AANFM LP QMG RCA SAPQ
1933 - 2004
acrylic on canvas
signed and dated 1959 and on verso inscribed "2065, rue Filion, Saint-Laurent, Qué." and "$1200" and "#1096" on a label
50 x 50 in 127 x 127 cm
Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000
Sold for: $91,250
Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave
Collection of Guy Gérin-Lajoie, Montreal
Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal
Collection of Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg, Montreal, 2014
Estate of Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg, Montreal
Fernande Saint-Martin, “Révélation de l’art abstrait,” Art abstrait, École des beaux-arts de Montréal, 1959, unpaginated
The Fourth Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Art, 1961, National Gallery of Canada, catalogue #55
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, The Fourth Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Art, May 20 - September 4, 1961, catalogue #55
Montreal is remarkable for giving Canada not one, but two true avant-garde movements, first the Automatists and then the Plasticiens. The Automatists, led by Paul-Émile Borduas, had established themselves in the early 1940s, but only in the 1950s, after many difficult years of public resistance, did they finally win the day. But just as quickly, they found themselves challenged by a next generation of painters who rebuffed their predecessors’ spontaneous working methods in favour of their opposite: hard-edged geometry. The decisive turning points for the young Plasticiens were the solo exhibitions that Guido Molinari and Claude Tousignant presented in 1956 at Molinari’s Galerie l’Actuelle, which showed paintings that addressed the issues of surface, flatness and non-referentiality in a more fundamental way than Montreal had heretofore seen.
The two exhibitions were radical, and for both artists they had also, in effect, been leaps into the dark, with neither fully understanding the implications of the work they had exhibited. For the rest of the 1950s their challenge was to reconsider it all, to parse out in their studios what they had done in order to build up a firmer foundation from which to carry on. For both of them, and for the larger Plasticien cause, 1959, the year in which Molinari executed Dualité blanche, turned out to be a significant year. Crucial for Molinari was his technical decision to abandon oil paint for acrylic. For the Plasticiens as a group, it was the exhibition Art abstrait, which took place at the beginning of the year at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal, that first bestowed critical legitimacy on the new movement, its catalogue texts underscoring geometric painting’s relevance to the real and present world.
Molinari adopted acrylic paint - which had only recently become commercially available – to solve problems posed by the geometric demands of paintings like Dualité blanche. Acrylic dried quickly, allowing him, using masking tape, to achieve the desired crisp hard edges that bounded his planes of colour, undistracted by traces of the hand. He would eventually come to call his work razor-edge, contrasting it to the softer, slightly illusionistic edges of the American Colour Field painters, like Kenneth Noland, and like Jack Bush in Toronto. Molinari needed his colour planes to stay taut on the surface and be uncompromisingly flat and up front.
Dualité blanche, with its simplified palette of black, white and red, is bracingly fresh and bold. Its scale is authoritative and majestic, with powerful rhythms surging through its asymmetrical structure. Its composition balances out formally, as it must, but its energy is restless, its vertical movement rises and falls, barely held in check by a white horizontal crossbar. It is a painting that reaches out to tug at our muscles. And indeed, that was a principal point that the exhibition Art abstrait set out to make: that paintings like Dualité blanche function less in pictorial space than they do in the objective world.
The introductory text to the exhibition catalogue, written by the estimable Fernande Saint-Martin, who was also Molinari’s wife, was intended as a manifesto for this new rigorous hard-edge direction in Montreal art represented by Molinari and his fellow exhibitors. To Automatist-trained eyes this “art abstrait” looked mathematical and cold, but as Saint-Martin explained, geometric art is neither without emotion nor cut off from the everyday world. It should be seen and understood instead as a broader conception of realism. The new abstract art can explore the world more profoundly than traditional painting because it is capable of establishing even “more adequate relations” with reality. Abstract art is about discovering, as she said, “the structures of an unceasingly non-verbal world” as it was being realized by psychology and physics. Therefore, it is not about surface appearances, but about the deepest dimensions of a modern humanity. This is the optimistic theme that also prevails throughout the individual artists’ texts in the Art abstrait catalogue: that their work is always fully immersed in human experience; that, despite their resort to geometry, creativity is an altogether intuitive process and has little to do with rational calculation.
We thank Roald Nasgaard, author of Abstract Painting in Canada, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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