Denise René, Pioneering Parisian Gallerist, Dead at 99

by Leighann Morris on July 9, 2012 Obituary

Galerie Denise Rene (photograph courtesy of Galerie Denise Rene)

Visionary Parisian gallerist Denise René passed away this morning after a long life in the arts. She was 99. She established her career as a gallerist in 1945 by exhibiting in Paris at a time when the German occupation had left the city almost culturally empty. René believed that abstraction could liberate art from the academic constraints of the figurative tradition, exhibiting under the principle that art must invent new paths in order to exist.

René was one of the first to welcome international artists to her galleries at a time when international exchange was uncommon. Throughout her career, she invited artists from all over the world to exhibit in Paris, helping establish the careers of Latin American and Eastern European artists in the West.

In 1945, René exhibited the works of forgotten masters such as Max Ernst, Atlan, and Picabia, who were virtually unknown before the war, and showcased their work in dialogue with young artists working after the war who were beginning to question color, vibration, movement, and the fixed image. She believed that this dialogue created an art historical continuity and justified the role of the gallery as a nucleus for experimentation and discovery.

Her legendary 1955 exhibition Le Mouvement introduced the then-unknown pioneers of Kinetic and Op art, such as Jean Tinguely, Yaacov Agam, and Pol Bury, and showcased their work alongside already established artists Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, and Vasarely. [Ed. Note: It was also around Galerie Denise Rene that Pierre Restany formed Nouveau Réalisme and Edition MAT, whose manifesto readers may remember in AFC.] The exhibition established the Kinetic and Op-art movements internationally, and popularised a new generation of artists.

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