The Myth of Nouveau Réalisme


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Art and the Performative in Postwar France

Kaira M. Cabañas


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On October 27, 1960, art critic Pierre Restany named a group of Paris-based artists the “Nouveaux Réalistes” (New Realists) in a founding declaration that stated, “The New Realists recognize their collective singularity. New Realism = new perceptual approaches of the real.” Besides Restany, this group included Arman, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and Jacques Villeglé. Their work incorporated consumer objects and new media in response to the postwar period’s painterly modes and its burgeoning consumer and industrial society. However, they did not share a common avant-garde strategy.

The Myth of Nouveau Réalisme is a critical reassessment of this important neo-avant-garde movement. Kaira M. Cabañas offers an interdisciplinary account of their work and challenges the ideas of Restany, who mandated a “direct appropriation of the real.” Cabañas posits that, for the Nouveaux Réalistes, realism engaged performative practices to produce alternative social meanings.

Kaira M. Cabañas is lecturer and the director of the MA in Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University.

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"Elegantly designed and rigorously argued, The Myth of Nouveau Réalisme is an important contribution to the methodology of critical art history and for the foreseeable future will make essential reading for students of postwar French art."—Liam Considine, Art Journal

“Beautifully illustrated . . . engaging . . . rewarding.” —Publishers Weekly

“Kaira Cabañas’s book is an ambitious analysis of artists associated with the heterogeneous group Nouveau réalisme…. [It] lucidly examines select cases where artists’ social and political agency advances their methods well beyond ready-made appropriations.”—Rosemary O’Neill, French Studies
ISBN: 9780300181203
Publication Date: March 26, 2013
208 pages, 7 x 9
40 color + 78 b/w illus.