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XVth Year of the Great and Young of Today at the Grand Palais des Champs Elysées

1974-05-17 Grands et jeunes d'aujourd'hui
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In front of a Salon, which seemed to him overcrowded, Balzac, shortly after 1830, evoked melancholically the previous Salons:

"Among the two hundred paintings chosen, the public was still choosing: a crown was awarded to the masterpiece by unknown hands. Passionate discussions arose over a painting. The insults lavished on Delacroix and Ingres have served their fame no less than the praise and fanaticism of their adherents. Today neither the Crowd nor the Critics will be passionate about the products of this bazaar... Instead of a tournament, you have a riot...".

The riot has only grown since then. The exhibitors and even the Salons have multiplied. However, the Crowd and the Critics continue, it seems, to argue, to insult each other and to distribute crowns. Morals, ideas, attitudes have evolved fantastically; and yet the Salon, the Salons remain.

This is obviously because they respond to a profound need.

The Salon "Grands et Jeunes d'Aujourd'hui" has been one of the most useful in recent years. So many young people have been able to show their first works there! It was here that several now famous artists first made their mark, in the shadow of their elders.

It is therefore opening its doors for the fifteenth time, and will for the fifteenth time offer a generously open panorama of the different trends in painting at a given time. Each year the sheaf becomes imperceptibly different. And, faster than you think, today becomes yesterday; the Present, the Past. The mixture of elders and younger people hardly softens the rapidity of the change and the embarrassment of the visitor.

Much of this evolution was probably inevitable. May I recall what Valéry wrote as early as 1928?

"Our Fine Arts were instituted, and their types and usage fixed, in a time quite distinct from our own, by men whose power to act on things was insignificant compared to that which we possess. But the astonishing increase in our means, the flexibility and precision they achieve, the ideas and habits they introduce, assure us of very forthcoming and profound changes in the ancient industry of Beauty. There is in all the arts a physical part which can no longer be regarded or treated as in the past, which cannot be withdrawn from the undertakings of modern knowledge and power. Neither matter, nor space, nor time have been for twenty years what they always were. It is to be expected that such great innovations will transform the whole technique of the arts, thereby affecting invention itself, and perhaps even changing the very notion of art.

Something else is otherwise disconcerting. It is the extraordinary development of the values of Sarcasm. Anyone who comes into contact with contemporary art risks being exalted in the face of irony.

Picasso said to Malraux: "Modern art must be killed. To make another one". It goes without saying that such a statement could, in another mouth, have had a completely different meaning. But we must not fear misunderstandings. An author's intention is, after all, only his intention. (And it is also immediately Past tense). If an Irony is finally crowned Idol, so much the worse for the original Irony! A work is not only the daughter of an author and his intentions. In spite of trends, schools, principles and contrary principles, the important thing is not so much what is visible in a painting, in a sculpture, in an object, as what is hidden in it. Two works, of very similar technique, due to two authors classified in the same group, can proceed from very distant psychology or springs; and two very different works proceed from similar aspirations. Thoré felt the same principle in a small bush by Ruysdael and in Michelangelo's Thinker. Whoever walks through a Salon must try to feel, beyond the works and their authors, that which, despite the artifices of culture and anti-culture, comes from the bowels of nature, of the earth and of the flesh.



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