When the Foundation Maeght (1)
attempted in 1973 to recreate the famous " Musée
Imaginaire (2) " of Malraux (3) in a great exhibition of rare and
significant works of art, Malraux was terribly disappointed and
" It is not the Musée
Imaginaire ", since the Musée Imaginaire only exists
in the mind of the artist. "
In his discussions with Picasso reported in " La Tête
d'Obsidienne (4) ", Malraux said
to Picasso that the actual place of the Musée Imaginaire
was necessary a mental place, applying to the museum the assertion
of Leonardo da Vinci about painting as cosa mentale. So, is it
Malraux, the theorician, or Picasso, the painter, who, the first,
stated that in the museum, the works of art seem to choose us
rather than to be choosen by us ?
" Picasso knew that it was not a question
of a museum of the favorites of anyone, but of a museum which
seem to choose us rather to be choosen. (5)
In fact, a museum is never constituted by one work of art, but
by several works of art. Malraux believed that the gathering
of these works in the museum created a community and that the
contact between works of art make them enter in interaction.
If this community may create some " excessive fraternities
", it also permits to great works to enlighten from a new
light the other works of art and to metamorphose them.:
" Each great art modifies that one of its
forerunners. (6) "
Thus, it is new art which calls ancien arts to a so-called "
resurrection ", id est, which calls them to restructure
themself according to the new member which enter their community.
Thus, our gaze on art changes and evolves. Works of art "
speak together ", and " speak with us " and the
dialogue is the foundation of the " Musée Imaginaire
". But, for Malraux, works of art interact not only at an
historical level , but also at a geographical one. Works of art
access also constantly to a new life by this foreign contribution.
Thus the museum is a place of constant metamorphosis of the works
of art, created by the newcomers. The discoveries of various
works of art in the world shifts the notion of style and interacticity
between works of art leads us to reorganize constantly the museum.
This explains why the " Musée Imaginaire " of
Malraux that the Foundation Maeght attempted to recreate was
made up of very different kind of works of art. Malraux summoned
in his speeches and brought together in his books unexpected
works like children drawings, art of people with mental illness,
fetiches, eskimo masks, etc.. This selection recalls the great
Crystal Palace exhibition in Londres, in 1851, which brought
together a set of Indian, African and Native American objects.
But, in opposite to this exhibition, the " Musée
Imaginaire " of Malraux did not gather these objects for
the purpose of presenting them as curious or peculiar. The aim
of the " Musée Imaginaire " was to bring them
in dialog with what we call " fine art " and are in
fact the most famous and noble pieces of european art.
Malraux conceived the most part of his theory of the Musée
Imaginaire after the second World War, where it appeared has
something revolutionary. But there were in this attempt some
famous forerunners. Russian art collectors like Shchukin presented
Picasso's cubist paintings in a separate room containing examples
of African sculpture from the Congo and Madagascar. This way
of presentation was directly influenced by Picasso's very attitude
to african art. The painter owned a wonderful collection of african
masks and statues. He was faced the first time to primitive art
in 1907 in the Musée de l'Homme in Paris. He was upset
by the magical power of theses objects and tryed to render in
his next works that immediatness of the sensations. It is after
this experience of the Musée de l'Homme that he painted
the famous " Demoiselles d'Avignon ". For Picasso,
african art was a " reasonnable art ", as the african
artist does not represent what he sees, but what he thinks. So,
it recalls us to the painting as cosa mentale of Leonardo da
Vinci. The Almanach of the Blaue Reiter published by Kandinsky
and Franz Marc in 1912 opened the door to daring comparisons.
The whole visual material was presented on the same level, and
a children's drawing was equivalent to a Picasso just as the
naïve painter Henri Rousseau and the barock master El Greco
were the companions of same spiritual trip. In one sense, the
Blaue Reiter went further than Malraux in its dialog between
views and images as it extended the analogies outside of the
domain of art and painting to nature and technology, prefigurating
the collage and the surrealism. In 1913, the russian painter
Mikhail Larionov organized in Moscow an exhibition called "
The Target ", were one could see gathered modern paintings,
children drawings, icones and folk art like the signs of the
Georgian self-taught painter Niko Pirosmanishvili.
For Malraux, the collection was the anteroom of the Museum
because the raison d'être of the Museum was to put an order
in the chaos of the discoverings. Whereas the actual museum is
a fix place in which collections can vary during the time, the
" Musée Imaginaire " is a determined collection
which has no specific place. It is rather a symbolic place which
questions the actual museum and acts as a model of a structure
with specific associations of works of art. The components of
this virtual collection are determined thanks to photography
and print. Books and magazines are these very places where the
free association of works of art can occur. With these new means
of reproduction, distant works of art can be virtually gathered,
and works that cannot be moved, like sculpture or achitecture,
may be compared with more mobile or smaller works of art like
painting. And this virtuality of the " Musée Imaginaire
" is likely to save actual works of art. Why did Malraux
say, some decades later, that the limitation of the museum is
that it can only gather transportable things ? In fact, when
he undertook in 1921an expedition in the Far-East, the purpose
of his expedition was to cut out some bas-reliefs from a khmer
temple in Banteau-Srey for the aim to sell them to some collectors.
