Retrospective of the work of Victor Brauner opens at the National Museum of Art Timisoara

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Retrospective of the work of Victor Brauner opens at the National Museum of Art Timisoara
Victor Brauner, On the pattern, 1937. Oil on wood (oak), 14 x 18 cm. Donated by Mrs. Jacqueline Victor Brauner in 1982 Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne - Centre de création industrielle © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Service de la documentation photographique du MNAM/Dist. RMN-GP © Adagp, Paris.

TIMISOARA.- In the eleven halls located on the second floor of the Baroque Palace of the National Museum of Art Timișoara, the exhibition presents nearly seventy works by Victor Brauner, from the 1920s to the 1960s, according to the different media of his production (painting, drawing, engraving, sculpture). The beginnings of the artist’s creation are notably shown thanks to emblematic pieces from museum and private collections in Romania, supplemented by an exceptional loan from the Centre Pompidou (around forty works, as well as around twenty archival documents), and loans from the museums of Saint-Étienne and Marseille, exhibited for the first time in Romania. The life and work of Victor Brauner are intrinsically linked, which is why the proposed route is essentially chronological. Each hall presents a text and most often the reproduction of a portrait of the artist, such as that by Man Ray (circa 1933-1934, Paris, Centre Pompidou).


Between 1920 and 1925, Brauner engaged in various artistic experiments in his paintings, in connection with the European avant-gardes spread in Romania: cubism, expressionism, dadaism, and constructivism.


Victor Brauner’s «conversion» to surrealism took place gradually, between his first stay (1925) and his second stay (1930) in Paris. Paintings from the late 1920s feature twilight landscapes brought to life by fantastical creatures.


The artist’s graphic art in the 1920s is thematically and formally linked to his painting, for example: Projet pour ‘l’orateur’ / Project for the «Orator» (1929, Paris, Centre Pompidou). Animals and poems are also summoned up in playful compositions.


The painter met André Breton in 1933 and officially joined the surrealist movement. Three major works of his production are exhibited, testifying to dark prophetic visions: the premonition of his future enucleation in 1938 in Autoportrait / Self-Portrait ([1931], Paris, Centre Pompidou), important to Breton’s «objective hazard», as well as the threat of the rise of nationalisms and fascism with the disfiguration of the portrait of Hitler ([1934], Paris, Centre Pompidou) and with the invention of the character of Monsieur K, figure of the father and the dictator, both grotesque and monstrous, in L’Étrange cas de Monsieur K. / The Strange Case of Monsieur K. (1933, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Saint-Étienne).


These drawings from the 1930s confirm what an extraordinary drawer Victor Brauner is. Following the approach conducive to automatism generated by surrealism, the artist demonstrates inventions both in the motifs and in a concise technique and composes chimerical and hybrid creatures, according to enigmatic and erotic figures.


Victor Brauner, confronted with fascism and anti-Semitism, associates in five paintings of very small formats the memory of the metaphysical landscapes of Giorgio De Chirico and the anatomical deformations of Salvador Dalí, to show the desolation which reigns in his country, not without a fierce humour. In these paintings (for example Sur le motif, 1937, Paris, Centre Pompidou), the motif of the eye also appears obsessively.


The series of Lycanthropes, populated by Chimeras, painted until 1939, gives way to incessant metamorphoses where the artist multiplies the motif of the female nude. Condemned to clandestinity from 1942 and plunged into material and relational deprivation, Brauner profoundly renewed his art by using wax (Sans titre / Untitled, 1945, Paris, Centre Pompidou) and moving on to sculpture. This hall presents, among other things, the painting Stable instable, plaine de Théus / Stable unstable, plain of Théus (1942, Paris, Centre Pompidou), selected for the poster of the exhibition and the cover of the catalogue, which evokes the metamorphosis ofa sleepwalker whose hair is transformed into a fantastic animal. The two sculptures exhibited, Signe ([1942-1945], Marseille, Musée Cantini) and Tot în Tot (1945, Paris, Centre Pompidou), exceptional in the sculptural production of the artist, which includes only five works, portrayed, with the double head, the sighted artist and his mythical universe.


Archival documents are presented, mainly those from the Victor Brauner collection bequeathed by his wife Jacqueline Brauner to the French state in 1986 and kept at the Kandinsky Library (Centre Pompidou). Romanian and surrealist magazines, as well as works by Romanian and French friends of Brauner, dating from the 1920s and 1950s and illustrated by the artist, are among other manuscripts of the painter. In addition to the archives, four etchings by Brauner are on display.


The artist idealizes previous research on the various esoteric symbols in a syncretic language of his own invention, synthesizing hybrid figures with stylized forms. One of the important paintings in this room, Totem de la subjectivité blessée II / Totem of Wounded Subjectivity II (1948, Paris, Centre Pompidou) was painted in Switzerland, where Brauner faced the threats of the expulsion of Romanians in an illegal situation in France. Describing this painting, the painter confided in showing «the teeth of the Stalinists [who] wounded little Victor to death and imprisoned him.»


In the 1950s and 1960s, Victor Brauner sought to go beyond surrealism without denying it. The exhibited paintings testify to various researches towards a simplification of forms, creating a phantasmagoric and marvelous world. In 1965, the artist painted two distinct series: «Mythology» and «Mother’s Day», including La Mère des Mythes / The Mother of Myths (1965, Paris, Centre Pompidou) which presents a protective and generous figure, bearer of dreams and myths. In this ultimate masterful ensemble, endowed with humor and fantasy, Brauner becomes somewhat the prophet of a world made up of mythologies.


A singular set of works called by the artist «Rétractés» (1951-1952) present the terrors of the inevitable condition of existence. Similar to the paintings of Roberto Matta, Victor Brauner questions existential and sexual psychoanalysis, by painting skeletal figures in full mutation. In the early 1960s, the artist offered an imaginary bestiary, evoking familiar or mythical animals drawn by primitive totems.

At the back of this hall, a film presents several excerpts from interviews with Victor Brauner made at the end of his life, where he demonstrates his invention of drawing with wax during the war, and where he recounts memories of his life and his personal journey from Romania to France.

To exit the exhibition, the visitor returns to the tenth hall that exhibits mainly the artist’s latest works. With a scenography signed by Attila Kim, this retrospective wishes to propose an initiatory journey, between Romania and France, led by one of the central figures of international surrealism.

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