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MODIGLIANI. The Primitivist Revolution

Category: Exhibition 9. October 2021

Amadeo Modigliani, the mysterious loner among the avant-gardists of the early 20th century, died of tuberculosis in 1920, at the age of only 35. Two days later, his pregnant fiancée, the painter Jeanne Hébuterne, took her own life by jumping from the fifth floor.

The Albertina had organized the currently running exhibition "Modigliani. Revolution of Primitivism" on the 100th anniversary of his death last year; due to the pandemic, the extensive show has now opened a year later.

Curated by Parisian art historian and Modigliani specialist Marc Restellini, the show places the fascinating artist's work in a larger context. Among the more than 120 paintings, sculptures and drawings, works are also shown that have never been exhibited in Austria before.

Although the works of the Livorno-born painter, draftsman and sculptor Modigliani fetch enormous sums on the art market today, he is still regarded as an outsider, which is probably also due to his biography, marked by poverty, illness, scandals and his early death.
Instead of putting together a retrospective at the Albertina, the curator was primarily interested in showing the independence of Modigliani's work and his rank as one of the most important artists of the 20th century avant-garde.

By juxtaposing Modigliani with his contemporary and friend Pablo Picasso, as well as with Constantin Brancusi or André Derain, the show aims to demonstrate Modigliani's independence and status. Contrary to earlier views, which assumed a teacher-pupil relationship between Modigliani and Picasso or Brancusi, it is shown here that Modigliani certainly met his colleagues in the circle of the Parisian avant-garde on an equal footing.
Before Modigliani and Brancusi met, Modigliani was already working as a sculptor. Because of his chronic lung condition, however, he had to renounce sculpture.

The exhibition at the Albertina is subtitled "Revolution of Primitivism", whereby the colonial term "primitive" is understood here as a style designation. Works of archaic and non-European art, such as those the avant-garde artists saw in the Paris museums - for example, 4000-year-old sculptures from the Cyclades or 12th-century Khmer art from Cambodia - can also be found in the Albertina exhibition. The Parisian avant-garde artists certainly saw their archaic and indigenous colleagues as their equals, and their reduced forms inspired their radical new artistic approaches.  In the Albertina, non-European works are juxtaposed in showcases with those of the avant-gardists.

Another focus is on Modigliani's nude paintings, which were a scandal in 1917 when the pubic hair of a reclining woman was depicted. That exhibition, his only one in his lifetime, closed without a work being sold. A series of caryatid paintings also shows the diverse influences, from antiquity to his contemporary European and indigenous colleagues, that the artist incorporated and combined in his individual creativity. (Written by Cem Angeli)

The exhibition runs until January 9, 2022 at the Albertina.

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