Narrative Figuration: 60s and 70s, a hallmark show of late 60s and 70s works at Richard Taittinger Gallery showcases a thoughtful selection of pieces that were well ahead of their time, when considering their contemporaries.

At a first walk through, the show reads like an eye-catching Contemporary presentation at Frieze or Art Basel; however, upon further examination, the era of the artworks in the exhibition date them to a revolutionary moment in the art of cultural satire — the birth of Pop Art.

Contrary to this canonical phenomenon, the artworks in Narrative Figuration: 60s and 70s carry a much deeper and more layered reality, both visually and conceptually. Each of these works carries a narrative. While the subject matter ranges from literati innuendos to esoteric experiential moments and animalistic fantasy realms, the color palette and visual language is cohesive and compelling. The meaning of the works come together as a whole, presenting a counter-response to the Pop Art so prevalent during the time in which the works in Narrative Figuration were produced.

The entire collection of artworks originally debuted in Paris almost 60 years prior; Richard Taittinger Gallery has undertaken a mammoth effort to bring together these pieces in New York City — marking a major historical movement in human culture. In 1964 this legendary exhibit was organized at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris: Mythologies Quotidiennes.

“We put together this exhibition with 30 artists, including Italian, American and Spanish; not to be presented as Pop artists or stars,” explains gallery owner and exhibition curator, Richard Taittinger. The show as a whole was originally an answer to the Pop Art being mass produced on an ungodly scale at the time, and these artists and works were selected for their ability to ascribe greater meaning to an increasing mundane and consumerist reality; one in which popular culture was taking over unique thought or scholarly achievements.

Building upon this tradition, which seems to have exponentially deepened within today’s society, the show’s curator Richard Taittinger breaths life into the art world with his Narrative Figuration. The result is a powerful iteration of the original selection of artworks shown in Paris in 1964. Ileana Sonnabend, the curator of the previous show was also a dealer for Andy Warhol and his genre of more simplified culturally satirical Pop Art. In a parallel thought format to Taittinger, the show Sonnabend executed, Mythologies Quotidiennes, was something of an answer to the (albeit self-aware) emptiness inside these works that she was simultaneously representing.

Works such as Eduardo Arroyo’s Six laitues, un couteau et trois épluchures (1965) is a rather conversational response to the American Pop Art brand of satire. Arroyo’s approach is directly metaphorical; a human head turns slowly into a lettuce head that gets chopped to bits, in a 9-step process mimmicking Warhol’s 9 Marilyns, which Sonnabend was showcasing in Paris at the time outside of the aforementioned Mythologies exhibition.

Eduardo Arroyo Six laitues, un couteau et trois épluchures 1965 Acrylic on canvas 78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in. ( 200 x 200 cm.)

Some works in the show are so powerful that they must be displayed despite their owner’s current unwillingness to sell. French artist Gérard Fromanger’s depiction of a woman walking coldly through a world that is so rich in potential beauty is one of the most striking works in the exhibition.

Gérard Fromanger Florence rue d’Orchampt (de la série “Splendeur”) 1975 Oil on canvas 51 1/4 x 38 1/4 in. ( 130 x 97 cm.)

Valerio Adami’s works are particularly unique yet powerful on many levels; the Italian artist’s Club privato ‘Momenti’ Piccola ginnatica da camera (1970) is one of the strongest works in the show. Having lived and worked in Milano, his geometric lines and unexpected color juxtapositions are distinctly rooted in Italian design sensibilities. The subject matter is both sensual and disconnected, conveying a sense of meaninglessness in interpersonal relations that are rapidly being replaced by the digital and social media sphere.

Recalling the anatomical transgression of humanity portrayed by Fernand Léger in his Femme à genou (1921), Adami spins a dystopian twist to pro- Industrialist (almost Futurist) Léger; not surprisingly, considering Adami’s works were created 50 years later.

Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955), Femme à genou, 1921, oil on canvas, 92.1 x 60.3 cm (36 1/4 x 23 3/4 in.), Purchase, Walter C. Laidlaw Endowment, 1963 © Estate of Fernand Léger / SODRAC (2016).
Valerio Adami Club privato ‘Momenti’ Piccola ginnatica da camera 1970 Acrylic on canvas 70 7/8 x 571/2 in. ( 198 x 147 cm.)

These mutations of humanity are heightened even to gender politics brought to light in the 1960s and 70s in Adami’s work Figura in casa (1970-71). While carrying a sense of irony that is not always reflected in the work of his peers, the dehumanizing moment of a woman regarded as a sex object in a living room setting recalls a similarly quotidian and sexualized moment in Francis Bacon’s Nude (1960). Whether Adami’s work 10 years later marks progress or simply aesthetic progression, is up to the viewers themselves.

Francis Bacon Nude 1960 Oil on Canvas
Valerio Adami Figura in casa 1970-1971 Acrylic on canvas 31 7/8 x 251/2 in. (81 x 65 cm.)

Considering the overarching vision of the show itself, one could infer that Adami’s version of a slightly abstracted nude reflects a sense of satire against humanity’s newly discounted status within the growing importance placed on ‘popular culture,’ which really does not consider humanity at all — rather, focuses mainly on consumerism and celebrity. The aesthetic language of the works certainly reflect a more kitschy and lighthearted approach, allowing one to rest merely upon a sense of the work’s taboo nature.

Adami has shown his works in retrospectives at Le Centre Pompidou in Paris, Turin Museum in Italy, as well as many other significant galleries and museums worldwide.

The show Narrative Figuration: 60s and 70s is on view for Frieze Week at RICHARD TAITTINGER GALLERY [154 Ludlow Street].