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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,
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.