This comprehensive, and at times psychedelic, retrospective of Martial Raysse’s work comprised some 200 paintings, assemblages, installations, films, photographs, and drawings spanning more than 50 years.
Born in Nice in 1936, Raysse was an early bloomer. In 1955, he joined the Nouveau Réalisme movement, a European counterpart of Pop art, whose members reacted against abstraction and advocated a return to reality. Raysse’s early works were assemblages of consumer goods, including toothbrushes, toys, and pill vials.
Raysse took up painting in 1961, although his canvases continued to incorporate assemblage elements. A recurrent theme was the female figure, appropriated from advertisements and classical paintings. His exuberant installation Raysse Beach (1962–2007), one of the highlights of the exhibition, has walls plastered with life-size photo reproductions of swimsuit models overpainted in lurid colors, and a floor covered with real sand (evoking Raysse’s native French Riviera).
After a sojourn in the United States, where he dabbled in film, Raysse returned to Paris in 1968. But discouraged by the failure of that year’s student protests to change society, he left Paris for the countryside in the early 1970s. On view from this period were hippyish-looking sculptures that incorporate tiny papier-mâché mushrooms, feathers, and beads. In the late 1970s, Raysse began painting again, creating naive bucolic and mythological scenes before moving on to the show’s most surprising revelation: the spectacular large-scale paintings he has been making since the 1990s. In the most cruelly satirical of these, Ici Plage, comme ici-bas (2012), with its grotesque figures painted in acid hues, Raysse revisits the beach, but this time with a more complex—and disillusioned—view of humanity.
A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 125.