LÚvy Gorvy exhibits new and historic works by French master in his centenary year

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LÚvy Gorvy exhibits new and historic works by French master in his centenary year
Twenty pieces of art, mostly recent works but also several masterpieces from Soulages's eight-decade career, are on view at Levy Gorvy in Manhattan until October 26. AFP Photo/Thomas URBAIN.

NEW YORK, NY.- LÚvy Gorvy is presenting Pierre Soulages: A Century, an exhibition celebrating the 100th birthday of France’s foremost living artist through a presentation of works spanning his career from the 1950s to today. On view from September 5 through October 26, 2019, this focused survey explores the artist’s enduring role in the dialogue between European and American painting and invites viewers to consider the impact of a practice that has injected profound poetry into radical abstraction through its adherence to a single material: black paint.

Filling all three floors of LÚvy Gorvy’s landmark building at 909 Madison Avenue, Pierre Soulages: A Century is a prelude to Homage to Soulages, the artist’s solo exhibition at the MusÚe du Louvre, Paris, opening in December 2019. Curated by the late Pierre EncrevÚ, art historian and author of the Soulages catalogue raisonnÚ, and Alfred Pacquement, the Honorary General Curator and former Director of the Centre Pompidou, the Louvre exhibition marks one of the very few times in the revered institution’s history that the Salon CarrÚ has been entirely devoted to the presentation of work by a single living artist—an unparalleled honor.

Pierre Soulages: A Century at LÚvy Gorvy will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog with new essays by Alfred Pacquement and American art critic Brooks Adams.

Bringing together seminal paintings from the 1950s and 1960s that were either first exhibited in America or now reside in major American collections, the exhibition charts Soulages’s sustained investigation of abstraction — “a poetic experience,” he once wrote, that “signifies the world by transfiguring it”— from his early inspired encounters with the New York School to his continued innovations today. Also on view will be exceptional examples from Soulages’s Outrenoir series initiated in 1979. Translating to “beyond black,” outrenoir describes works in which dense layers of pigment record subtle shifts in ambient light. Thus incorporating darkness and radiance, each canvas invites the viewer to actively ponder the dynamics of repetition and change that structure Soulages’s oeuvre. “Outrenoir is not an optical phenomenon,” the artist has said. “It’s a mental state that you reach when you look deep into it, it’s beyond black.”

Soulages’s early canvases and Outrenoir paintings will be paired with never before exhibited works made between 2017 and 2019. Distilling painting to its essentials, these recent paintings find the master continuing to push the medium of painting forward, endlessly questioning the boundaries between intuition and perception.

Pierre Soulages has enjoyed a storied career spanning more than seven decades. In 1948, James Johnson Sweeney, then a curator at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, visited Soulages’s Paris studio after hearing talk of a young artist who made use of unorthodox tools and bold black paint. With Sweeney’s support, Soulages joined the eminent Kootz Gallery in New York in 1954 and rapidly rose to prominence in America. In recognition of this key year in the artist’s life, the exhibition at LÚvy Gorvy will include Peinture 55 x 38 cm, dÚcembre 1954, a pivotal work featuring slabs of brushed black, red, brown, and ocher that accrue in a grid-like array. Acquired by American collectors, this canvas remained in the same family collection for 65 years.

While overlapping with Abstract Expressionism, Soulages maintained a resolute independence, insisting that his true language was that of modern art while drawing on a range of earlier sources, from ancient menhirs to Romanesque architecture. Pierre Soulages: A Century will feature several highlights from his important early period, including Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 20 novembre 1956, a work on loan from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, that was part of the inaugural installation at the institution’s Frank Lloyd Wright building in 1959. Also on view will be Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 30 octobre 1957. On loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., this painting’s composition is articulated in bands of black and blue that engage in tensile visual dialogue.

Alongside these historic canvases, key works from Soulages’s Outrenoir series will shed light on the development of this iconic body of work from the 1980s through the 1990s. The formidable Peinture 222 x 137 cm, Printemps 1980 marks the first time Soulages introduced this specific set of dimensions that have since become characteristic of his Outrenoir works. Also on view will be Soulages’s stunning Peinture 92 x 73 cm, 27 fevrier 1989, in which a field of black horizontal brushstrokes is bordered by radiant bands of blue— an example of the artist’s use of the marine color in his most famous series.

Pierre Soulages: A Century will furthermore debut a suite of new paintings from the past two years. Among these is the powerful large-scale Peinture 202 x 143 cm, 5 avril 2019. Animated by a seductive play of light across a landscape of richly-textured brushwork, this painting attests to the timeless force of an artist whom philosopher Alain Badiou has described as “a perennial contemporary.”

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