First retrospective exhibition of the work of Judit Reigl opens at the Allen Memorial Art Museum

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First retrospective exhibition of the work of Judit Reigl opens at the Allen Memorial Art Museum
Staff members at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, on the campus of Oberlin College, view works by contemporary European artist Judit Reigl. The exhibition, Judit Reigl: Body of Music, is the first retrospective of the artist’s work by a United States museum. Image: Selina Bartlett.

OBERLIN, OH.- The Allen Memorial Art Museum presents the first retrospective exhibition by a United States museum of the work of Judit Reigl, one of the foremost figures of European painting to emerge in the second half of the 20th century. From February 2 through May 29, 2016, Judit Reigl: Body of Music features paintings and works on paper from major public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Born in Hungary in 1923, Reigl escaped from behind the Iron Curtain in 1950 and arrived in Paris, where she first exhibited her work in 1954. She has maintained a home and studio outside the city since 1963 and, now in her nineties, continues to make art.

Although best known for her non-objective paintings, which invite comparison to the New York School, Reigl’s creative approach has ranged from surrealist automatism to explorations of the border between the figurative and the abstract. Long admired in France, Reigl is represented in the collections of museums across Europe and the United States.

Two thematic threads may be discerned throughout the artist’s rich and disparate oeuvre: corporeality and music. The body has always been central to Reigl’s art, as both subject and tool. She often engages her entire body to produce large, vigorously painted canvases. Bodies appear as hybrid beings in her early surrealist compositions and later as representations of robust torsos in the Man series. In Reigl’s Unfolding series, the corporeal operates on a more metaphorical level: she has painted on the back as well as the front of the canvas, acknowledging the three-dimensionality of the “painted window,” and thus granting corporeality to the art object itself.

Music is also a recurring element in Reigl’s work and a fundamental presence in her life. In her Writing after Music series of ink drawings, lines of organic forms may be read as a musical score. While creating the monumental Unfolding paintings, Reigl listened to classical music, allowing the sound to prompt the movements of her body. The musical theme is especially fitting for the museum’s location at Oberlin College, home to a renowned music conservatory.

The large scale and mutable compositions of Reigl’s Unfolding paintings mobilize the viewer, who must move around the works to fully perceive them. This experience thus parallels the artist’s own dance-like movements as she makes her art. Like musical performances, Reigl’s act of painting and the viewer’s act of perceiving are both realized in real time and real space—whether in the studio or the gallery—through the instrument of the body.

The exhibition is curated by Denise Birkhofer, Ellen Johnson ’33 Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

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