Nouveau Realisme

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Nouveau Realisme
Collection Natalie et Léon Seroussi; photographer: Nicholas Moss
Martial Raysse, 'Pamela Beach', 1963

What is more realistic than reality itself – than stuff taken from the world? That was certainly the thinking behind the Nouveau Réalisme movement of the 1960s. This reaction against abstract painting is often seen as a kind of Continental equivalent to pop art but it was far earthier, funkier and seedier: an assemblage of rumpled women's underwear, for example, draped over a canvas by Gérard Deschamps; or Daniel Spoerri's post-prandial memorial, featuring dinner plates and cutlery fixed in place, complete with encrusted food and stubbed-out cigarettes. The idea was to capture a moment in time, warts and all – a slice of life, in all its messy, inchoate immediacy.

One major aspect of that was the practice of 'décollage': a sort of anti-collage, created by tearing and removing layers of advertising posters to reveal fragments of layers beneath. Though a small exhibition, this manages to squeeze in at least one work by all of the movement's 13 members – so you can appreciate the sheer variety of décollage effects: from Mimmo Rotella's ragged remains, through Raymond Hains's gouged and stippled swirls of abstract colour, to Jacques Villeglé's more sheer, playful patterns.

Not that appropriation and assemblage were the movement's only strategies. Other visions of reality were more idiosyncratic, especially the purposeless rotations of Jean Tinguely's churning, piston-like machine. Most astonishing of all is Arman's 'Homage to Elizabeth Taylor' that features hundreds of glass prisms, each containing magazine images of the actress, encased within a large, transparent cube. Such an odd, contrived object, the most 'poppy' piece here, it suggests reality is no more than a distorted, artificial, media-constructed cage.


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