About Nice. 1947-1977

Visit MAMAC and discover on two floors and nearly 2,500 m², a selection of more than 200 works of art from the collection.
Every year MAMAC completely renews the top floor and offers new experiences in its key rooms dedicated to Niki de Saint Phalle, Yves Klein and the international POP.
The collection is on the move for the pleasure of exploration and new dialogues.

The elements brought together here are part of the major exhibition “Regarding Nice. 1947-1977” organized in 2017 as part of the Biennial “Nice 2017. Ecole(s) de Nice” and on the occasion of the presumed anniversary of the birth of this artistic effervescence.

Ben, Cambra de Ben
Le Musée de Ben, 1990 – 1999, © Adagp, Paris, 2020

The School of Nice?! … Whatever name it is given or the list of its key figures, there existed from the late 1950’s a wave of strong, dynamic and artistic forces in Nice.

The museum and its collections bear witness to the richness of this history, put into perspective in an international context, at a time when these gestures appeared.

A constellation of actions and attitudes appeared in the area, as charismatic personalities made their mark, aiming to create connections between Nice and the international capitals of the art world.
In Paris, in 1977, the Centre Pompidou celebrated this vitality with the exhibition “A propos de Nice” (About Nice), orchestrated by Ben – one of the main protagonists of this epic movement.

A famous episode initiated the legendary birth of the movement, that of the symbolic division of the world shared by three young men on the beach of Nice in 1947: Yves Klein appropriating the infinite blue of the sky; the poet Claude Pascal seizing the air and Arman repossessing the land and its wealth. This inaugural action, a quest for the absolute, the spirit of challenge and indifference, paved the way for an active scene in the heart of and in reaction to the tranquillity of the seaside town.

Beyond the narratives that traditionally define the School of Nice in a succession of movements: New Realism, Fluxus, Supports/Surfaces, etc., primordial attitudes and gestures bring together these generations of artists with heterogeneous practices: a revolution of forms, an insolence of attitudes, an appetite for irreverence and a fascination for narratives. Beyond an aesthetic history, “The School of Nice” testifies to the emergence of personalities in a cosmopolitan context and in a city then in full mutation.

Illustration de couverture du catalogue A Propos de Nice réalisée par Ben Vautier, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris [31 January -11 april 1977]

French Riviera

In 1930 film A Propos de Nice, film-maker Jean Vigo takes a satirical look at the leisure town where wealthy, idle tourists live along local residents busy with the season’s activities. One generation later, Nice offers a striking contrast between a certain modernity, with its “herd of transatlantic liners in bright, garish colours, a showcase of cheap plastic utensils”* and its summer globetrotters, and the cultural isolation of young artists obsessed with the act of creating, – those contrasts undoubtedly act as the breeding ground for their energy and dissident behaviours.

Although the emergence of an art scene cannot be explained solely by its local context, it would be equally unproductive to ignore the specificity of Nice as a city and what it produced and forbid at the dawn of the 1960s. It was on the beach in Nice that Yves Klein dreamt of appropriating the infinity of the sky and on the seafront walk that Ben and his peers dreamed up actions that connected art and life. Amongst the blue chairs and the summer crowd, artists met and reshaped the world, challenging the stereotypes that represented the glamour of the Côte d’Azur abroad. Arman collected casino token, Martial Raysse created dazzling, pop evocations of the seaside world, and Claude Gilli evoked the Azure landscapes in brightly coloured cut panels. These references to pleasure seekers, bathers and pin-ups pay tribute to the emancipation of the body and stage an idyllic, sugar-coated society, brought to life through the archetypes of the French Riviera.
*Jean-Jacques Lévêque, “Ecole de Nice”, Opus International, April 1967, no.1.

*Jean-Jacques Lévêque, « École de Nice », Opus International, avril 1967, no 1.

Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « French Riviera », MAMAC, Nice, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris,
Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « French Riviera », MAMAC, Nice, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris, 2019

Modern wonders?

