Simon HANTAI: Go Figure / Ground

Apr 11 - Dec 21, 2013


Press Release

Paul Rodgers/9W is pleased to present its second solo exhibition of Simon Hantaï, entitled Go Figure / Ground, which will coincide with the artist’s long awaited retrospective at the Georges Pompidou Center, Paris. The exhibition will bring together three major paintings: a Meun (1968), a Study (1969) and a late Left-Over Tabula (1981-94), all black and white paintings.

Barnett Newman declared that black and white were the colors that an artist used when he wanted to reinvent his work.  In the case of Hantaï, each of these three paintings addresses and reinvents one of the fundamental concerns of visual art: the theme of figure and ground.  In the Meun painting of 1968, we are confronted with an abstract figure set against a ground.  With the Study of 1969, a late example of the series in which the artist declared that he had discovered “what my true subject is: the resurgence of the ground beneath my feet”, we find that this figure has floated free and that the ground has established its own autonomy.  Finally, in the late Left-Over Tabula, we find that figure and ground are no longer conceived as divided, contrasting entities but are rather fused into an enigmatic new presence.  Viewed together, and set against the tendencies of modern and contemporary art in the post-World War Two era, these three paintings reveal the extraordinary depth and complexity of the artist’s aesthetic inquiry.

Born in 1922 in a hamlet outside of Budapest and emigrating in 1948, to escape the cultural repression of Communism, to Paris, where he died at the age of eighty six in 2008, Hantaï’s work covers all the major issues of modern art in the twentieth century and provides a direction for its continued practice in the twenty first century. Emerging from an engagement with Jackson Pollock’s problematic of how to measure human identity, while acknowledging the ‘unconscious’ in psychic life, Hantaï’s painting confronts the work of his contemporary international colleagues, Stella, Judd, Warhol and Richter, among others, who, in an attempt to break with the past after the Second World War, apply themselves to denying the human subject in favor of a positivist objectivity.

Hantaï recognized, with his contemporaries, that art must reckon with the effect of technology on modern life.  However, having experienced the Communist promotion of social homogeneity over individual identity, he was not prepared to sanction the strategy of collapsing subject into object with which, ironically, our economic system of market exchange sought to oppose Communism.   Hantaï would not defend a redundant individual consciousness in the face of changing subjective experience, but neither would he abandon it to a future of technological alienation.  Rather he would set himself the task, taken over from Pollock, Newman and Rothko, of inventing a new heterogeneous human subject. 

Today, when a consensus argues, often cynically, that art should no longer deal with the great issues of human existence, Hantaï is an inspiring example of an artist who believed that such is its role.

The Simon Hantaï retrospective will open at the Georges Pompidou Center on May 22nd, 2013, Gallery 1, Level 6, with more than 130 works from 1949 to the 1990s and a full color illustrated catalog.

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