October 7, 2013

Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis
Philadelphia Museum of Art 
October 14, 2013 - January 5, 2014 

FERNAND LEGER, French, 1881 - 1955 
Composition à la main et aux chapeaux, 1927 
Oil on canvas, 97 3/4 x 73 inches (248.3 x 185.4 cm) 

Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d'art moderne/Centre de création industrielle 

Comprising approximately 160 works, including loans from public and private collections in Europe and the United States, this multimedia exhibition will unite The City with other important paintings from this period by the French painter FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955), and with key works in film, theater design, graphic and advertising design, and architecture by the artist and his avant-garde colleagues, including Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Cassandre, Amédée Ozenfant, Le Corbusier, Francis Picabia, Alexandra Exter, Gerald Murphy, and others. 

Returning to Paris after military service in World War I, Fernand Léger encountered a changed city, infused with a new boisterous energy that would inspire him to create one of his landmark achievements, the monumental painting The City (1919). The creation of this work signaled the beginning of the most experimental period in Léger’s work, lasting through the 1920s, when the artist challenged and redefined the practice of painting by bringing it into active engagement with the urban popular and commercial arts. Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis will examine the centrality of this masterpiece in Léger’s career and the European avant-garde in the years immediately after World War I.

FERNAND LEGER, French, 1881 - 1955 
Les Disques, 1918 
Oil on canvas, 105 1/2 × 81 7/8 × 1 9/16 inches (268 × 208 × 3.9 cm) 
Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris 

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: “Léger’s The City, donated to the Museum by the artist and collector A.E. Gallatin, is one of the greatest works in our collection and a landmark in the history of modern art. This exhibition examines the painting in context and marks the first time that the culture of the modern metropolis is explored as a catalyst for Léger’s pursuits in a variety of media.”

In the United States, the exhibition will be seen only in Philadelphia. Following its presentation at the Museum, it will travel to Venice where it will be on view at the Correr Museum, Piazza San Marco (a Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia institution).

A monumental painting in a post-Cubist style, The City was intended by the artist to convey viscerally the density and spatial complexity of the urban environment. Fernand Léger considered The City a “mural” painting both because of its grand scale and because he believed it spoke to a mass audience. With its composition characterized by montage-like cross-cuts from one scene to the next and dramatic “close-ups,” The City emulated the most popular of modern urban entertainments, the cinema. With his enthusiasm for modernity and urban culture continuing to grow, Léger considered abandoning painting for filmmaking. In 1922-1924 he designed, produced, and directed for the cinema and theater. During this time, in collaboration with Amédée Ozenfant, Fernand Léger established a free school where he taught with Alexandra Exter (photo) and Marie Laurencin. In 1924, influenced by the work and theories of Theo van Doesburg and Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger produced the first of his entirely abstract "mural paintings.”

ALEXANDRA EXTER, Russian (born Ukraine), 1882 - 1949 
Design from Décors de Théâtre, 1930 
Pochoir print, 20 1/2 x 13 inches (52.1 x 33 cm), Framed: 29 1/2 × 23 1/2 × 1 1/4 inches (74.9 × 59.7 × 3.2 cm) 
Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

The exhibition will be organized thematically to reflect the fertile relationships between painting and urban culture during this period. The first section of the exhibition will examine the notion of “publicity” and the excitement Léger felt for the evolving visual language of mass communication in the city: the bustle of billboards, traffic signs, and shop window displays. Léger’s paintings, his designs for advertising posters, and his print illustrations will be seen alongside work by other artists and designers, such as Gerald Murphy (photo), Cassandre, and Jean Carlu.

GERALD MURPHY, American, 1888 - 1964 
Razor, 1924 
Oil on canvas, 32 1/16 × 36 1/2 inches (81.4 × 92.7 cm), Framed: 34 × 38 inches (86.4 × 96.5 cm) 
Dallas Museum of Art, Foundatino for the Arts Collection, gift of the artist

The exhibition will also explore Léger’s interest in public entertainment and staged performance, mainly the theater and cinema, highlighting the set and costume designs produced by Léger for film and ballet. This part of the exhibition will survey avant-garde activities around cinema and the stage and include works by Picabia, Alexandra Exter, Georgii Yakoulov, and others. The exhibition’s final section will address the theme of “space” by presenting the artist’s abstract mural compositions of the mid-1920s, intended as decorative architectural panels, in the context of the avant-garde’s exploration of integrating architectural and pictorial space. This section of the exhibition will include works by artists, architects, and designers such as Piet Mondrian (photo), van Doesburg, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Alexander Archipenko and Le Corbusier.

PIET MONDRIAN, Dutch, 1872 - 1944 
No. VI / Composition No. II, 1920 
Oil on canvas, 39 3/16 × 39 3/8 inches (99.5 × 100 cm) 
Tate: Purchased 1967

“For many artists, the metropolis imposed a new way of seeing and demanded new practices of artmaking,”comments exhibition curator Anna Vallye, the Museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art. “It inspired Léger to probe the boundaries between the arts, and between fine art and common culture.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in collaboration with Yale University Press. Featuring essays by scholars of art, architecture, and film history, a selection of historical texts by Léger and other avant-garde figures not previously published in English, and more than 250 full-color illustrations, the catalogue conveys the experimental spirit of the 1920s.

Museum's website: www.philamuseum.org