This act brought Malraux in 1924 a three-years suspended sentence.
It is perhaps thanks to this painful experience that Malraux
was seeking all his life for an ideal museum, where all the works
of art of the whole world could be brought together without any
kind of damage. With his Musée Imaginaire, Malraux enabled
the preservation of ancient art by gathering distant works in
a virtual process without moving them from their original place
and put into dialog works worthy of being called art.
Art is served by photography and art history is what can be
photographied. The Musée Imaginaire is an album, a long
sequence of works, and it is to art what printing was to writing,
id est, the printing of plastique art. Malraux had been reading
Walter Benjamin's famous essay about the consequences of photographic
reproduction for art. He disccussed the topic with Benjamin in
1936. Of course, the aura and the authenticity of the work of
art are deperishing. But Malraux had a quite positive idea about
the new possibilities offered by the photography. For hime, the
Musée Imaginaire was a gathering of works which directs
the transformation of the actual museums by a process of intellectualisation
of the works by destroying their membership. Thus, the reproduction
of art is not the cause of the intellectualisation of art, but
its mean, and it is the confrontation of the paintings amongst
them which is an intellectual process, the questioning about
what gathers art together. Of course the process of printing
changes our relationship to art. By the mean of reproduction
of images, the scattered works gather in new formal groups and
the Musée Imaginaire becomes the " world of art ".
But the works are freed from matter by reproduction, and it is
by this that they become modern. Thanks to lightnening and framing,
some new aspects of the works of art are revealed. As well, the
whole art of the world, from the prehistory to the modern art
is now available to anyone.
The Musée Imaginaire, which exists actualu only in
our memory, was not for Malraux a kind of developed Louvre. Whereas
the " museum " of Baudelaire welcomes four centuries
of art, the " Musée Imaginaire " of Malraux
houses five milleniums. This mass of works of art all the civilizations
does not only enrich the Louvre, it rather questions it. In the
actual museum, the gods and the saints became statues, because,
to come into the world of art, the figures have to leave the
concrete world in which they have been created. For Malraux,
the museum is the place where the object becomes a work of art
in separating itself from the ideology which gave birth to it.
The world of art, represented by the museum, removes this link
which united the work to its contemporary life, in which it was
born. The object of art looses its primary function, be it religious
or practical, and the work of art is the only sort of object
in the world which can be released from this slavery of the functionalism.
The lay models from which the work of art has been created vanishes.
This lost life of the work is then compensated by a kind of immortality
acquired thanks to art. This immortality is in fact the life
of the community of the works of art that interact in the museum,
where they are placed together, far form their original place
of birth. The museum imposes to the object a new status. The
original divinity that inhabited it is definitely quitting it,
and the work will now ressurect in the form of a work of art.
This process, called by Malraux the " metamorphosis ",
is at the heart of the Musée Imaginaire. The fate of the
object, in the museum, is to quit its original geographical,
historical and ideological community, to enter the new community
of the objects of art.
In his essays about the psychology or art, Malraux tried to
elucidate the enigma of the sacred art in a serie called "
The metamorphosis of the Gods (7)" . How could works of art from a
missing religion, initially created outside all idea of art,
have nowadays a presence and be for us more than simple archeological
vestiges ? This is due to the metamorphosis of the museum, which
transforms in art the plastical expression of the sacred and
permits to a civilization to inherit from the former one. Therefore,
art is not an imitation of reality, but the substitute from one
reality by another. There is a progression in time from the relationship
of art to the reality and the symbolic. To the world of the Gods
of the Supernatural of ancient art, succeeded the world of the
fable, the Unreal, the fiction of the Renaissance. If all great
figurative works refer to the represented, they become only works
of art by separating them from the imagined. What is separing
them from the imagined is the transfiguration by which the artist
reappropriates himself the visible when he recreates this visible
instead of copying it. At this point, the human being is released
by art from his human condition, by entering in an universe from
which he is the sole creator. The modern times begin with Manet
in the Unworldly, art focuses on the pictural fact. The supreme
value of the modern artists is no more faith or fiction, but
painting itself. Thus, painting becomes a language. The painter
become now aware that pictural facts are "
sentences of the undeciphered language which brings to the painting
an existence independent from the real, the imaginary or the
sacred they express. (8) "
The russian painter Kazimir Malevich (9) would have shared with Malraux the same
idea that painting was a language if he only had the chance to
meet him. But, when Malraux went in Russia in 1934,it was to
the meeting of the Union of the sovietic writers, wher Gorki
established officially the esthetical doctrine of the Socialist
Realism.The meaning of the word " language " was totaly
different of the " undeciphered language of art " ,
as the word was here a weapon in the hand of the " soul
engineers " of Staline's power.
However, from this epoch we have a contrasting testimony. Malraux
said that the Musée Imaginaire was that of the choice
of the artist. The rare, and perhaps the first example of a selection
of works of art presented by an artist, is provided by Malevich
in some articles published at the end of the twenties, published
in an ukrainian art magazine, Nova Generatsyia and presented
in english at the end of the sixties by a dannish art historian,
" New art consists of 11 chapters or lectures
covering the development of modern art from Cézanne to
the architecture of Le Corbusier and Gropius and the Russian
post-revolutionary movements. () In New Art, he uses a formal
analysis developed from observations mainly within the works
of Cézanne and the Cubists. (10)
In these articles, Malevich comments more than hundred works
of modern art from Cézanne, Braque, Picasso, Tatline,
Gauguin, Monet, Léger, Boccioni, etc but also ancient
art like Holbein, Rembrandt and Lysippe. The link we can establish
between Malevich's selection and comments of modern paintings
and Malraux's Musée Imaginaire is totally virtual, as,
in reality, they didn't meet or share their ideas, as Malraux
could do it with Picasso. But, when we compare Malraux's "
Psychology of art " with Malevich's " New Art ",
we see that, Malevich's work brings us the part which misses
in the masterly fresco of world art drawn by Malraux in the "
Metamorphosis of the Gods ". Even if he was a privilegiate
person who spoke with Picasso, Malraux's conception of modern
art ended with the problem of picturality. The message of Malevich's
in his theoretical writings tells us that the " painterly
" evolves in a closed orbit beginning with Rembrandt and
ending with Cézanne. After Cézanne, painting, as
well as the represented object litterally disintegrates with
Cubism. A new orbit begins with the non-objectivity, where the
problem of pure form and pure colour arises.
Similarly, the observations by Malevich of the surface of the
paintings led him to establish the fact that the pictural mass
is organized by the painters by some forming elements, independant
of the figuration. These forming elements, that Malevich called
the " additional elements ", are foreign elements that
come into a still structured whole, disturbing and rearranging
the former construction. At a macroscopic level, this effect
of interaction can be compared to the phenomenon of interactivity
of the works of art described by Malraux in his Musée
Imaginaire. A contact of a constituted sequence with a foreign
element provokes a metamorphosis of the works of art and changes
If someone nowadays tryed to reconstitute concretely this forgotten
" Musée Imaginaire " of Malevich, would Malevich,
if he could come back amongst us, be as upset as Malraux before
the exhibition of the Foundation Maeght ?
We do not know, but, as Malraux asserted that the " Musée
Imaginaire " only existed in the mind of the artists, there
is a chance that the attempt of recreating the " New Art
" of Malevich would be more convincing that the " Musée
Imaginaire " of Malraux.
P. CAMUS -WALTER, STRASBOURG, 5th MARCH 1999.
Centre created by Aimé Maeght (art dealer, 1906 - 1981)
and built in 1964 by J.-L. Sert on the heighth of Saint-Paul-de-Vence,
in Provence. It houses works of modern art from Braque, Miró,
Kandinsky, Chagall , Giacometti, etc..
in 1947 (Skira), " Le Musée Imaginaire " is
the first part of a trilogy named " The Psychology of art
". The second part is The voices of Silence (1951) and the
third part " The Metamorphosis of the Gods ", in 3
parts : " I. The supernatural " (1957, greek and christian
art), " II. The Irreal (1974, The italian Renaissance and
Rembrandt), " III. The Unworldly" (1976, Manet and
the pictural fact).
Writer, activist, politician. (The Conquerors (1928), Man's Fate
(1933), The hope (1937), The Walnut Trees of Altenburg (1943),
the Antimemories (1967)etc). Minister of Général
de Gaulle for the first time in 1945, Malraux created in 1959
the ministry of Cultural affairs that he headed until 1969. See
details about the life of Malraux on: http://www.france.diplomatie.fr/culture/france/biblio/folio/malraux/index.html.
See a photography of Malraux amongst his Musée Imaginaire:
(4). This text
is now in : André Malraux, " Le Miroir des Limbes,
II, La corde et les souris " Gallimard, Paris,1976, (coll.
Folio), pp 291-418.
(5). Idem, p.
Malraux, Le Musée Imaginaire, (1947), Gallimard, Paris,1965,
(coll. Folio), p. 245.
(7). See note 2.
(8). André Malraux, L'Intemporel, Gallimard, Paris,1976,p.
(9). (Kiev 1878 Leningrad 1935). Founder of suprematism,
a trend in modern art characterized by geometric monochromatic
shapes (" Black square on white background ", 1915).
But in his life, Malevich practiced many styles (realism, impressionism,
symbolism, fauvism, etc..).
(10). K. MALEVICH, Essays on art 1915-1933, Troëls ANDERSEN,
Transl. Xenia Glowacki-Prus, Arnold McMillin, David Miller, Borgen
Forlag, Copenhague, Vol I ,1968, p. 10.