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Georges Mathieu

Exhibition details

21 November, 2019
21 December, 2019
Event Category:
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Nahmad Contemporary and Perrotin are delighted to announce a themed exhibition of works by the late French artist Georges Mathieu (1921–2012), the founder of Lyrical Abstraction and a pioneer of performance art who foregrounded the techniques of tubism, dripping, gigantism, and speed.

This exhibition is the first dedicated to the artist in Hong Kong and pays tribute to Mathieu’s longstanding links with Asia. It follows special presentations at Art Basel—which marked the start of the estate’s representation worldwide and exclusively by the two galleries—and Frieze Masters in London this year, and precedes an exhibition at Perrotin Shanghai in March 2020. A monograph in English will be published on the latter occasion.

Calligraphy is one of the hallmarks of Mathieu’s work. In the 1940s, Mathieu was the first to consider a theory of abstract calligraphy and the principle that signs could precede their meanings. In 1950, André Malraux, the renowned writer who would become France’s Minister of Culture in Charles de Gaulle’s presidency, declared: “At last, a Western calligrapher!” Similarly, art historian Sir Herbert Read wrote in 1954 that Mathieu was “certainly well aware of the principles of Chinese calligraphy” and that he deployed “two essential aspects of good calligraphy,” namely “a simulation of life in the strokes and a dynamic equilibrium in the design of the piece.”

Early in his career, Mathieu established a parallel between his work and Chinese calligraphy, notably their shared characteristic of spontaneity. Following a dialogue with Dr. Chou Ling, China’s incumbent permanent delegate to UNESCO, and the 20th-century master of calligraphy Zhang Daqian at a talk hosted by the International Center for Aesthetic Studies (Centre International d’Etudes Esthétiques) on June 11, 1956, Mathieu published an essay titled “Connections between certain aspects of lyrical, non-figurative painting and Chinese calligraphy” (“Rapports de certains aspects de la peinture non-figurative lyrique et de la calligraphie chinoise”). In it, he asserted that unlike Western calligraphy, which was limited to the “art of copying,” the most liberated works of Lyrical Abstraction (in addition to his own, he cited those of Pollock, Kline, Degottex, and Hantaï) underwent the same “processes” as the calligraphy of the Far East, exuding “a primacy of the speed of execution,” the absence of any “preexistence of form,” the absence of any “premeditation of gesture,” and an “ecstatic state.”

Mathieu’s trip to Japan in 1957 formed a decisive episode in the history of Action Painting for his performances before large audiences that were visionary and groundbreaking for their time. A few months before the trip, the manifesto of the Gutai movement, of which Kazuo Shiraga was a prominent representative, stated that its members “highly regard the works of Pollock and Mathieu. Their work reveals the scream of matter itself, cries of the paint and enamel.” The movement’s recognition of this duumvirate reflects Mathieu’s eminence during the 1950s, not only in terms of his international reputation but also his artistic and historical relevance.

This exhibition explores a specific period of Mathieu’s rich and varied work. The 1980s, or more specifically the years between 1983 to 1991, correspond to a well-known era in France and Italy which echoes in Asia in the present time. Described by some as “cosmic,” a sort of pictorial “star wars,” and by others as a “barbaric” time, the 1980s were a turning point for Mathieu’s art following his numerous experiments in the 1960s and 1970s involving geometric variations and the applied arts. In this decade, Mathieu returned to anti-geometric lyricism and depicted his calligraphic language of the 1950s in a totally new form. The works display vehement gestures, broken lines, explosions of painting and color, highly contrastive colors, and in some, the background forms a striking impression of cavernous depths.

Altogether, it is because Mathieu’s works offer a language—new and abstract as it is—that they speak to us, allowing for the creation of dialogue.

—Edouard Lombard, Director of the Georges Mathieu Committee

All artwork images © Georges Mathieu / ADAGP, Paris, 2019.


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