Royal Academy of Art, Sackler Wing
Till 2nd January 2009
This exhibition is concerned mainly with the work of four artists: Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti and Georges Braque. All are ‘stars’ of the Aime Maeght Foundation near St. Paul de Vence in the South of France, an extraordinary institution which is part gallery, part museum, part workshops and part printing and publishing house, conceived and driven to completion in 1964 by the art dealer cum art lover cum visionary cum entrepreneur Aime Maeght. Maeght did not simply collect the work of modern artists, he befriended them, gave them gallery and studio space and, above all, expanded their creative outlets by way of introducing them to printing techniques, notably lithography, and book production and publication. He held one man exhibitions at the Foundation (as well as at his gallery in Paris), and for each of these produced a catalogue illustrated by the exhibiting artist. A man for all seasons Maeght rightly belongs to that great company of collectors and supporters of the arts which includes Beyeler, Guggenheim, Saatchi, Morosov, Schukin, Vollard, Kahnweiler and many others who in modern times have taken over where the medieval princely patrons of the arts left off. We in the London area are fortunate indeed that part of this superb collection, arranged in association with the Gallery Maeght in Paris has come to the Royal Academy, thereby making it easily accessible to us – but viewers most certainly come from all over the UK and abroad.
Works by Bonnard and Matisse lead into the show which, however, is soon devoted to the art of the four masters named earlier. Miro is in typically sprightly mood with his childlike figures and bright colours drawing us into his phantasy universe. Examples include ‘Joy Of A Little Girl In Front Of The Sun’ not, as one might suppose, rendered in light tones but with red streaks against a black background, this somehow intensifying the child’s emotion. In ‘Birds’ Flight At The First Spark Of Dawn’ Miro does not attempt figuration of the perceived world but suggests movement via crudely painted, swirling arabesques in black paint against an off-white, twilight ground.
The American Alexander Calder is best known as the sculptor who made his creations move in their own space, encouraged by any passing breeze. In other words, his artefacts were ‘mobile’. So completely did this idea grip the public imagination that the Western world, in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, was seized with a craze for ‘mobiles’, an example of which you could find suspended in countless drawing rooms and hallways from San Francisco to Berlin – well, West Berlin, anyway. ‘Three Yellow Suns’ is a kind of mega-example of the concept, rendered in painted metal and occupying about twelve feet of floor space – not one to which you could give house room!
Aime Maeght caught up with Georges Braque long after the latter had parted company, artistically, with Picasso and Cubism. ‘The Echo’, of 1953/56, is a large still life which in subject matter recalls his Cubist period, but in manner is far removed from the austere fragmentation of Analytical Cubism. Here, with no suggestion of traditional perspective the composition as a whole and its component parts rest on a two-dimensional plane and achieve a lyrical graphic handling and synchromy. There are many examples of Braque’s flowering post-Cubist versatility both as to media and theme. His illustrations of Hesiod’s Theogony, engraved in plaster with a series of superimposed sinuous lines suggesting god-like figures, are examples of this.
This is an inspirational show, especially for artist members of Free Painters and sculptors, for whom freedom of expression is the bottom line. Perhaps, when all is said and done, the real achievement of these masters is not just what they have produced on canvas, or in metal or plaster or clay, so much as their ability to reach down into the hidden meaning of things in the perceived world – the deeper reality – and their success in giving expression to this through their various artefacts. Aime Maeght must surely be regarded as having made a significant contribution to this process.