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  • gerard van weyenbergh

New Realism, a basic description

A flagship movement in Paris in the 1960s, New Realism is already part of contemporary art. A symptom of the emerging postmodernity is characterized by committed artists, using recycled materials, dealing with subjects in touch with the consumer society, willingly ironic, and desecrating the artistic gesture. It is also embodied through performances, not without certain violence (the Angers of Arman or the Shoots of Niki de Saint Phalle ). Sealed around the art critic Pierre Restany, Nouveau Réalisme counted among its members François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein , Martial Raysse, César, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely and Jacques Villeglé.

History of movement

The future signatories of the New Realism manifesto are artists in touch with the new society of the post-World War II era, characterized by industrialization, the rise of capitalism, and publicity. The unifying element of the group will be the art critic Pierre Restany, first a lover of abstract art, deeply marked by his meeting with Yves Klein in 1955.

When Restany approaches Klein, the painter begins his "blue era", the IKB (International Klein Blue). The critic, who is a defender of lyrical abstraction, is interested in the painter's research on monochrome. Klein then finds the support of Restany, who prefaces some of his exhibitions.

It was in 1959 that Restany began to gather around him artists who seemed to him to have common points, all working on issues related to contemporary society. These include Jean Tinguely and Raymond Hains, the first building machines, the second tearing up palisades of posters.

In 1960, Restany federated them around the first manifesto of New Realism (two other manifestos will follow in 1961 and 1963). In this founding text, collective identity and common principles are stated: the neutral or positive appropriation of reality attached to modern nature. The signatories of the text are, in addition to the critic: Arman, Dufrêne, Hains, Klein, Raysse, Spoerri, Tinguely, and Villeglé. Subsequently, they exhibit together in different contexts, whether in Paris or New York. Restany defends the French school, contemporary of American pop art.

Although Restany supports a "positive" appropriation of reality, the artists do not hesitate to criticize contemporary society. Many, like Spoerri or Christo, denounce consumerism in their works, others like Tinguely destroy manufactured products. Arman plays on the accumulation of objects by imposing a reflection on the quantitative and fetishist logic that governs modern society. Hains and Villeglé, meanwhile, take up posters that they take off from the walls of the streets of Paris, diverting their messages. Their works thus take on a political resonance.

The artists renew the forms and the ideas by "the appropriation of reality" which does not aim any more the representation of the world but its presentation. They incorporate into their works concrete materials and everyday, urban and industrial objects, even waste. In addition, the New Realists practice performance-shows, following the example of Klein's "anthropometries".

The group exhibitions lasted until the 1970s, the decade in which the group dissolved. Although brief, this movement is generally considered to be a major transition between abstract art and contemporary art.


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