Arnulf Rainer, 'Autoportrait', 1972-75. Gouache, wash and pastel on photograph, 60 x 50 cm. Collection MAMC, Saint-Étienne. © Atelier Rainer. Photo Yves Bresson.
Jochen Gerz, 'Dimanche, tous les dimanches', 1971. Black and white photographs and texts, 70 x 129 cm. Collection MAMC, Saint-Étienne. © ADAGP, Paris, 2015. Photo Yves Bresson.
Wolf Vostell, "Basel Beton", 1971. Pencil, watercolor, photography, plaster, wood panel. 79 x 108 cm. Collection MAMC, Saint-Étienne. Donation of Mr et Mrs François and Ninon Robelin in 1994. © ADAGP, Paris 2014. Photo Yves Bresson.
Sigmar Polke, 'Unser Kundendienst !' ('Our customer service), 1985. Lacquer, acrylic, fabric, work gloves. 180 x 150 cm. Collection MAMC, Saint-Étienne. Donation of Mr et Mrs François and Ninon Robelin in 1994. © The Estate of Sigmar Polke, Cologne / ADAGP, Paris 2014. Photo Yves Bresson.
THE SPIRIT OF THE ROBELIN COLLECTION
In 1994, art collectors and gallery owners François and Ninon Robelin, who hail originally from Roanne, donated an exceptional collection of works of art to the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Étienne Métropole. The collection featured numerous works from the 1960s and 1970s by artists such as Jochen Gerz, Michaël Buthe, Wolf Vostell, Sigmar Polke, and Erik Dietman. The Robelin donation has since been added to with drawings by Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch and Arnulf Rainer.
These acquisitions, all made since 2007, are on display in the rooms of the Museum. A sculpture, 'Le Valet de Boccioni' by Dietman, which is currently displayed on the forecourt of the Museum, is a valuable addition to the Museum’s set of works by this artist.
The singularity of this collection is the choice of artists, which covers the great aesthetic trends of the 1960s and 1970s (e.g. Fluxus, Viennese Actionism). The works on display are characterised by their connection with the Second World War, by their great poetic charge, and by " their absence of formalism and by their rebelliousness, even if it is not a demonstrative kind of art".1 Unlike some of the American minimalist artists such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Sol LeWitt, who were presented in the exhibition USArt au Musée, in 2014, each of the artists in the Robelin collection tackles questions about the world and reality. In this aspect, their work is parallel to that of the artists brought together in 1969 at the Kunsthalle in Bern (Switzerland) by curator Harald Szeemann for the exhibition 'When Attitudes Become Form'.2 What they were all seeking to do was reconcile art and life by creating experiments (e.g. action, audience participation, noises).
REINVENTING THE IMAGE
Writing and words have become materials, elements of the artwork – to the point that language has become the matter itself of the work. Artists, among whom one must count Jochen Gerz, Wolf Vostell, Erik Dietman and Sigmar Polke, subvert or reinterpret the image by introducing text, words, drawing, paint or objects.
By the inclusion of writing, Jochen Gerz brings an original contribution to the language of photography ('Dimanche, tous les jours dimanche'). He maintains a very personal relationship with time, in his choice of photographs and with the written text in his work. While looking at the black-and-white images and reading the text, the spectator has a choice of different ways of interpreting the work.
Assemblages, unusual juxtapositions of found objects, and subversion of words is what draws the work of Eric Dietman into the field of reality. And then there is the slogan3 stamped on Sigmar Polke’s mattress canvas, which places this 1985 work firmly in the world of advertising and the waste matter of society. Andy Warhol used mechanical processes on popular images of consumer society as a comment on the world of industrial technology; Polke adds a sense of irony with his use of cloth in place of the traditional linen canvas.
The work of Wolf Vostell resonates with the spirit of Fluxus.4 He enters into a critique of images which has something of the nature of a reflection upon history and also something to do with attention to the world. For example, he places a lump of concrete on the image ('Basel Beton'), which thus creates an empty area in the city of Basel. His drawings of 'Concrete Heads' have a post-war socio-political dimension.
REINVENTING THE ACT OF PANITING
The mid-1960s saw a return to expressionist, figurative and interior painting which reasserted the presence of Europe on the art scene.
The Viennese Actionists, who included Hermann Nitsch and Günter Brus, enacted theatrical performances of sacrificial, orgiastic and violently expressive rituals. The human body was subjected to experiences in a prolonged strategy whose aim was to blur the frontiers between art and life. The violent gestures, the rapidly repeated application of paint onto the photographed body of Arnulf Rainer, were emphatic expressions of vital, existential energy. This was fully in keeping with American art critic Harold Rosenberg’s declaration that "the act-painting is of the same metaphysical substance as the artist’s existence. The new painting has broken down every distinction between art and life".5
Michael Buthe uses natural materials (wood, wax). The materials are covered with paint, drawing and curious arrangements of shapes. Basically, what it is is an art of fragile equilibria, an art of tensions but pacified by poetic dreams and imagination. For Michaël Buthe, "painting a picture has to be an existential necessity. Not a quest for beauty or aesthetics, but the necessity of combating reality".6
(1) Interview with collectors Robelin, Journal des Arts, N°11, 1995.
(2) 'Histoire d’un événement : Quand les attitudes deviennent formes', with Beuys, Jacquet, Merz, Pistoletto, Sarkis, Serra, etc., in Artpress, N°121, 1984.
(3) "Our after-sales service! When you buy new, we take all your old mattresses and bed bases to the garbage tip".
(4) An international movement that began in 1961 and involved the plastic arts, music and literature. Wolf Vostell was a member of Fluxus; he organised the concerts ‘Fluxus + International Festival of Newest Music’ in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1962.
(5) ARTnews December 1952, quoted in 'Identité italienne', Exhibition catalogue, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1981.
(6) 'La Collection François et Ninon Robelin', Exhibition catalogue, Musée d’art moderne, Saint-Étienne, 1995.