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Fernand Léger and Henri Laurens: Tête-à-Tête at the Museum Frieder Burda
Frieder Burda and Jean Louis Prat pose for a photograph during the opening of the exhibition.

BADEN-BADEN.- Two French artists are at the center of the grand summer exhibition at the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden. Under the title “Léger – Laurens. Tête-à-Tête“, a total of about 80 works by these two renowned artists is being presented from 23 June to 4 November, 2012.

The works by Fernand Léger (1881 - 1955) and Henri Laurens (1885 - 1954) are defining for modernism. The artists were dedicated to two different fields: Léger brought out the main points in paintings, and Laurens created sculptures that still serve as role models nowadays. The works by the two contemporaries Léger and Laurens are contrasted for the first time at the Museum Frieder Burda. Similar themes, common interests as well as the friendship between the two artists are worked out in the presentation. This exceptional exhibition provides an opportunity for discovering two iconic figures of classical modernism from a completely new angle.

Fruitful cooperation with the Centre Pompidou
Numerous important loans for this exhibition stem from the Centre Pompidou in Paris that owns a significant collection of works by these two artists. In Baden-Baden, top-class main works will be shown. Since 2008, there has been close cooperation between the Centre Pompidou and the Museum Frieder Burda. The collector Frieder Burda has maintained friendly relations with this significant museum for a long time and is the only German member of the purchasing committee. The Paris Museum receives important loans from the collection Frieder Burda for exhibitions and on the other hand, works from its collection are presented in Baden-Baden.

Alfred Pacquement, the director of the Centre Pompidou, appreciates this cooperation: “Art is a wonderful bridge between the people in France and in Germany“. The collector Frieder Burda also welcomes this cooperation: “International connections will increasingly play an important roll in the field of art in the future. I am delighted by the fact that this long-standing friendship has turned into such fruitful cooperation.”

More than 20 significant works will arrive from the Centre Pompidou in Paris for the Tête-à-Tête between Léger and Laurens in Baden-Baden. Some of them will be exhibited in Germany for the first time. Among them the monumental work by Fernand Léger ”Composition aux deux perroquets – Composition with two Parrots“ (1935–39), created in a completely new style. The impressive, four meters by nearly five meters painting is one of the most significant works of modernism.

The selection is completed by additional works from large European museums and private collections, among them the Art Museum Basel, the mumok Museum of Modern Art Trust Ludwig Wien or the Art Collection Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf. Two sculptures by Henri Laurens from the collection Frieder Burda are also exhibited: “La grande maternité – The grand pregnant woman“ (1932) and ”La mère – The Mother“ (1935).

Fernand Léger: Bright colors that break loose from shapes
Fernand Léger, born in 1881 in Argentan in the Normandy region, is one of the extraordinary modernist artists of the early 20th century.

After having worked as an architectural draftsman for several years, Léger went to Paris around 1900 and took numerous classes at the École des Art Décoratifs. Like his friends Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, in his works he deals with his times and during his cubistic phase he creates pictures with intense colors (blue, white, yellow, green) that he calls ”form contrastings“ . At the same time as Henri Laurens (whom he met in 1910), Marc Chagall, the author Guillaume Apollinaire and others, Léger had a studio in the well known Paris artist neighborhood ”La Ruche“.

Machines play an important roll in his world. Under the influence of war machines, his “période mécanique“ (mechanical period) begins in which the experimental movie ”Le ballet mécanique“ is created. Léger himself nearly dies during World War I. From then on, the human being is included in his subjects in a rather formulistic manner, it is presented as an anonymous object.

After his “période mécanique“ Fernand Léger’s works are dominated by monumentality. The artist paints large format pictures like “Composition aux deux perroquets – Composition with two Parrots“ (1935–39), a masterpiece from this period. During World War II Fernand Léger works in New York where he exerts great influence on American art. He now uses intense and clear colors that soon break free from forms they actually belong to. A new world comes into appearance. The artist designs a dynamic space in which the human being – as an acrobat, cyclist or scuba diver – now moves closer to the focus of the picture.

