Program Oct – Dec 2021
César Confidential: Intimate works by César
On the occasion of the centennial of César’s birth in 1921, Demisch Danant highlights a more private aspect of the artist’s work, less widely known than his sculptural work that has become so emblematic of French contemporary art of the 20th century.
Drawings, collages, sculptural models, bricolages, tear-offs, all are clues of a creative process based on constant experimentation, where an encounter with a medium provokes a creative spark. A counterpoint to the monumental sculptures realized with the help of assistants, the works presented in this exhibition are more playful and spontaneous pieces that reveal a more intimate side of César, the man, the creator.
Starting in the 1970s, César (1921–1998) spent every summer in the south of France, in the village of Roquefort-les-Pins above Nice. He didn’t set up a real studio there, as he did in Paris, but continued working in a way that was much freer, less technically restricted. There, he frequented artists of the Nice School, like photographer Jean Ferrero, a friend and collector of his work, and other artists involved with the New Realists. Ferrero provided a studio space, where César freely experimented with works on paper and produced a large number of small-format works inspired by his usual themes of expansions and compressions. There, he gave free rein to his imagination and satisfied his immense desire to produce. He drew, cut out, glued, burned, smashed, and mixed; he had fun experimenting.
César always drew as a sculptor, working the flat surface of the paper like a medium to be sculpted. The Arrachages series that he made in the years 1959–1962 is technically innovative and artistically inventive. Having covered a sheet of paper in India ink, he would stick on adhesive strips that he would then arracher (tear off), and these arrachages (tear-offs) produced truly remarkable graphic effects. These abstract ink washes were based on the series of sculptures called Les Plaques, which, conversely, were made through a process of addition by soldering strips of metal on top of one another.
Cut-out photos were also a means of physically manipulating a picture in two dimensions, recomposing it to create another perspective of the subject, while remaining identifiable, became transformed by the cut-out and collage.
The Allumettes calcinées (‘burnt matches’) made in the 1970s is another series of work in which César experimented with a specific action to manipulate a material in a novel and original way. He took up the experiments of his New Realist friends Yves Klein and Arman, who both used combustion to obtain extraordinary artistic results. César would set fire to one or several boxes of matches and imprinted the black smoke onto cardboard pieces to show their wild and accidental shapes.
His creativity was evident in the experimental ways he tested the limits and potential of materials. He invented techniques while creating works, and vice versa. He was always searching for new techniques, and found them in the intimate process of making.
Here resides a large part of César’s genius, which we invite you to discover in a selection of over 20 works from the early 1960s to the 1980s.