The 1959 documenta II in Kassel marked a peak in gestural abstract painting. Here, fourteen years after the end of World War II a central tendency of painting was celebrated, which presented itself as an international phenomenon spanning the entire Western world. Following this documenta and a major tour of American Abstract Expressionism to several European capitals in the preceding year, the so-called genre of informal painting received, in a sense, official status. The significance of abstraction as a world language had asserted and established itself, even though new developments, for instance a tendency towards intermediality, had begun to emerge.
50 years later, the exhibition Le grand geste! at museum kunst palast
in Düsseldorf shows around 150 paintings retracing the path and artistic development of Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism a path leading from France and the USA to Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and other European countries.
The artistic avant-garde after 1945 disjointed and disillusioned, but also highly motivated by moral and existential issues was in search of forms of expression which were not corrupted by the recent events of the world war and which endowed creative processes with the greatest possible freedom.
The young artists, partly drawing from pictorial practices of Surrealism, experimented with new materials and processes which enormously extended the conceptual spectrum: colour was poured and trickled, grounds were scratched, or the painting process was accelerated to the extreme. Canvasses lying on the floor turned into stages for the artist. Such developments already heralded a transition to Action Art, as the term Action Painting coined by Harold Rosenberg and referring to gestural painting in the USA suggests.
The European equivalent of this art form was ascribed a variety of terms, such as Lyrical Abstraction, Tachisme, or Art Informel, the latter of which, introduced in 1950 by the French critic Michel Tapié, turned out to be the most durable. Similar to an informal picture, this artistic movement itself may be described as a variable, open structure it is thus less a style than an artistic attitude. Karl Otto Götz, one of the movements most important German protagonists, described Art Informel as the dissolution of the traditional formal principle, making use of diverse possibilities in terms of technique and material. Accordingly, important structural foundations were laid for subsequent generations of artists.
The Düsseldorf exhibition Le grand geste! concentrates on the period between 1946 and 1964, focussing on the climaxes of the German Informel movement until Pop Art began to dominate the international art scene and largely superseded abstract expressionist tendencies. The existential ambition of this gestural, abstract expressionist form of painting becomes evident and manifests itself not least in the large-scale formats of many principal works of this art movement.
The Düsseldorf show, which presents a wealth of important works from US-American and European public and private collections, has an international outlook, placing particular emphasis on France (focussing on Paris), on the USA (especially New York) and Germany.