PRINT April 1972

Léger, Le Corbusier, and Purism

The obsession of expressing all emotion in plastic writing, a kind of aggravated malady, or a kind of aggravated state of grace.

—Le Corbusier

DEVIATION, DEVOLUTION, DECLINE, DETENTE have in common, in their shared prefix, a sense of turning away from or tuning down, of a high aspiration no longer prized, a level of resolution no longer striven for, of some kind of relaxation of contraction of the body which shortens its reach. Those are the terms of description that get applied to the Cubism of the 1920s, to the late Cubism of Picasso, Gris, and Léger, to the late arrival of the Purist credo of Ozenfant and Jeanneret/Le Corbusier. We tend to see late Cubism as a bathtub with both the tap on and the drain open: filling the style with the non pictorial accouterments of the modern experience, even as it emptied it out of the formal rigor of an earlier, more stringently self-referential syntax.

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