Narrative Figuration #1 - By Yoyo Maeght

Narrative Figuration by Yoyo Maeght

This exhibition at the Richard Taittinger Gallery is, for me, like a wonderful family album where each artist is linked to a personal memory, a friendship, an artistic emotion or is a witness to my current involvement in the art world that continues that of my illustrious grandfather, Aimé Maeght.

The United States and the artists of Narrative Figuration are intimately linked to the life of Aimé Maeght. We don't know much about his passions, his daring, sometimes even his activism to defend and promote art in all its expressions, so based on a few historical landmarks, let's go in this great adventure of Art, Art and life.

On June 20, 1964, Robert Rauschenberg shook up old Europe by winning the International Grand Prix for Painting at the Venice Biennale. A few days later, on July 27, with my sister Flo, under the gaze of Joan Miró, Alberto Giacometti or Marc Chagall, among others, we handed a golden key to André Malraux, then Minister of State of General de Gaulle, a golden key that opened the doors of the Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation, which he had come to inaugurate out of his friendship for Aimé. James Baldwin is there and he is reserved a place of honor at the gala dinner by placing him alongside Alberto Giacometti. In the softness of the nights of the Riviera, all applaud Ella Fitzgerald came to decorate this evening that will be a milestone in the adventure of the Arts. The Maeght Foundation is born and becomes a beacon of contemporary art.


Aimé Maeght, a man of current events and commitment, recalls, through the presence of these personalities, that on July 2, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act ending all forms of segregation or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The gesture may seem political, but in that year 1964, artistic expression in Europe was clearly marked by a political statement proudly displayed in the exhibition Mythologies Quotidiennes inaugurated on July 7, at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris. This exhibition tends to demonstrate that there is another form of figuration than the one developed by the artists of Pop-Art or the New Figuration.


A few years later, it is at the Maeght Foundation that Aimé Maeght organizes L'Art Vivant in the USA, bringing together all expressions of contemporary art. The rooms of the Foundation present works, among others, of Ellsworth Kelly or Andy Warhol. In the evening, in Miró's Labyrinth, visitors discover sulphurous films from the New York underground, performances by Carl Andre, Hans Haacke or Robert Withman. The public is captivated by Albert Ayler's Free Jazz, or the minimalist music of Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Research Arkestra answer the interventions of the conductor Lukas Foss. The dancers of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform on the roofs of the Foundation and in the Giacometti courtyard, to music by John Cage, in sets by Jasper Johns, Robert Morris and Frank Stella. The Maeght Foundation innovates in all art forms, music, dance, theater, visual arts, architecture ...

The relationship between my grandfather and the USA dates from 1946, when he went to New York to meet Marcel Duchamp. He had a crazy proposal to submit to him: to make the synthesis of surrealism in Paris. It was during this trip that he understood that the future of art could not be played without the Americans. With the young New York merchant Samuel Kootz, they programmed for 1947 the exhibition Introduction to Modern American Painting which, in Aimé's gallery, gathered, among others, works by Gottlieb, Baziotes, Motherwell. This was the first exhibition of American art since the war in the French capital. The exhibition, placed under the patronage of the United States Information Services, was accompanied by a catalog prefaced by the American philosopher and art critic Harold Rosenberg. The Parisian critics will be virulent, Lettres françaises, the famous magazine of the communist poet Louis Aragon, will ask if these artists have studied the history of art. But Aimé Maeght did not care, he made a name for himself in America and Time Magazine devoted its first article to him. From then on, almost every one of his exhibitions will be reviewed, as, of course, the first solo exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly at the Maeght Gallery in 1958, the second takes place in 1964, it is followed by a group-show Five Painters and a Sculptor that reveals a young artist of 24 years: Gerard Fromanger, supported in the catalog by the poet Jacques Prévert. Gérard Fromanger joined the Narrative Figuration movement and became one of its major players, hailed by masterful exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, 1980 and 2016.


Aimé Maeght, attracted by the renewal and freshness of thought, even revolutionary, has never ceased to give emerging artists the means to express themselves, whether at the Maeght Foundation, in its galleries or via its editions, magazines, prints, or books. Aware that groups, schools or trends are actually composed of strong individualities, he favors offering artists solo exhibitions. As it will be the case with the Italian Valerio Adami that he will expose five times in his gallery of Paris, from 1970.

In Spain, under Franco's dictatorship, the artists who collaborate with Maeght, flee the censorship and come to work in Paris, Miró, Tàpies, Palazuelo, Chillida.In 1974, when we begin to hear about Spanish democracy, it is, for Aimé, the right time to set up a gallery in Catalonia.  Eduardo Arroyo, will be supported by the Maeght Gallery in Barcelona. In 2017, as a continuation of Aimé's work, the Maeght Foundation offers Eduardo Arroyo a retrospective exhibition that consecrates him internationally.

Jacques Monory, for his part, began at the Maeght Gallery in Paris in 1976, and numerous exhibitions followed, including at the Maeght Foundation, with an important retrospective in 2020, which succeeds the monographic exhibition of Jacques Monory organized by the Richard Taittinger Gallery. First exhibition in the United States for this artist who draws part of his inspiration from American noir novels and films.

For Aimé Maeght, the editions held an important place in the dissemination and reputation of artists. Thus in 1976, it is through the publication of prints that Hervé Télémaque begins his collaboration with Maeght, relayed then by exhibitions. Of course, an impressive painting came to enrich the collections of the Maeght Foundation.

The monthly magazine L'Art Vivant, published by Maeght, whose first issue appeared in 1968, the year of all the protests in France, opens its columns to new expressions, however, under the direction of Jean Clair, the main magazine multi-expressions in France, does not forget the painting. Art Vivant becomes the relay, even the showcase of the Narrative Figuration and offers to the artists a platform of exchanges with their opponents: art critics, performers and other followers of the art dematerialization. The exchanges, totally free, are sometimes violent. The history and the exhibition presented by Richard Taittinger in New York offer, fifty years later, the most beautiful answer. May painting live on when it is of such great quality, as much by the sociological, political and of course artistic purpose!

View of the exhibition

Sensitized since my childhood to the work of these tutelary figures of the Narrative Figuration, then convinced of the quality of each of these nine major artists, Jacques Monory, Bernard Rancillac, Erró, Peter Saul, Valerio Adami, Hervé Télémaque, Eduardo Arroyo, Gérard Fromanger and Cybele Varela, It is a pleasure and an honor for me to participate in the elaboration of this first American exhibition dedicated to the Narrative Figuration, a pictorial movement rich in personalities, coming from extremely varied horizons, but above all, a moment of creation that has become inescapable in the History of Art.

Some artists accompanied me during these weeks of preparation. I thank them for their testimonies of friendship that prove, if it were necessary, that great artists are also great men and great women.