Pyrotechnics, exploding pigment, blowtorches, lacerated decollage, and found materials, define the radical gestures of the avant-garde movement, Nouveau Realisme. Translated as “New Realism,” it was founded by art critic Pierre Restany and artist Yves Klein in Paris in 1960. The circle of artists formally and informally associated with the movement included Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Martial Raysse, Christo, Mimmo Rotella and Arman, among others. They believed direct and aggressive physical explorations, characterized by a paradoxical emphasis on notions of deconstruction and accumulation, and the use of discarded materials from everyday life in the tradition of Dada, achieved a more truthful understanding of modern society in a moment of rising consumerism. As proclaimed in the First Manifesto of Nouveau Realisme, “if one succeeds at reintegrating oneself with the real, one achieves transcendence, which is emotion, sentiment, and finally, poetry.”
“Leaps into the Void” draws from the Menil’s strong holdings of work and material from the archives and collection that document through film, photographs and works of art, the movement’s ephemeral and performance-based projects, perhaps most famously epitomized by Yves Klein’s “Leap into the Void.” The photograph by Harry Shunk, capturing the artist hurling himself from a Parisian rooftop, will be exhibited alongside other documents of the jump, including Klein’s publication emulating the Sunday edition of a daily newspaper, which he inserted into newsstands as a guerrilla intervention on the streets of Paris. Archival photo documentation of Jean Tinguely’s self-destructing sculpture that went up in flames in a square in Milan, to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the founding of Nouveau Realisme, will also be on display, alongside a 1966 film by Francois de Menil of the construction and deconstruction of HON, a monumental sculpture installed at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm by Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, and Per Olof Ultvedt.
Organized by Michelle White, Associate Curator, the show highlights the temporality of a lesser-known avant-garde movement. Actively engaged with other conceptual and performance-based ways of making art as they were emerging in the United States at that time, such as like Fluxus, Assemblage and Pop Art, Nouveau Realisme was a brief but influential moment in the history of modern art.