I recently stumbled upon old work by Claude Viallat, which strikes me as a precursor to the Casualist aesthetic. Born in Nimes, France in 1936, Claude Viallat used to show at Leo Castelli, and had his last NYC solo show at Cheim & Read in 2002. He attended the Ecole de Beaux Arts de Montpellier in the South of France (1955-1959) and the Ecole des Beaux Arts de Paris (1962-63); His first solo show was in 1966. Currently he has a solo at Bernard Ceysson in Saint-Étienne.
By the beginning of the seventies, he became one of the leaders of the interesting group Supports/Surfaces (link to a terrific 2004 essay on the group by Raphael Rubinstein). With fellow French artists such as Bioulès, Cane and Dezeuze he founded the group after a period of intense experimentation in the south of France, where he installed his works in various non-institutional spaces such as farms, a beach, the bed of river, etc.
In a context of radical questioning social norms and values, the artists attempted to break up the convention of painting by deconstructing the concept of the stretcher (support) and canvas (surfaces). The group had its first show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1971. I find Viallat’s relationship to the Casualist abstraction of artists such as Chris Martin, Rochelle Feinstein, Tatiana Berg, and Lauren Luloff fascinating.
“One recalls an anecdote recounted by Tom Hess in his essay on Barnett Newman. A collector who had just visited one of his shows tells one of Newman’s friends, none other than Franz Kline, of his immense irritation. These paintings, he thinks, are far too simple and repetitive. How far will Newman go in his mocking of the world? Kline questioned him about their size, their color, the width of the zips, the paintings formats, those contrasts and oppositions, concluding-much to the shame of the collector unable to detail all of these subtleties-that the works were of a singular complexity
“Viallat’s work is a little like this too. Blinded by the form that is nothing more than a pretext, bothered by the incongruous and vulgar supports, the spectator will sometimes be thrown off course. He or she will think that it is all the same where in fact there are only extreme differences and perpetual beginnings. It is interesting to note that the work continues to resist forty years later. For certain observers, painting on such non-conformist supports, or relying on the pictorial conventions of the decorative arts, is still a way to brave prohibitions. These reactions are interesting given the reigning atmosphere of conformity that even the most novel approaches do not escape. In any case, they serve as proof that Viallat remains pertinent. Far from applying his pre-established system, in the manner of certain minimalists, Viallat incessantly puts it at risk, in the image of the bull’s horn entering painting’s flesh and constituting its truth.”
“Claude Viallat: Peintures et objets,” Bernard Ceysson, Sait-Etienne, France. Through January 31, 2012.