At the dawn of the 1960’s, influenced by the development of international tourism and the Americanization of French society, Nice became identified with youth, hedonism, and thriving mass consumption. This perpetual quest for the new and mass-production would lay the foundations for the artists’ relationship with appropriation and subversion of reality. “Yes, Nice is our peaceful and pasteurized paradise. From here, art could be created that adheres to this fabricated reality”1 wrote critic Jean-Jacques Lévêque in 1967*. Faced with this giddy obsession with the new, the making of cheap objects and illusion, artists invented new forms. They distorted this world, with its ludicrous aspiration for possession, in satirical or anti-establishment ways, singling out through a fascination with the aseptic its fatal quest for eternal youth. From this spectacle of daily life, artists produced a new beauty uniting excess and bad taste. They proposed a sociology of “modern wonders” inspired by the remains of a society driven by accumulation, using repetition to breaking point and proliferation to corrupt and degrade objects, and joyfully destroyed the icons of the modern world. In doing this, they composed an unbridled ode to the excesses of the cult of possession and programmed obsolescence.

* Jean-Jacques Lévêque, « École de Nice », Opus International, avril 1967, no 1.
1 Extraits : Textes Hélène Guenin et Rébecca François – source catalogue « A propos de Nice », Somogy, Paris, 2017

Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « Merveilleux moderne », MAMAC, Nice, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris
Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « Merveilleux moderne », MAMAC, Nice, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris
Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « Merveilleux moderne », MAMAC, Nice, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris

The quest for the absolute – The invention of actions

In 1947, three young men at the dawn of their artistic practice, shared the world “facing this stupid sea where old men consume France and art.”* This original and mythical tale presented the horizon of ambition, a testament to a search for the absolute that was both indifferent to and obsessed with conquest. In a city still torn between conservatism and modernism, far from Parisian circles, it set off a series of future radical actions and artistic practices based on performative gestures and a quest for excess. Yves Klein created his Saut dans le vide (Leap into the Void) in the Parisian suburbs, Bernar Venet composed his own “fall” into a pile of detritus during his military service in Tarascon, and Ben threw God into the sea from the port of Nice. These actions depict the portrait of this questful spirit, between triviality, irreverence and the desire for omnipotence, including a taste for childish humour and competition. Some actions can be seen as a parody of the then still dominant lyrical abstraction, an act criticizing society; others used an analytical and material approach or attempted to capture the “momentary states” of being and the world. From the mark of everyday objects or elements of nature in a baptism of fire, might these actions offer a way to connect the transitory nature of being to art’s desire for eternity?

* Claude Pascal, in About Nice, exhib. cat. (Paris, Centre Pompidou, 31 January-11 April 1977), Paris, Centre Pompidou, 1977.

Vue de l’exposition « A Propos de Nice 1947-1977 », Salle En Quête d’absolu, Yves Klein, MAMAC, Nice, © Succession Yves Klein c/o Adagp, Paris, 2020
Vue de l’exposition « A Propos de Nice 1947-1977 », Salle En Quête d’absolu, Yves Klein, MAMAC, Nice, © Succession Yves Klein c/o Adagp, Paris, 2020

Questioning paintings ans attitudes – Théâtre Total

In the mid-1960’s, a number of young artists were brought together by Ben’s magazine and the Nice School of Decorative Arts, with Charvolen, Maccaferri, Miguel, Dolla and their professor Viallat who ended up being fired in 1966-67 for causing political unrest. Engaged in the analytical and material exploration of painting, Chacallis, Maccaferri, Miguel, Charvolen and Isnard gathered in the context of an exhibition in Chacallis’ house in Vieux-Nice in January 1971. This event was the first official exhibition of Groupe 70, later followed by an invitation to the theatre of Nice. The collective experience came to an end in 1973 after their participation in the 8th Paris Biennial. Between 1968 and 1973, art critic and poet Raphaël Monticelli and artist Marcel Alocco created “INterVENTION”, bringing together the members of Groupe 70 and various members of Supports/Surface for theoretical debates and organizing exhibitions. It was then that Marcel Alocco began his work on figures, first applying stylized patterns onto bedsheets, before cutting and deconstructing them in his famous patchworks. Lastly, on the margins of this academic research, Jacques Martinez, who worked in the area, unveiled his own pictorial language, based on the concepts of surfaces, materials and actions.

Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « Art de gestes, Art d’Attitudes », MAMAC, Nice, 2017
© ADAGP, Paris

La Cédille qui Sourit

American artist George Brecht, a pioneer of conceptual art, and French artist Robert Filliou, who mastered the art of the ordinary, decided to set themselves up in Villefranche-sur-Mer, near Nice, to open a non-shop-bookshop, “An international centre of permanent creation” under the symbol of humour, La Cédille qui Sourit (the Cedilla that Smiles). From October 1965 to March 1968, jewellery, facsimile editions, prints and original artworks were exhibited without hierarchy. The activities of La Cédille qui Sourit sometimes took place in a venue on 12 Rue de May, which was “always closed, only open upon request”, but most often in the streets and bars of the old town. Robert Filliou described it as follows: “We played games, invented and reinvented objects, liaised with the humble and the powerful ones, and drank and spoke with the neighbours.”* Foreshadowing the critical forms reflecting on the meaning of our existence and its world that emerged in Western cultural movements around May 1968, La Cedille qui Sourit was an attempt to bring art and life closer together in a small village on the Côte d’Azur, whose history haunts modern international artistic creation.

* Robert Filliou, Teaching and Learning as Performing Arts, Cologne, New York, Verlag Kasper König 1970.

Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « La Cédille qui sourit », MAMAC, Nice, 2017
© ADAGP, Paris

Supports/Surfaces

Considered as the last artistic adventure of the avant-garde movement in France, Supports/Surfaces was a short-lived but powerful influence (1970-1972) on Nice, making it the site of important experiments. Faced with the challenges carried by the art of appropriation and the art of attitudes, the artists of the movement maintained that painting was still possible and began reinventing the fundamentals of art. Traditional tools were replaced with raw materials. Canvases stretched over frames were replaced by free canvases and ordinary fabrics. Emphasis was placed on the artistic process and the interaction between actions and supports. In parallel with these critical acts, the presentation of artworks was also called into question through the use of unconventional display methods. Projects led outdoors in the streets of the village of Coaraze in the summer of 1969 under the impetus of Jacques Lepage, then on the Mediterranean coast in the summer of 1970 represented important periods of experimentation and interaction with the audience, giving prominence to the nomadic and experimental character of Supports/Surfaces’ artworks.

Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « Supports-Surfaces », MAMAC, Nice, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris
Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « Supports-Surfaces », MAMAC, Nice, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris
Vue de l’exposition « À propos de Nice : 1947-1977 », section « Supports-Surfaces », MAMAC, Nice, 2017 © ADAGP, Paris

Questioning painting

In the mid-1960’s, a number of young artists were brought together by Ben’s magazine and the Nice School of Decorative Arts, with Charvolen, Maccaferri, Miguel, Dolla and their professor Viallat who ended up being fired in 1966-67 for causing political unrest. Engaged in the analytical and material exploration of painting, Chacallis, Maccaferri, Miguel, Charvolen and Isnard gathered in the context of an exhibition in Chacallis’ house in Vieux-Nice in January 1971. This event was the first official exhibition of Groupe 70, later followed by an invitation to the theatre of Nice. The collective experience came to an end in 1973 after their participation in the 8th Paris Biennial. Between 1968 and 1973, art critic and poet Raphaël Monticelli and artist Marcel Alocco created “INterVENTION”, bringing together the members of Groupe 70 and various members of Supports/Surface for theoretical debates and organizing exhibitions. It was then that Marcel Alocco began his work on figures, first applying stylized patterns onto bedsheets, before cutting and deconstructing them in his famous patchworks. Lastly, on the margins of this academic research, Jacques Martinez, who worked in the area, unveiled his own pictorial language, based on the concepts of surfaces, materials and actions.

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