“Riopelle: The Encounter of Northern Regions and Local Cultures”: Riopelle, a primitive modernity

It has been a long time since we had an exhibition on Jean-Paul Reubel (1923-2002) who dared to take a fresh look at his creative process. Certainly, we received many ambitious presentations, with exceptional works, highlighting how the visual experience of this painter’s work resonates on a physical level. It would be hard for us, however, to name an exhibition that has, in recent decades, tried a truly innovative reading of its work. Rare are those who managed to get Riopelle out Blanket rejection A purely formal interpretation, he reveres his work as the culmination of a long modern development towards abstraction. Some art historians – including Louise Vignault – have developed bolder reflections, but in articles and books.

Andrian Roy, Jacques de Rocher, and Esult Riebel, the co-curators of this exhibition-event, were able to elaborate an original approach to Riopelle’s work and it is in the same context that it was developed for the exhibition. Painter Presented in 2015 at the same Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). Then we discussed the connections the painter kept Avignon ladies With some “primitive” arts, art forms are seen as pure, and original, in relation to the renewed fundamental energies, signs of civilizations not perverted by bourgeois values ​​and the industrialized world.

Modern art in general owes much to this concept of primitivism, which is often imagined in a utopian vision of cultures untainted by European values, and is sometimes approached with being faithful to the more complex realities of these non-Western cultures. But the concept of primitive art was used above all to designate forms of expression from Africa, Asia, Oceania or sometimes Latin America … With this presentation about Riopelle, the curators of the gallery were able to demonstrate the attraction of these modernists to the primitive also included the indigenous arts of North America.

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This is a very important addition to the critical reading of Art Nouveau. One might ask why such an approach had not been discussed before. Will there be, even in elementary arts, hierarchies and arts more valuable than others? This phenomenon affects us equally, especially in Canada and Quebec. As Serge Bouchard writes, in the history of Quebec, the North American population and culture has often been forgotten, just like the idea of ​​the North, … a form of “collective ignorance”.

We can claim that this exhibition will help change our reading of the links between modern and indigenous arts, a reading that has evolved in intensity since the famous William Rubin Gallery of 1984-1985 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. On this occasion, the famous curator attempted to explain the links between tribal and modernism, a modern art that often seemed unfamiliar to the meanings of the non-Western works he cited.

Discover the north … in Paris

This Riopelle gallery shows how this artist has always maintained indirect and direct, sometimes simple and often deep connections with the indigenous cultures of North America. Sometimes this is due to the use of a title, some kind of dreamlike clutch … this is the case, for example, with gouache on paper produced in 1955 and its title Eskimo masks. On a few occasions, the artist represents Aboriginal masks more concretely, as in this lithograph from 1979, which uses an illustration of two kwakwakwaku from a double page of the book. Masks Way(1975) by Claude Levi-Strauss.

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Most of the time, Riopelle doesn’t officially copy local arts. It is not in a simple simulated relationship with them, in a trivial direct parity between model and representation. In this exhibition, the visitor will develop the feeling that Riopelle nurtured the creative spirit of the indigenous people. Like Picasso, he seemed to look to another way to create art by drawing inspiration from another relationship with the world of images. This is the case for example with a string Series games Produced by Riopelle in the early 1970s, considered a model forLease you (“String Game” in Inuktitut) which, as anthropologist Krista Ulujuk Zawadski explains in the exhibition catalog, enables “the creation of characters used for storytelling or organization.”

We will note the way this exhibition shows how Riopelle was able, among other things, to cultivate his curiosity for Nordic art through his friendships. In Paris, his conversations with the Byzantine, historian, and business collector George Duthuet were of great importance. This presentation illustrates this with several documents. Just as it confirms how the Surrealists, with whom they had special ties, were also interested in the art of the indigenous peoples of North America. For art historian Florence Duchmen-Pelletier, who also participates in the catalog, even by going to eastern America, to Paris, Reubel discovered this really North, no matter how close it was … and if it was far. North that is regaining part of its value here.

Very valuable catalog

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