The Brussels fair is paying homage to a founding member of the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV) by welcoming four of Julio Le Parc’s monumental works. An opportunity to look over the career of this indomitable artist.
Julio Le Parc had to wait a long time before institutions began to recognise him in the way that he deserves. Today, the Argentinian artist is finally being given his dues, now acknowledged as “a living legend” in the art world, as the Galerie Perrotin hastens to describe him. Having decided to represent him since November 2016, this gallery has kicked off its collaboration with the artist with a solo exhibition in its space in New York – a city where Julio Le Parc has not been shown since 1973. “It was time to rectify this error,” notes the Parisian gallery. Offering an interesting bridge towards the retrospective prepared by Pérez Art Museum in Miami (visible until 19 March 2017), the Perrotin exhibition presented both recent works and iconic pieces, already seen in major monographic shows such as the one at the Palais de Tokyo in 2013. It was the latter event that truly marked Julio Le Parc’s return to favour. The institution, having undergone a makeover, reopened with this retrospective organised by Jean de Loisy: 2,000 m2 devoted to the artist and gathering historic works including Continuel Mobile from 1963, today visible at BRAFA. Drawing 180,000 visitors, the Palais de Tokyo show met with success amongst critics and the general public alike. It followed up “Le Parc Lumière”, organised by the Daros Latinamerica Collection in Zurich in 2005, and the Centre Pompidou Metz exhibition in 2011-2012 titled “Erre”, a collective show which devoted an entire room to Julio Le Parc’s works… after 20 years in purgatory.
Julio Le Parc was thirty years old when he arrived in Paris in 1958 thanks to a French government scholarship awarded by the French Embassy (which would later become the Prix Braque). At that time, the French capital was still a compulsory transit point for many artists seeking to make a career from art. “In those days, in Latin America, and especially in Buenos Aires, the continent’s most European city, we’d speak about Paris and France rather than the United States,” recalls Horacio Garcia Rossi, during the exhibition “Au-delà du miroir – La Lumière”, in 2005. “The economy was steered by the Anglo-Saxon world, literature was geared towards Spain, and art looked towards France. In Buenos Aires, there were statues by Bourdelle and Rodin,” continues this other founder of the GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel) movement. In Buenos Aires, Julio Le Parc attended the city’s Fine Arts School, and counted amongst his teachers a certain Lucio Fontana. In 1954, his discovery of the work of Victor Vasarely, presented in Argentina, had a great influence on his future path. The young artist sought to break out from academism, to learn new techniques, to free himself from the brush and canvas. He experimented constantly. During his first years in Paris, lacking in financial means, Julio Le Parc adapted his production to whatever he had at hand: Indian ink, cardboard boxes… At that time, he shared a garage with a few friends who were fellow artists: François Morellet, Yvaral, Francisco Sobrino… These were the seeds of the CRAV, the Centre de Recherche d’Art Visuel founded in 1960, which would become the GRAV. And what was the leitmotiv of these artists? Exploration, the use of new materials such as light, neon lights or Plexiglas, collective production, and ultimately, the demystification of art. Together, they would not hesitate to bring art to the streets, as in April 1966, to “experiment with and through the artistic proposition of new participatory solutions, constructed with and through the action of a public in the know,” Julio Le Parc would explain. “It is important to awaken the viewer, to create an instant of relationship with him,” he stated. More than the artist and his signature, it was the work of the collective that would be of foremost importance. In 1966, however, Julio Le Parc won the International Painting Grand Prix at the Venice Biennale. With this emergence of individuals, the group decided to separate in 1968 against the backdrop of social revolution…
Four years later, the exhibition at the Grand Palais titled “Douze ans d’art contemporain en France. 1960-1972” (Twelve Years of Contemporary Art in France) would have an impact on Le Parc’s career. This well-known exhibition, also known as “Expo 72”, setting out to be a major retrospective of contemporary art in France, took a rough skid. Artists were criticised of serving capital. Julio Le Parc took part in these protests, and his condemnation of French cultural policy would send him into several years of purgatory. But no matter – the creator continued to produce work, with experiment following experiment. What mattered most to him were ideas. Julio Le Parc didn’t hesitate to rework his own pieces after leaving them aside for a few years. He turned light into his material of predilection. He played with outdoor elements such as air – and hence movement. He sublimated the optical power of colour. The vogue of kinetic art, evidenced in recent years through various exhibitions including “Dynamo” at the Grand Palais or “Zero” at the Guggenheim in New York, has put Julio Le Parc back on the centre stage as one of the movement’s historic figures. Starting off as a rebel and critic of the art market, the artist has finally fallen in step with the norm. Hasn’t he, like Albers, Buren and Sugimoto before him, designed a mythical Hermès silk scarf, or in the trail of Jeff Koons, elaborated a series for the Bernardaud porcelain manufacturer? Even if Julio Le Parc doesn’t yet belong to the category of artists whose sales raise millions, his protean work inspires diverse reflections on contemporary creation.
Kinetic art and optical plays
The Galerie Denise René has played a major role in the development and recognition of the kinetic movement. In 1955, it presented, in Paris, the “Le Mouvement” exhibition gathering a range of artists including Duchamp, Soto and Tinguely. Their common point? A search for movement, whether real or implied, via the viewer’s movement. The term “kinetic art” appeared for the first time in 1960 during an exhibition at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich. The coming years would bring a rise of other movements across the world: the GRAV of course, but also the Zero group in Düsseldorf, or else the T group in Milan. Kinetic art or op art – the term adopted in Britain – spread and took various guises, all related to issues surrounding perception.
“Julio Le Parc: Form into Action”, until 19 March. Pérez Art Museum Miami. 1103 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, Florida. www.pamm.org