For the exhibition “Dialogues : Karina Bisch / Alberto Magnelli”, the Lahumière gallery invited contemporary artist Karina Bisch to take a unique look at the work of Alberto Magnelli, an Italian painter who lived the last forty years of his life in Paris (from 1931 to 1971). The proposition ? Restore visibility to this major figure of abstraction whose influence was particularly decisive in the post-Second World War period on artists as important as Victor Vasarely, Jean Dewasne, Piero Dorazio...
Karina Bisch’s intervention, nourished by an in-depth knowledge of the history of the avant-gardes and modernity, consisted of comparing her visual universe to that of the Italian painter. She initially selected a series of works by Magnelli, most of which date from the 1950s and 1960s : oils on canvas, gouaches, collages, watercolors, marker drawings, but also a figurative painting from the 1920s. Distributed on On both floors of the gallery, some of these works are presented against a backdrop of murals that Karina Bisch created specifically for the exhibition. Working in pairs, they symbolically occupy only the mobile architectural elements of the gallery and are distinguished by their colorful and unbridled geometry (green and white squares arranged in a grid, series of diamonds or multi-colored chevron patterns, large white polka dots or patterns brightly colored florals painted on a black background) which refers as much to Bauhaus, Russian constructivism, de Stijl, Matisse, as to applied Arts or Russian folklore. Karina Bisch thus provokes crossings, exchanges, visual rhymes in a subtle relationship of balance and tension which fully corresponds to the spirit of accuracy governing Magnelli’s painting.
From this plastic wealth resulting from both appropriation and recycling operations, emanates a creative energy engaging with the work of Alberto Magnelli in a stimulating dialogue which never reaches excess or immoderation. We then think of these beautiful lines that the critic Jean Clay had dedicated to the Italian painter : “He is both for the curve and for the straight line, for the subjective form and for the discipline. Its forms are simple and massive without being cold or impersonal ; dynamic but placed on a background which stabilizes them ; slender but endowed with a certain static weight (…).”i
Karina Bisch chose to magnify two major works by the latter, Attitude tranquille (1945) and Variation (1959), by presenting them on a large wall deliberately left white, not far from one of his famous Peinture-à-porter, textile creation which evokes the simultaneous dresses of Sonia Delaunay. This achievement, through which Karina Bisch leads us to think about the place of female artists in the history of abstraction, is echoed by another painting by Magnelli executed in 1924 which shows two ladies in swimsuits. Illustrating through their elegance tinged with melancholy the painter’s temporary orientation towards a "return to order", this painting is an opportunity to recall that he was also a very good figurative artist and that the practice of two modes of expression, who were a priori antagonists, was not necessarily incompatible. Moreover, the Italian painter, at the end of his life, wrote that abstraction “bears the traces of signs that come from very far away”ii. As for the work of Karina Bisch, as Julien Fronsacq pointed out, she : “is notorious for not seeking to break with modernist schemas by developing a third allegorical way as an overcoming of the so-called duality of abstraction - figurative.”iii In addition, the exhibition also reflects the protean talents of her, showing two geometric paintings, a cubist sculpture in polychrome wood representing a bouquet of flowers but also a small embroidery created last summer during her residence in Marfa, thus recalling, in the pure Bauhaus tradition, its attachment to art and crafts.
The unusual and invigorating rereading of Magnelli’s work that Karina Bisch offers us, based on great freedom of medium, style and genre, raises the question of the heritage of the Italian painter and more broadly that of the abstraction of after World War II. A change of focus whose multiple resonances encourage us to rethink the relationship between the work of art, the exhibition space and its reception by the public.
i Jean Clay, « Magnelli chez lui », Connaissance des arts, mars 1968.
ii Cité par Dore Ashton, « Les dernières œuvres de Magnelli », in cat. exp. Magnelli, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1989.
iii Extrait du texte de julien Fronsacq « Karina Bisch », KB, coédition de CNAP, Galerie Les filles du calvaire, ENSBA et Cassochrome, Paris, 2003.