Nouveau Realisme (New Realism)
Characteristics, History of French Art Movement.

Nouveau Realisme (New Realism) (1960-62)


What is Nouveau Realisme (New Realism)?
Related Articles

Important Art Works

Freedom (1960s)
Epinal, France.
Nouveau Realiste Sculpture by
the contemporary artist Cesar.

Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105)
(1960) Guggenheim Museum, New York
By Yves Klein. A typical example of
Klein's "New Realism." Instead of a
paintbrush, Klein applied paint via
live nude models (his "living brushes")
who created patterns by rolling around
on board or paper.


For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For a quick guide to specific
styles, see: Art Movements.

For a guide, see: Definition of Art.

What is Nouveau Realisme (New Realism)?

The term "Nouveau Realisme" refers to the European movement of contemporary art founded in 1960 by the painter Yves Klein (1928-62) for a group art exhibition at the Apollinaire gallery in Milan. The term was first coined by the group's ideologist - art critic Pierre Restany (1930-2003) - in the movement's manifesto. Other New Realists included the junk assemblage artist Arman (1928-2005), the Lettrist and decollage artist Francois Dufrene (1930-82), the hypergraphic artist Raymond Hains (1926-2005), the plastics sculptor Martial Raysse (b.1936), Daniel Spoerri (born Daniel Feinstein) (b.1930) known for his "snare-pictures, Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) a pioneer of kinetic art, his wife the sculptor Niki de Saint-Phalle (1930-2002), the avant-garde sculptor Cesar Baldaccini (1921-1998), collage artist Gerard Deschamps (b.1937), the affichistes (poster designers) Mimmo Rotella (1918-2006) and Jacques de la Villegle (b.1926). The packaging (empaquetage) artist Christo Javacheff (b.1935) exhibited with but never formally joined the group. Regarded as a European form of American Pop Art - although its members' activities predate most of Roy Lichtenstein's pictures and Andy Warhol's pop art - New Realism is closer in spirit to European avant-garde art of 1960, such as Fluxus, new forms of Assemblage art like and Situationist International. The movement dissolved in 1970, although it continued to influence the work of many of the top contemporary artists for years afterward.




The principal concern of New Realism was how to respond to the changed role of art within the new consumer society, in view of the fact that (according to Restany) fine art painting was dying. Their approach was to challenge traditional art forms and materials by focusing on new types of art, such as assemblage, conceptualism, collage and experimental poster art. There was however no unified "nouveau realiste style": indeed, a debate continued between Klein and Restany as to whether the movement was a development of Dada, the anti-art movement of the 20s, or something entirely fresh. As it was the group saw themselves as something of a hybrid: on the one hand, they related both to the performance art and Schwitters-style junk art of Dada and its later offspring Neo-Dada, as well as contemporary kinetic art; on the other hand, they saw themselves as forging a brand new type of multi-media postmodernist art, capable of reflecting the transformation in French popular culture.

The group viewed the world as a source from which they could take parts and incorporate them into their art, as a way of bringing life and art closer together. More lyrically, they aimed for a "poetic recycling of urban, industrial and advertising reality". They preferred "reality" to abstraction, but they were wary of figurative art, which they regarded as petty-bourgeois or socialist realism. Hence their focus on found objects to reflect and express the reality of their time. New Realists pioneered the technique of "decollage" - the dismantling of an image - as opposed to "collage" the construction of an image. Thus, instead of a picture gradually being built up by adding fragments of other images, it is dismantled by cutting away or otherwise removing, pieces of an original image. Paradoxically, the effect is often the same! Nouveau Realistes made full use of collage and assemblage techniques, borrowing freely from the Merzbau art of Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) and the readymades of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968).

In addition, the group's most famous member, Yves Klein, continued to experiment with a diverse range of conceptual art and differing types of painting.

New Realist Artists

The group's driving force was Yves Klein, a self-taught artist and judo-instructor who became famous for his implausible Dada-like conceptual art - exemplified by his "empty" exhibition, a stunt repeated recently by the 2009 show "The Specialisation of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilised Pictorial Sensibility" at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Klein was also famous for using nude models to apply paint to his canvases (Anthropometries), and for his invention of the colour International Klein Blue (IKB). The innovatory value of his contribution is seen in the high prices now paid for his work. For example, in May 2014 at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Sale in New York, his work Relief Eponge Bleu (Re 51) (1959) - comprising dry pigment and synthetic resin, natural sponges and pebbles on board - fetched a cool $15 million. For more about Klein's conceptualism, see: Yves Klein's Postmodernist art (1956-62).

Other New Realists had somewhat narrower horizons. Arman created collections of cast-off earthly materials in his "Poubelles" ("Garbage Cans"). For his famous exhibition "Le Plein" ("Full Up") at the Galerie Iris Clert in 1960, Arman filled the gallery from floor to ceiling with accumulated trash that he had found. Cesar became famous for compressing whole automobiles into crushed blocks of supercondensed junk metal.

Rotella, Dufrene, de la Villegle and sometimes Hains made their compositions by tearing off layers of posters (affiches) that had accumulated on top of one another. The complex, abitrary layering of fragmentary images and texts in the work of these affichistes has come to seem increasingly prescient of the information overload as we enter the new century.

Spoerri, Deschamps, and Hains assimilated other kinds of found materials, on occasion creating walk-in installations. Niki de Saint-Phalle's work evolved from a kind of funk assemblage, resembling that of the early Jim Dine, to a signature vocabulary of funky black female figures with brashly colored detailing. Martial Raysse increasingly used the vocabulary of pop commercial graphics with often ironic subjects from classical painting.

Jean Tinguely - after Klein, the most important signatory of the Nouveau Realisme manifesto - evolved a kinetic art aesthetic from an interest in motion and impermanence, accident, and indeterminacy. His "meta-matics" were comically structured machines that mechnically painted "abstract expressionist" pictures. Other works involved a weird assembly of radios, lights, and motorized mechanisms that jerked this way and that in an energetic display of pointless activity. Often he even invited the viewer to participate in his carnival-like contraptions. His "masterpiece", Homage to New York (1960), was an assemblage or contraption made out of junk which was supposed to self destruct in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art, New York - except it failed to destroy itself as programmed, and started a fire instead.

Nouveau Realiste Exhibitions

The first showing of the Nouveaux Realistes occurred in November 1960 at the Paris Festival of the Avant-garde. After this, in May 1961, came a group exhibition at the Gallery J in Paris (run by Restany's wife). In 1962, at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, the group organized the International Exhibition of the New Realists, a joint showing of contemporary American Pop Art and the Nouveau Realisme movement; and in 1963 came the last group show - an exhibition at the Biennale of San Marino. The movement found it difficult to maintain its identity after the death of Yves Klein in June, 1962.

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Works reflecting the style of Nouveau Realisme (New Realism) can be seen in some of the Best Galleries of Contemporary Art in the world.

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