When many people hear the name of the Dutch artist Karel Appel (1921-2006), they say oh, yeah that COBRA guy. Now a mini retrospective “Karel Appel, l’Art est un Fete!” at Paris’ Musée d’Art Moderne shows that he was much more than that (to August 20, 2017).
Appel has always been appreciated by other artists and art professionals; especially in Europe. The artist’s painting “Two Birds and a Flower” sold at Christie’s Paris in 2012 for 841,000 Euros. In recent years thanks to several exhibitions including one at the Phillips Collection in Washington and the Gemeentemuseum retrospective, Appel is becoming better known to the general public.
The Karel Appel exhibition in Paris retraces the artist’s 60 year career from the COBRA years to his death in 2006. The exhibition was motivated by a donation from the Karel Appel Foundation in Amsterdam to Paris’ Museum of Modern Art. Appel was a founding member of the COBRA group –acronym for “Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam– created in Paris in 1948 (dissolved in 1951). The group, made up of artists such as Asger Jorn and Pierre Alechinsky, advocated spontaneity, experimentation and primitivism.
The exhibition revisits Appel’s early interest in children’s art along with his stylistic abstract experiments with the nude and portraits. It includes such important paintings as “Archaic Life” with a six minute 1961 film excerpt from “The Reality of Karl Appel” showing the artist in action making that painting. His “Psychopathological Art Book” and the room of “Circus Sculptures” are real gems. The exhibition ends with a haunting word painting Appel did just before he died titled “Feestje?” which from Dutch translates as “Party?” That’s party question mark. As an expo ending the painting begs a comparison with Appel’s 1949 painting “Hip Hip Hooray,” which brings us back to the the artist’s COBRA beginning.
Karel Appel, L’Art est une Fete!, to August 20, 2017, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris