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Leaps into the Void: Documents of Nouveau Réalist Performance

harry shunk photograph
Saut dans le vide ( Leaps into the Void) Image courtesy of Harry Shunk, 1960.
The Menil Collection
1515 Sul Ross
Houston, 77006

Pyrotechnics, exploding pigment, blowtorches, lacerated décollage, and found materials, define the radical gestures of the avant-garde movement, Nouveau Réalisme. Translated as “New Realism,” it was founded by art critic Pierre Restany and artist Yves Klein in Paris in 1960. The circle of artists formally and informally associated with the movement included Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Martial Raysse, Christo, Mimmo Rotella and Arman, among others. They believed direct and aggressive physical explorations, characterized by a paradoxical emphasis on notions of deconstruction and accumulation, and the use of discarded materials from everyday life in the tradition of Dada, achieved a more truthful understanding of modern society in a moment of rising consumerism. As proclaimed in the First Manifesto of Nouveau Réalisme, “if one succeeds at reintegrating oneself with the real, one achieves transcendence, which is emotion, sentiment, and finally, poetry.”

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