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1960-1970: the decade of the New Realism

The artistic movement of the New Realism was officially born exactly 55 years ago, on October 27, 1960. Gathered together by the art critic Pierre Restany, the artists Yves Klein, Arman, Dufrêne, Hains, Raysse, Spoerri, Tinguely and Villeglé signed – in nine handwritten copies – the Manifesto that marked the birth of the group. They were joined by César, Rotella and later by Niki de Saint-Phalle, Deschamps and Christo.

The first use of the term Les Nouveau Réalistes is due to Restany, who used it as a title of an essay published in spring 1960, concomitantly with a group exhibition at Galleria Apollinaire in Milan in which the protagonists were the young but already well-known French artists, captained by Yves Klein that would have signed the Manifesto in October.

Restany was able to turn this group of friends into a real artistic movement finding a common denominator – despite the great diversity of intentions, means and styles – in the protest attitude, but especially in the fundamental re-appropriation of reality in art.

The Manifesto, in fact, states: «Thursday, 27th October 1960. The Nouveaux Réalistes have become aware of their collective singularity. New Realism = new perceptive approach of reality».

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At the peak of gestural, materic and abstract art, the New realists invited to look at the real with new eyes, asking for a return to reality with the use of everyday objects: industry products, but mainly scraps, wastes d all other objects rejected by mass consumption society.

The reality was no longer reproduced or limited, but “shown”, introduced in the artistic work with mixed and original media that surpassed every canonical distinction between painting, sculpture and other artistic disciplines.

Thus, in the great melting pot of the New Realism, it is possible to find different artistic experiences: Arman’s accumulations, the useless and self-destructives machines by Jean Tinguely, Daniel Spoerri’s tableaux-pièges, César’s compressions. This “materialistic” and “three-dimensional” group is accompanied by the Affichiste’s one such as Dufrêne, Hains, Villeglé and Rotella: in this case, the object of recovery is the advertising manifesto, ripped and recomposed in décollages, against  the consumer homologation. And then, there are Niki de Saint Phalle’s performances, Christo’s wrapping.

Le opere in foto sono state esposte nel corso della mostra «Daniel Spoerri − Eat Art in transformation» al m.a.x.museo di Chiasso e alla Galleria civica di Modena.

The New Realism was the perfect European counterpart to the American Pop Art: both movements were in fact moved by the same need for a return to the real, but if Pop Art was in favor (or at least uncritical) of the glittering world of industrial mass production, the New Realism chose an approach of absolute opposition, polemical, rebellious, irreverent.

The movement life was short but intense, and had its maximum public attention between 1961 and 1963 with the two festivals of the New Realism in Nice and Monaco. The latter was the last collective event of the group, whose members continued in their individual careers, except for the celebrations of the tenth anniversary in Milan – the city where it all had started – in 1970.

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What happened between 27 and November 29 is still in the historical memory of Milan: three days of public exhibitions and performances that attracted the attention the whole population, with protests, scandals, boycotts.

All artists who had been part of the movement gathered for a major retrospective at Rotonda della Besana, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the group and to honor the memory of Yves Klein (who died in 1962). Christo planned to pack the statue of Vittorio Emanuele II in Piazza Duomo but was hampered by a group of ex-combatants; he decided then the statue of Leonardo da Vinci in Piazza della Scala, but his packaging was burned by a neo-fascist group. Arman distributed mini accumulations of waste in plastic bags. Cesar realized one of his expansions. Niki de Saint Phalle performed one of his sessions rifle shooting. Rotella had to struggle with numerous protesters to paste his torn posters in via Formentini.

A crescendo of performance and provocation that reached its peak on the night of 29 when right in front of the Duomo, Jean Tinguely took off the purple cloth that hid the his public work La Vittoria: a giant golden phallus that exploded in the sky of Milan, between fireworks, smoke and sparks, destroying in less than 45 minutes.

The anniversary of the movement, however, was also its official funeral. For the first time in history, an artistic movement decided the exact date of its dissolution. Daniel Spoerri organized a Last Supper or Funeral Banquet of the Nouveaux Réalistes, giving each member of the group a culinary specialty inspired by their works.

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