press release

Be-Bomb: the Transatlantic War of Images and all that Jazz. 1946-1956 analyses the aesthetic quarrels of the period between 1946 and 1956, the time when New York replaced Paris as the nerve centre of modern art. Curated by the French historian Serge Guilbaut, the exhibition sets out to compare and contrast the art produced in France and the USA in those years in order to understand how and why some works became, if only for a short time in each country, cultural icons that contained fabulous but limited symbolic powers and then turned into media signs that could be commercialised with great success.

The show will also be studying the reasons why the popular icons of one culture were not recognised by the other at that particular moment. After the victory of American abstract expressionism, the American critics despised French artistic production because they regarded it as pointless and meaningless. Faced with the imposing presence of the victorious movement of abstract expressionism, the French art scene, in its fragmented wealth, seemed incapable of projecting a single voice or direction for the future, as Paris had done in the past.

To study the history of French and American art after the Second World War is a considerable challenge, not only because the period has not been properly studied (despite the attempts by some museums in recent years) but because the consensus among investigators has been deeply shaped by the success of American art. The French art of that period has been regarded as weak and irrelevant, but the interesting thing is that at that moment it displayed the essential features of Western art: the same debates about realism, geometrical abstraction and forms of abstract expressionism. The specific aspect of the French scene was the extreme politicisation of artistic expression in a culture still contained in a violent, revolutionary tradition, at a time of strong tensions arising from the divisions of the Cold War.

The exhibition, which follows a strict chronological order, will include works by famous painters such as Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet, Arshile Gorky, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko, but also by others who were important at the time but have been forgotten by the general public (Marcel Barbeau, Romare Bearden, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Howard Daum, Philip Evergood, Alfred Manessier or Steve Wheeler, among many others). Their paintings, which in their day became major reference points amidst the ‘chaos’ of everyday life, will be analysed in relation to their particular history and discussed in the framework of the problems of the moment.

The show aims to break the holiness of the white cube and the straitjacket of formalism to introduce different kinds of discourse into the discussion: films, newspapers, fashion, archives and radio programmes which will be confronted with the works of art to develop a hypothesis about some of the reasons that explain why certain specific works were successful and others were not even shown, much less discussed.

Curator: Serge Guilbaut and Manuel Borja-Villel Produced by: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (MNCARS)

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Be-Bomb: the Transatlantic War of Images and all that Jazz. 1946-1956

Kuratoren: Serge Guilbaut, Manuel Borja-Villel

mit Marcel Barbeau, Gertrude Barrer, Romare Bearden, Byron Brown, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Howard Daum, Willem De Kooning, Jean Dubuffet, Philip Evergood, Arshile Gorky, Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, Alfred Manessier, Henri Matisse, Henri Michaux, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Pierre Soulages, Nicolas de Staël, Henry van de Velde, Maria Elena Vieira da Silva, Steve Wheeler, Wols  ...