The New Space

5.Les premières spaciales

Wolfgang Paalen, Les premieres spaciales, 1941 – 44  ©Succession Wolfgang Paalen


It was in the 1940s that Paalen’s art particularly played a major role in changing the conception of abstract art. Due to his magazine DYN, his presence and exhibitions in New York City, 1940 Julien Levy, 1945 Peggy Guggenheim´s The Art of This Century gallery and 1946 Galerie Nierendorf, he influenced significantly the genesis of Abstract Expressionism. Paintings such as Les premiers spaciales of 1941 set entirely on the new pictorial space because they concentrate on pictorially immanent means: Rhythm, light and colour. Important is that they transform the rhythmical appearance of the fumage imprints into a neo-cubist rhythm, which Paalen then compares with the fugue and jazz, through a mosaic-like fracture and complementary contrasts. He wants to create the atmosphere of a deeply moving, gripping encounter with beings that themselves remain silent. There is no action, no metamorphosis in them and nothing happens with them in the space. The picture itself is the being, or a frozen resonance of it. Precisely because of this total silence, every topical expectation put to them is reflected as a question. In a cartoon published by Ad Reinhardt in the fifties, Paalen’s suggestion from Form and Sense is repeated: “Paintings no longer represent; it is no longer the task of art to answer naive questions. Today it has become the role of the painting to look at the spectator and ask him: what do you represent?” Gustav Regler wrote 1946 about this groundbreaking idea:

“There is no greater fear of the numerous escapists of our time than that before the mirror. An amazing, breathtaking idea: to have a portrait asking the original what it is worth, how it lives up to what the painter saw. The old symbol of Dorian Gray. Paalen renewed it in his way. He doubts whether anybody today even knows what he represents. He dares to pretend that someone can grow by the painter. He has the same hope as Pygmalion, to fall in love with his creation and to be outgrown by it. He waits for the picture to renounce allegiance to its creator. He paints his portrait without human features.”

Paalen understood his picture beings as a kind of pictorial version of the ancient choros tragicos, the tragic chorus effect, conceived in Nietzsche’s writing on The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music. It is the deep existential foundation of reality, what he is interested in. Although it becomes common practice after 1947, until this time, nobody had placed so much responsibility on the viewer as Paalen did with his rhetoric and pictorial language.

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©Succession Wolfgang Paalen if not otherwise stated. The artwork and photographs are protected by copyright. It’s posted here in accordance with fair use principles