New York

Martial Raysse, Made in Japan, 1963, photocollage, oil, and wood on canvas, 49 1/4 x 75 3/4".

Martial Raysse, Made in Japan, 1963, photocollage, oil, and wood on canvas, 49 1/4 x 75 3/4".

Martial Raysse

Martial Raysse, Made in Japan, 1963, photocollage, oil, and wood on canvas, 49 1/4 x 75 3/4".

Well remembered as one of the nine signers of the 1960 Nouveau Réalisme manifesto, Martial Raysse spent a good portion of the 1960s in New York City during the salad days of Pop art. His familiarity with the movement is echoed in A propos de New York en peinturama, 1965, a piece conflating painting and Super 8 projection. Such hybridity typifies the thirty-five early works by Raysse in this show, the first American overview of this somewhat neglected artist in forty years. Indeed, his signature works are hodgepodges, combining film, photography, collage, found objects, neon tubing, art-historical references, exposed and reshaped stretcher supports, shaped canvases, straight painting, commercial detritus, and quotidian ephemera. Column, 1960, for example, is a Plexiglas-enclosed accumulation of toothbrushes and other commonplace plastic gewgaws that speaks to an admiration for Rauschenberg’s Combines while also demonstrating a Jim Dine–ish feel for bricolage. Such work rejects the reductivism that emerged during this era, both in the US (Minimalism) and in France (Supports/Surfaces).

Perhaps we Americans too eagerly snap our chauvinist braces at the drop of Pop, for the sensibility emphatically registered elsewhere, of course, not only in the UK—think Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton—but also along the permeable borders of the École de Nice, stretching from Nouveau Réalisme to its most distant Fluxus peninsulas. Raysse is—or once was—right up there, especially with regard to his compositions that quote famous historical pictures. In his Sweet and Simple Painting, 1965, Raysse cites François Gérard’s Cupid and Psyche, 1798, a painting that marked the slow decline of French Neoclassicism into cloying sentimentality, which had come to pass as a result of the rejection of academicism central to modernist practice. Raysse’s Made in Japan, 1963, lifts from Odalisque with a Slave, 1839–40, by Ingres, arguably the most beautiful odalisque ever painted. His reworking of the motif flirts with kitsch; the work’s title perhaps means to invoke the amusingly shoddy Japanese tourist goods manufactured in the 1920s and ’30s, what the French call “pacotille.”

As quotations of “art from art,” Raysse’s paintings recall not only Lichtenstein (who cited Matisse and Monet) and Tom Wesselmann (who drew on Matisse and Canova) but many other Pop masters. To be sure, appropriation is a touchstone of modernism, a strategy that suggests, among other issues, a belief that the plagiary of another work captures the aura of the earlier prototype, or that an inexactly quoted visual reference—a camp transformation—underscores the ironic distancing of the new presentation from the old dispensation. Such tactics, while reaching back to Cubist collage, reemerge with particular vehemence throughout the Pop epoch. To the rehearsal of these fairly well-known arguments about the meaning of appropriation, Raysse’s peculiar use of the practice, expressed in his feel for a gaseous, acerbic palette, may reveal the artist’s unappeasable love for the model—no matter how debased the prototype might seem in our culture of adolescent attention spans.

In contrast with his earlier works, Raysse’s small wooden boxes from the beginning of the ’70s are dispiriting. They are filled with sand and overflow with various papier-mâché items—mushrooms, largely—and one assumes that phallo-druggie coding is the talismanic point. Although large ambitions once abounded, such works announce a certain emergent folly in the artist’s practice. This bodes ill for the subsequent four decades, left uncharted here.

Robert Pincus-Witten