Nouveaux Réalistes

Jean Tinguely never had an exhibition in Koblenz, so his personal ties to the city are tenuous. The collection of the Ludwig Museum Koblenz nevertheless poses an ideal opportunity to elucidate the artistic environment in which Tinguely operated from a French perspective. The art presented here comes from the collection of Peter and Irene Ludwig, who selected the works with a view to their alignment with post-1945 French art. Apart from classical modernists such as Pablo Picasso, Serge Poliakoff and Jean Dubuffet (both of whom had a crucial influence on the Paris art scene), and Wols, the German émigré who did all of his work in France, most of the artists in the collection were members of the Nouveaux Réalistes, Fluxus, Supports/Surface or Figuration Libre. The museum also houses interesting single works, such as Christian Boltanski’s drawer cabinet of 1972, which in its quest for the artist’s own personal history also addresses twentieth-century history generally.

The Nouveaux Réalistes enjoy special prominence at the Ludwig Museum Koblenz: César’s giant thumb Le pouce of 1965 greets visitors even before they walk in the door and there are works by Martial Raysse, Arman, Niki de Saint Phalle and of course Jean Tinguely, as well as the velvet and silk figure Dame oder Bella of 1967 by Eva Aeppli. While Aeppli did not belong to the Nouveaux Réalistes, she had close personal ties to them as a result of having lived with Tinguely on the Impasse Ronsin (until 1960) and there formed friendships with several artists. Especially important was the fact that she belonged to Tinguely’s inner circle; that is, she counted among his life-long friends and fellow artists. Many of the Nouveaux Réalistes also took part in the ‘Edition MAT’ (Multiplication d’Art Transformable) project, developed by Daniel Spoerri – later in collaboration with Karl Gerstner – between 1959 and 1965. The circle of participating artists was wider than that, however, and also included heroes of the older generation such as Man Ray, Josef Albers and Marcel Duchamp. And among contemporaries, too, the second edition of 1964 was thrown wide open with the result that the ‘Edition MAT’ attracted artists from all over Europe, even if the fundamental idea of the mutable work of art produced in series remained the same. With its works by Tinguely’s friend Ben Vautier, who together with Wolf Vostell represented Fluxus, a major collection of Supports/Surface artists like Daniel Buren and Louis Cane who in late-1960s France positioned themselves as an alternative to the Nouveaux Réalistes, and works by Robert Combas and Hervé di Rosa as the painters of Figuration Libre that in the 1980s threw the art world into turmoil, becoming the French equivalent of Germany’s Junge Wilden and American rebels like Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, the collection of the Ludwig Museum Koblenz is dominated by artists who all wanted to break out of what they felt to be a sclerotic art scene. Tinguely, by the way, was among the first to take an interest in Keith Haring and corresponded regularly with the young artist.