-Bergman Foundation and is currently a professor at the École Polytechnique. He received his PhD for his intensive work on artist Gustave Courbet at EHESS (L'École des hautes études en sciences sociales / School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) in 2006, which was titled Réceptions de Courbet and then published by Presses du Réel in 2007. He has authored numerous works on the 19th century and several collections of essays, including Art Facing Censorship (Beaux-Arts éditions, 2011, reissue 2019), The Universe Without Men (Hazan, 2016), and Making People Dream: From the Art Enlightenment to the Advertising Nightmare (Gallimard, 2019). Additionally he has worked on various documentaries and exhibitions focused on post-war Paris, including the current exhibition at Perrotin New York. He is also the author of the first biography of Anna-Eva Bergman, Anna-Eva Bergman – Luminous Lives (Eris Press, 2023) and more recently released his second novel, Les Yeux de Mona (Albin Michel, 2024), which has been translated into over 35 languages.

List of artworks