Sole Sisters, Four Women Exploring Geometric Abstraction

Ode Bertrand, Marcelle Cahn, Isabelle de Gouyon Matignon, Aurelie Nemours

Past exhibitionFrom 12 January to 23 February

“Neither my studies, my work, nor my life was influenced by painting of any sort. I was too removed from the experiments of the time. I kept going deeper into my solitude.” Thus wrote Aurelie Nemours to me in November 2005. A few weeks later she died. Should this comment be taken as words written on the brink of life, or understood as the path taken by every artist—and perhaps every human being? The expression “go deeper into solitude” reminds us that Nemours was also a poet, even as it assumes a special meaning in this exhibition.
All four artists—four female artists, we should perhaps say—now featured at Galerie Lahumière adopted the clear, methodical language of concrete and minimal art, yet each took her own path. Almost a century separates Marcelle Cahn’s early works—such as Tram, 1925, on show here—and the latest series of works by Ode Bertrand and Isabelle de Gouyon Matignon. It might thus be tempting to see Cahn and Nemours (born, respectively, in 1895 and 1910) as pioneers with respect to their juniors (born in 1930 and 1964), but that is not the case. In fact, all four are pioneers in so far as they explore uninhabited regions where they establish their own world—every work is terra incognita.
Nemours’ paintings, in which the perfect unity of form and content nurtures a powerful interplay of optical effects based on chosen colors (Iphigénie, 1971, and Astyanax, 1973), provide counterpoint to works by Cahn, in which content is no longer linked to form but instead functions as a stage for harmonies of geometric figures, free and dynamic, in a kind of constructivist ballet. Cahn’s reliefs and relief paintings appear to be so many constellations among which the eye can wander, whereas Nemours’s canvases halt the eye at the surface, trapping and almost hypnotizing it through color.
Similarly, Gouyon Matignon’s sculptures, playing on balance and imbalance, on strength and delicacy—notably in their latest guise of perforated steel—open a field of exploration conducive to Bertrand’s latest series of works, which involve folding. The space inhabited by Gouyon Matignon’s sculpture extends into our own physical space, leading us, via mental construction, into the folds of Bertrand’s space. Permutations among these four artists are potentially infinite, independent of all notions of period and genre, because geometric abstraction—it should be stressed—is a movement that has included many women right from the start, in a mark of its universalism.
In bringing together these four artists, the Sole Sisters exhibition demonstrates that art concret is a movement rich in unique voices while also being a movement that evolves endlessly, unbounded by any time-frame. In fact, these four artists knew—still know—no boundaries. Bertrand says that the only boundary is the one her hand draws, while Gouyon Matignon conceives her sculptures in a totally empirical way, so that they arise solely from her imagination, equally unbounded. Each artist has been able to delve deeper into her solitude in order to conquer the world, our world of non-artists.
Not being afraid of either plain or punning language, we can almost hear the French word lumière, “light,” on pronouncing the name Lahumière, reminding us that artists must continue to be beacons that summon order from world’s chaos. “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star,” wrote Nietzsche in the prologue to Thus Spake Zarathustra. So, yes, artists must follow a solitary path, so that Sole Sisters can make colors and shapes dance for us.

Céline Berchiche

November 21st 2018

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Sole Sisters, Four Women Exploring Geometric Abstraction . Ode Bertrand, Marcelle Cahn, Isabelle de Gouyon Matignon, Aurelie Nemours