An impressive oeuvre of a universal nature was created. Apart from paintings, Léger also created monumental sculptures, mosaics and glass windows. At the Biennale in São Paulo in early 1955 he was awarded the painter’s prize. In the same year he died in his just recently arranged studio in Gif-sur-Yvette near Paris.

Some of his works were exhibited at different documenta-exhibitions in Kassel after he had deceased.

Henri Laurens: Dynamic bulky sculptures
Henri Laurens, born in Paris in 1885 a worker’s son, is trained in handicraft in a decoration studio. He there dedicates his time to modeling stylistic ornaments and drawing architectural drafts.

During the day on construction sites he learns how to carve stones, and in the evenings he takes classes in drawing. His early sculptures are strongly influenced by Rodin.

When he first encounters cubism, the idea develops to transfer the analytical cubism in the shape of statues, reliefs and collages into the third dimension. He therefore splits his subject into small geometrical shapes, bodies and space are totally dismantled.

Laurens, too, was very close with Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. Picasso, who likes the sculptor’s results, in 1915 acquaints Laurens with the art dealer Léonce Rosenberg (1879-1947) who purchases some of the artist’s sculptures and supports him during World War I.

Shortly after the War a series of reliefs made of terracotta and stone are created. In 1921, Laurens frees himself from cubism and turns towards human forms and great size. The thirties are characterized by massive, dynamic compositions like “L’Océanide – The Oceanid“ (1932/33), often made of bronze.

In this process Laurens adapts an organic, curvy style by creating reduced, rhythmically moving figures - mostly female nude pictures – of a poetical radiation. In numerous works he deals with themes from ancient mythology like Flora and the Oceanids and newly interprets them.

Laurens, who is against any type of totalitarianism, creates an oeuvre in which his unsteady times, torn between tradition and the breaking of such are expressed: works like ”La grande Musicienne – The grand Musician“ (1937), ”L’Adieu – Farewell“ (1940) and ”Le Matin – Morning“ (1944) show this controversy.

After World War II round sculptures like “La Grande Baigneuse – The grand bathing woman“ (1947) or “L’Automne – Autumn“ (1948) are created. They still have a great influence in contemporary sculptures. In 1948 Henri Laurens represents France at the Biennale in Venice. In 1953 he receives his first large public assignment by the university town of Caracas, for whom he makes the bronze sculpture ”Amphion" which is four meters high.

As a representative of sculptors Laurens is invited to São Paulo that year where he is awarded the grand prize of the Biennale. Apart from his sculptures, right from the beginning Laurens creates a comprehensive graphical oeuvre with woodcuts, etchings and book illustrations. He dies on 5 May, 1954 in Paris.

Curator Jean-Louis Prat places sculptures and paintings in a generous dialog
Jean-Louis Prat, former director of the Fondation Maeght, ist he curator of the Léger-Laurens exhibition. For the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden he has curated the exhibitions “Chagall. In a new light“ (2006) and “The sculptures of painters“ (2008) as well as the retrospective ”Miró – The colors of poetry“ (2010).

Prat says about the works shown at the Léger-Laurens exhibition: “They show the intelligence, the good instincts of these two artists who expressed a new and distinct language. A language that is still important for paintings and sculptures in our times and continues to have an effect“.

The curator Jean-Louis Prat says about Laurens: “The high demands Henri Laurens had on his three dimensional works made of wood and metal and the intense way in

which he dealt with his own works make him one of the leading artists who significantly altered our view on space, volume and material at the beginning of the 20th century.“

Both artists new each other well and appreciated each other. Their works exhibit a high degree of artistic creativeness. In the Baden-Baden exhibition they are set in a generous dialog, making unforeseeable connections between both artists visible.

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