There are abundant celebratory critiques in the press calling for the return of Georges Mathieu to his rightful place in the History of Art, as well as in the contemporary art market. We venture to say this is what is happening, and it will soon lead to a major retrospective that will restore on an international scale the true value of the second Paris School as well as the real value of its most flamboyant and revolutionary representative.
Connaissance des Arts
N°731 (November 2014), page 100, in the section “The Stars of Modern Art”, next to a reproduction of Dante II (1958):
Another note of interest: a true modern solo show at Applicat-Prazan, with Georges Mathieu (“Paintings 1948-1959”), followed by an exhibit from November 4 to December 20 at the gallery’s two Paris locations. “Western Calligrapher” in the eyes of Malraux, and originator of Lyrical Abstraction, Mathieu offered a sacred dimension, almost ritual in its gestural quality. Veritable maestro of French-style Action Painting, Georges Mathieu started to use dripping in 1945, well before Pollock. For a long time eclipsed by the American School, today his work is the focus of a well-deserved fresh appreciation. This is feverish work that will undoubtedly call to mind and provoke effervescence…
Beaux Arts magazine
N°365 (November 2014), page 91, in the section “1 million and more”, under a reproduction of Couronnement d’Étienne de Blois, comte de Boulogne et roi d’Angleterre (Coronation of Étienne de Blois, Count of Boulogne and King of England, 1956):
Do you remember the ten franc coin, that was he… The Applicat-Prazan Gallery pays better homage to Mathieu with a solo show that promises to be a remarkable event!
N°92 (November 2014), pages 16 and 17, Stéphane Corréard’s chronicle entitled Georges Mathieu, the “Undead“, presenting reproductions of La mort accidentelle de Louis d’Outremer (The Accidental Death of Louis d’Outremer, 1954), and Açone (1948):
The “undead” are artists whose true importance appeared only after their death, and they are also artists whose influence continues to grow. Among them you’ll find the pariahs, whom History banished to purgatory, and even into quarantine. After a brief period of glory, they are condemned to spend ages in the shadows before being reborn.
Georges Mathieu might have vied for Erich Von Stroheim’s artistic title as “the man you would love to hate“. Since the National Museum of Modern Art in 1967, the only institution to have held a real museum retrospective of his work was the Jeu de Paume (during Daniel Abadie’s tenure) in 2002. That’s not much attention paid to an artist of worldwide renown. But there are cases in which an artist’s success and even his legend tend to obscure the influence of his work. As far as Mathieu is concerned, one might add his folkloric status and his ideological diversions. However, the excessive diffusion of his eminently recognizable graphic form and public staging of his persona, prophetic to the point of madness, should only be subjected to a single measure, that of the capital importance of his creative, theoretical, and strategic importance between 1944 and 1964.
Autodidact, globe-trotter and polyglot, Mathieu came to the visual arts via philosophy. Indeed, he places abstract painting right away into radically new perspectives: which is an abandonment not only of figural representation, but also of the geometry inherited from perspectivist illusion, an invention of action painting and even of the happening, highlighting rapid execution and the seismographic qualities of the gesture, the elaboration of signs which “precede their meaning”. Developed in conference meetings and in books like De l’abstrait au possible (From the Abstract to the Possible) and Au-delà du tachisme (Beyond Tachism), these conceptions quickly became “markers” for a whole new generation of artists who wanted to “start from zero” (to deploy the expression coined by Éric de Chassey and Sylvie Ramond for their eponymous exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon in 2009).
Atlan, Wols, but also Henri Michaux, who prompted his interest in Zen, or Simon Hantaï (with whom in 1957 he organized ceremonies commemorating the second conviction of Siger de Brabant): Georges Mathieu was such a strong and faithful incarnation of this “new movement” that he became its leader. In April, 1948, the “HWPSMTB” collective exhibition (acronym for the participants: Hartung, Wols, Picabia, Stahly, Mathieu, Tapié and Bryen), which he assembled at the Colette Allendy Gallery, marked the official birth of Art Informel. Six months later at the Galerie du Montparnasse, he brought these artists face to face with Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and Mark Tobey. As historic as they are, these events are just as inconsistent with the hypothesis that the Paris School was completely withdrawn into itself as it is with the image of Georges Mathieu as some royalist, reactionary, and nationalist.
Fifty years after the “humiliation” endured by the French artists at La Biennale di Venezia, when Roger Bissière was passed over in favor of Robert Rauschenberg for the Golden Lion following a masterful lobbying operation led by Léo Castelli, the “competition between legends” can fade into the background and let the true history of the art emerge from the fog of misconception. While part of contemporary art (the most visible and hegemonic, not just in the financial economy, but also in the libidinal economy of the image) has become a cultural industry like any other, it is delectable or painful, according to one’s temperament, to recall how many stars of the arts scene in the 1950s and 1960s in France, like Mathieu, but also Arman, Bernard Buffet, César and Victor Vasarely have been discredited for the very reason of their popular success, by the same conservators or guardians of the temple who today sing the praises of the likes of Jeff Koons or Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst or Olafur Eliasson, and whose unbridled policy of derivative production contaminates and even supplants the initial creativity.
On this score, however, Georges Mathieu’s career could be the envy of many, having placed so many indelible images into the collective imaginary, like Air France posters (1967, more than a million copies sold), the ten franc coin (1974), the Antenne 2 logo (1975), and the stamp commemorating the Appeal of 18 June and the death of General de Gaulle (1980). What’s more, he is the artist who could foresee the potential of the work of art to be the catalyst of forms of existence as yet unknown, put into practice with the architect Jacques Couëlle in the conception of the new village of Castellaras, in the Var region, and more than anything in the “total” project of the Usine-Etoile, projected for 1967 and inaugurated in 1972 in Fontenay-le-Comte. With 1500 square meters of surface area spread out over seven tapered points and embracing a 150-meter long production line, together creating a striking, aerial, and ultra-dynamic, even futuristic whole. The building has a unique elegance that is coyly anti-rationalist (and that is no easy feat for a factory), in the image of its creator, about whom the great conservator François Mathey contended that “he was the first to denounce the sclerosis of a comfortable culture, and the first to thrash the appropriated myths which conditioned the vision and the reason of the West.“