A newly opened exhibition at Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris (The Museum of Modern Art, Paris) is dedicated to the work of Dutch artist Karel Appel (1921-2006). Titled Karel Appel: Art as Celebration! (Karel Appel: L’art est un fête), this comprehensive retrospective will be presented at the musuem from February 24, 2017 to August 20, 2017. The exhibition comes thanks to a donation of twenty-one paintings and sculptures by the Karel Appel Foundation and further features a wide array of Appel’s works that bear witness to nearly sixty years of incessant creativity and artistic development.
Karel Appel and CoBrA
Karel Appel is considered as among the most significant Dutch artists of the second half of the 20th century. This is largely due to him being the co-founder of avant-garde group CoBrA in Paris in 1948. The group rejected the formalistic restraints on creativity and focused on the natural talent and creativity inherent in every person, drawing inspiration from art of children and mentally ill, folk art and Art Brut. Although the movement was short-lived (the group dissolved in 1951, a little more than two years after its formation), the group’s underlying principles influenced much of Karel Appel’s early work.
The early works selected for the exhibition stand out for childlike scribbles, spontaneous bold strokes in predominantly primary colours, as well as their highly imaginative subjects and titles (such as The Crying Crocodile Tries to Catch the Sun (1958) or Hip, Hip, Hoorah (1949) on view at the exhibition). Another highlight is his seminal The Psychopathological Notebook, where he made free-form drawings on the pages of a catalogue for the International Exhibition on Psychopathological Art (1950) for the mentally-ill held at the Saint-Anne Hospital in Paris. The exhibition, which Appel visited on multiple occasions, had a lasting influence on his works.
Beyond CoBrA: Between figuration and abstraction
Appel moved to Paris in 1950 where he was discovered by Michel Tapié. Tapié included him in an exhibition and book titled Un art autre (An Art of Another Kind), an action-dominated offshoot of Informal Art that had sprung up since the late 1940s in Europe and elsewhere (Abstract Expressionism in America, Lyrical Abstraction in Europe and Gutai in Japan).
Tapié also introduced him to New York gallerist Martha Jackson, and from 1957 onwards Appel spent his time between Paris and New York. During his time in New York, Appel became friends with abstract expressionists – Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, as well as jazz luminaries, Dizzie Gillespie, Miles Davis, Count Basie, and Sarah Vaughan. These artists partly influenced Karel Appel in a shift towards a more emotionally charged and spontaneous style of abstract painting.
In 1956, Appel described his work as “I never try to make a painting; it is a howl, it is naked, it is like a child, it is a caged tiger…My tube is like a rocket writing its own space.” An exciting inclusion at the exhibition is a video of Appel – The Reality of Karel Appel, 1961 – made by filmmaker and journalist Jan Vrijman. The video shows Appel painting the monumental Archaic Life (also on view at the show) to Musique Barbare composed by Appel himself and composer Frits Weiland. Reflective of Appel’s deeply personal ‘lose yourself’ approach to his art, we see him throw and manipulate paint with sheer abandon in a ‘performance’ that is absolutely hypnotic and powerful.
The latter part of the exhibition revisits the constant shifts in Appel’s subjects and style. On view are several monumental paintings, nudes and landscapes stripped down to abstraction, as well as sculptures, such as the burnt olive tree branches transformed by Appel into surreal hybrid creatures, half human, half animal. There are also some of his less overt works where we see him largely abandon his straight-from-the-tube approach and move towards a more deliberate and structured style of painting.
In the final phase of his life, Appel can be seen in a fresh stylistic exercise where he replaces his characteristic lively colour palette to further pared-down compositions. His monumental painting Nude Figure (1989) painted in shades of grey and white against an empty black background is a case in highlight. Appel also produced a series of large installations inspired by the world of theatre and carnivals. The papier maché installation of Singing Donkeys greets the visitors at the entrance to the exhibition, while another sculpture assembly made of oversized recovered toys, Falling Horse in Silent Space (2000) can be seen towards the end of the exhibition.
One of the reasons why the Musée d’art moderne retrospective shines is because it reveals the constant oscillations and developments in Appel’s six-decade long artistic career. From the furore of his early works to the stricter brushstrokes of later years and eventually, Appel’s return to spontaneous and free painting in his final years, his work remained inherently rooted in his wish to not be associated with any isms. There is a certain power to these seemingly childlike paintings, and photographs cannot do justice to the depth and force of Appel’s strokes. Our advice – go see these vicious, wild pieces!
Karel Appel: Art as Celebration! is on view at Musée d’art moderne, Paris from February 24, 2017 to August 20, 2017. More information: http://www.mam.paris.fr/
February 24, 2017 to August 20, 2017
At Musée d'art moderne
Karel Appel: Art as Celebration!
Dutch artist and co-founder of avant-garde group CoBrA, Karel Appel, is the subject of a grand retrospective at Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris.
Musée d'art moderne