United States of Abstraction. American Artists in France, 1946-1964

It is generally considered that Paris lost its status as the art capital of the world after the Second World War, in favour of New York. However, from the end of the war, many artists, musicians and writers came to study and create in France. The exhibition explores the intense presence of these American artists and how they helped redefine abstract art in France at a time when the global geography of art was being turned upside down.

The story of Abstract Expressionism, the New York School, and its heroes, Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning among others, became the prevailing narrative of art in 1945.

However, many American artists, musicians and writers, both men and women, came to study and create in France. Between 1946 and 1953, many of them benefited from the G.I. Bill grant, which enabled all veterans to finance their studies by enrolling in Parisian art schools and academies.

More than 400 artists were drawn by the cultural appeal of Paris, its museums and masters, the appeal of Europe, the possibility of creating without any real constraints thanks to the grant, the search for greater freedom, the desire to be elsewhere, to be in Paris as if on an island.

The exhibition is organised in three sections:

  • The Others of "Art Autre": Michel Tapié and American Art,
  • Paris is an Island,
  • Chance, Modularity and Movement: Renewals of Geometric Abstraction.

1. The Others of "Art Autre": Michel Tapié and American Art

The first section examines the works collected by the critic Michel Tapié, both in group exhibitions and in publications from the first half of the 1950s. These events constitute an exciting attempt to bring together a series of abstract works outside of national considerations, but around the ideas of expressivity, gestural or automatic abstract painting. Several American painters, Mark Tobey, Claire Falkenstein, Alfonso Ossorio are associated with it and linked to Wols, Jean Dubuffet, Georges Mathieu, Jean Paul Riopelle.

2. Paris is an Island

The second section includes several abstract colourists, such as Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Shirley Jaffe, but also Kimber Smith, Norman Bluhm or Beauford Delaney, who found in France a place of freedom and creativity, without however establishing strong links with the artists of the lyrical abstraction group, with the exception of the Canadian painter Jean Paul Riopelle. They claimed a form of solitude and used the French capital as a stimulating place for creation, but nevertheless strangely stateless. Their works have in common floating, large-scale forms with intense colours.

3. Chance, Modularity and Movement: Renewals of Geometric Abstraction

The final section examines how artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Ralph Coburn, Jack Youngerman, and Robert Breer, in relation to their predecessors such as Jean Arp and Alexander Calder and to some of their contemporaries (François Morellet), profoundly renewed geometric abstraction in post-war Paris.


General Curator:
Michel Hilaire, General Curator, Director of the Fabre Museum.
Sophie Lévy, Director and Curator of the Musée d'Arts de Nantes.

Scientific curator:
Claire Lebossé, Curator, in charge of the modern art collections, Musée d'Arts de Nantes.
Sophie Lévy, Director and Curator, Musée d'Arts de Nantes.
Maud Marron-Wojewódzki, Curator, in charge of the modern and contemporary collections, Fabre Museum.

- Robert Breer, Sans titre, 1954, huile sur toile, 96 x 161 cm, Paris, Centre Pompidou - Musée national d'art moderne - Centre de création, industrielle © Robert Breer, photo : © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian


From 19 May to 18 July 2021


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