15/07 - 04/11/2012
While Francis Picabia (1879-1953) was a leading Dadaist figure and a close colleague of Marcel Duchamp, it is still difficult to fit his work neatly into the art historical categories of the avant-garde or classical modernism. His contempt for strict beliefs regarding artistic ideologies frequently led him to oppose the predominant theories of the day, time and again trying to avoid any kind of appropriation.
Picabia is considered to be a great innovator, provocateur, instigator, man about town, unconventional thinker and maverick of modernism who entered into art history both as a painter and a poet. Few artists of the 20th century have expressed as many contradictory aspects and styles in their oeuvre as Picabia.
Picabia was initially influenced by the Barbizon School and Symbolism, until, thirty years after the birth of Impressionism, he came under the spell of the intellectual play of light and color of modernist painting. Already at this time, he began to consciously synthesize different artistic movements, and any kind of stubborn devotion to a single, recognizable style appeared to him as stagnation.
First he went back to the Fauves only then to develop a unique form of abstract painting through cubist principles. He turned to making the so-called mechanomorphic pictures which drew upon and ironically played with the fascination at the time with the mechanization of everyday life, with both conceptual wit and surreal alienation transformed into idiosyncratic portraits. With the founding of the magazine 391, he became one of the pioneers of Dadaism in Europe, only a year later to abandon this direction too. In the mid-1920s, he began work on his series of “transparences”, superimpositions of several motifs that suggested a spatial representation without perspective that were influenced by citations from the paintings in Pompeii, Roman frescoes, Botticelli and Michelangelo. Beginning in the late 1930s and until the end of the Second World War, Picabia developed a photorealistic style of painting concentrating mostly on the female nude, which he in part copied or paraphrased from boulevard magazines.
His final stylistic turn first came about after war in 1945 - perhaps due to a lack of any way to express himself in the face of its horrors. After 1945 and until his death in 1953, he devoted himself to the debate about abstract, formless painting surrounding the Nouvelle École de Paris. With this first retrospective of works by Picabia in Austria, the Kunsthalle Krems will examine the role of irony in the continual changes of style in his work in order to revise some conceptions of modernism that still dominate the historiography of the period, arguing that since the beginning of post-modernism, art has drawn a direct line of descent to his subversive ideas.
Curator: Hans-Peter Wipplinger