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"L’Esprit Nouveau: Purism in Paris, 1918–1925"
2001-04-29 until 2001-08-05
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles, CA, USA

LACMA revisits the origins of the Modernist movement, which made a lasting change in art and architecture, with a pioneering exhibition, L’Esprit Nouveau: Purism in Paris, 1918–1925. As World War I came to a close and the Machine Age saturated daily lives the world over, three artists formed the core of an art movement that both championed the new and reflected the classical. Purism in Paris, organized by LACMA, examines the art and writings of Amédée Ozenfant, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (better known by his pseudonym, Le Corbusier), and Fernand Léger. Purism in Paris includes rarely exhibited paintings and drawings, as well as a full-scale reconstruction of the interior of Le Corbusier’s Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau (Pavilion of the New Spirit), built in 1925 for the International Exposition of Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris.

The basis of the Purist movement is the work made between 1918 and 1925 by Purism's founders and leading proponents, Ozenfant and Jeanneret (Le Corbusier), and the work of 1920–25 by their closest colleague, Fernand Léger. Purism evolved as a response to both the artistic and the historic conditions in post–World War I Paris. Realized particularly in painting and architecture, Purism championed a traditional classicism with a formal focus on clean geometries, yet it simultaneously embraced new technologies, new materials, and the machine aesthetic.

By 1917, both the Swiss-born Jeanneret and Ozenfant—who came from the French provinces—were living in Paris. Ozenfant encouraged Jeanneret to paint (in addition to working on his architectural projects), and in late 1918 they had a two-person exhibition in Paris. The imagery of the works exhibited was pared down and based on geometric forms (the cylinder, the sphere, the cube); the paintings depicted landscapes in addition to the still lifes that would ultimately define Purist subject matter. More important than the exhibition, however, was the publication that immediately preceded it. Après le cubisme (After Cubism), written by Ozenfant and Jeanneret, claimed simply to be a series of commentaries defining the current condition of art, but it is, in fact, a manifesto for postwar French painting. It includes a brief but powerful articulation of the relationship between art and science, both of which strive to put the universe in balance. The chapter of Après le cubisme entitled The Laws establishes the philosophical underpinnings of Purism. Great art [has] the ideal of generalizing, which is the highest goal of the spirit.... [It] scorn[s] chance... art must generalize to attain beauty.


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