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By Duchamp, Picabia, Bataille, Bunuel

During the surrealist period, the visual organ was an obsession. Marcel Duchamp wanted to make “non-retinal” art, while in 1921 Francis Picabia produced a collage filled with pieces of text with the strange name “L’oeil cacodylate” (The Cacodylatic Eye) referring to ophthalmic shingles, which he contracted, and which greatly affected him. In 1928 Georges Bataille published the erotic novella “Story of the Eye”. And in 1930 Luis Bunuel released the film “Un chien andalou” in which an unbearable and now legendary sequence shows the cross-section of an eye.

Missing one eye

A year later, a Romanian painter called Victor Brauner (1903-1966) painted his own self-portrait, curiously missing one eye. It so happened that in 1938 he intervened in a fight between two surrealist painters and was struck in the face with a broken glass. He lost his left eye. The surrealists are fans of magic, the unconscious and premonition. So there’s no doubt, as co-curator Jeanne Brun explains, that “they recognize in Victor Brauner one of their own”.

André Breton

The movement’s theoretician André Breton even described Brauner as a “seer”. The exhibition at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris (City of Paris Museum of Modern Art) does him justice in 200 works. Brauner is one of the pariahs of the history of modern art, long forgotten by museums as well as the market.

Samy Kinge

Brauner produced prolifically and of course not everything he made was remarkable, but this exhibition selects the best of his work. The French expert specialist on the subject is Samy Kinge. Today he has a gallery in his name but in 1968 he worked for the Iolas gallery and was charged with collaborating with Victor Brauner’s widow. He explains why the painter has to some extent fallen into obscurity.

A new visual vocabulary

The exhibition helps us understand that coincidentally it was also in 1938, when the young Jewish Romanian, propelled by the difficult political situation in his country, based himself in Paris, that he established his own personal visual vocabulary. Up until that point his compositions were often subject to a mixture of influences, from his friend Yves Tanguy to Dali and De Chirico.

Kind of Ubu

However in 1934, frightened by the rising tide of nationalism in Europe, he made a series of fascinating artworks that depicted a kind of Ubu Roi, a grotesque dictator with a big belly festooned with medals on bare flesh. On one of these preparatory studies he even wrote: “Partout LA MENACE! LA MORT” (Everywhere there is DANGER! DEATH). Alas, this was again one of Brauner’s premonitions.

Half-flower half-man

During the war he fled to the South of France and sought refuge in exile in the land of his imagination, which took the concrete form of his paintings. His signature pieces featured fantasy figures, half-flower half-human, or part-animal part-human, before appearing as deities with multiple tentacles which were both male and female.

Objective chance

Returning to Paris, Brauner coincidentally – or by “objective chance” (hasard objectif) as Breton put it – occupied the studio of Henri Rousseau. It was there that Brauner painted his masterpiece: “La rencontre du 2 bis rue Perrel” (The Encounter of 2 bis rue Perrel), which took the scene of Rousseau’s “La charmeuse de serpent” (The Snake Charmer) into which he places his white creature with large eyes, a “Conglomeros”.

His magic makes it seem like the creature truly existed.

Victor Brauner

Until 10 January. Victor Brauner. www.mam.paris.fr.

 

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