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PARIS+ by Art Basel | Sites

October 19 - 23, 2022

After devoting a museum-quality solo show to Alicia Penalba (1913-1982) in the autumn of 2021, the Galerie A&R Fleury is pleased to pursue the promotion of this Argentinean-born artist by presenting one of the most emblematic works of her career, Hommage à César Vallejo.

The sculpture Homage to César Vallejo (1956) belongs to her first, so-called “totemic” period, which contributed to her emergence as one of the key figures of post-war abstract sculpture.

On display in the gardens of the Maison de l’Amérique latine, Hommage à César Vallejo bears witness to Penalba’s precocious talent and her aptitude for expressing herself in large dimensions whilst maintaining a connection with the architecture and the surrounding space. It is one of her most monumental works.

Standing almost 3 metres high, Hommage à César Vallejo was Penalba’s first monumental sculpture and her only work dedicated to a person. For Penalba, it was an opportunity to express her admiration for Vallejo, one of the greatest South American poets of the twentieth century. Like Penalba, Vallejo remained deeply attached to the wild landscapes and civilisations of South America.

Alicia Penalba (1913-1982)

Hommage à César Vallejo, 1955/56

Signed et numbered Penalba 1/4 
Foundry Susse Frères, juillet 1959
266 x 58 x 38 cm | 104 3/4 x 22 7/8 x 15 in.

Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Private collection, Switzerland

Jardins des Tuileries



Place de la Concorde
75001 Paris

Opening hours

The Jardin des Tuileries is open every day, free access, from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm.

Inauguration of the Jardin des Tuileries :
Tuesday 18 October

19 – 23 October: Paris+ by Art Basel Week

Alicia Penalba, female sculptor

Born in Argentina in 1913, Alicia Penalba arrived in Paris in 1948 and quickly began asserting her personal universe, oriented towards the breaking up of forms, the conquest of space and monumentality.

In the 1950s, a period little inclined to give female artists the recognition they deserved, Penalba quickly became one of the rare female sculptors to rise to international fame, alongside Barbara Hepworth and Germaine Richier.

Considered to be one of the major figures of post-war abstract sculpture, Penalba took part in numerous group and solo exhibitions, both in France and abroad.

“Her life was a novel of energy, as Balzac liked to conceive it.”

Patrick Waldberg, art critic and first biographer of Alicia Penalba, 1962

An iconic work from her early career

Hommage à César Vallejo presents vertical, rigid rhythms deployed around a central axis. The superimposed volumes, like so many ramifications of the rough model, stretch up to the sky in a dynamic movement.

These organic shapes, closed in on themselves, seem to contain enigmatic cavities and an inner life. The sculpture is therefore animated by a strong metaphysical and erotic dimension, inviting the spectator to draw closer to discover a hidden world.

The vertical dynamism, the ruggedness of the material and the constriction of the shapes evoke totems, recurrent figures in South American cultures. According to Penalba, this proximity responds to a “need to spiritualise the symbols of eroticism, the source of all creation, the purest and most sacred state in the life of Man.”

“The shapes of her abstract compositions had the momentum of totems and the aggressivity of large cacti.”

Michel Ragon

Penalba and the avant-garde

Alicia Penalba discovered the great masters of the avant-garde when she first arrived in Paris in the late 1940s. Many of them were fascinated by original forms drawn from far-away cultures. This curiosity for other civilisations, which was at the origin of much artistic research throughout the twentieth century, gave rise to a profound renewal, particularly in the field of sculpture.

Penalba became acquainted with Brancusi, whom she met on many occasions in his studio. The pure, minimal forms of his works, such as the Grand coq IV (1949), encouraged Penalba to evolve towards abstraction. Penalba also discovered the work of Alberto Giacometti, who was fascinated by non-Western art, and that of Hans Arp, who was also inspired by “primitive art” and the exploration of organic paths.

Hommage à César Vallejo, a synthesis of the forms of her first abstract language, is certainly the most iconic example of her early work. During these years in which her talent and originality blossomed, Penalba engaged in a dialogue with both the visual paths taken by modern art and the deep sources of her South American identity.

“Intelligente et passionnée, Penalba est sans conteste une des plus brillantes figures de la sculpture actuelle à Paris.”

Michel Seuphor

Alicia Penalba avec Alberto Giacometti, circa 1960-1965

Around the world in exhibitions

The importance of this sculpture is reflected by its exhibition history.

It was first presented at Penalba’s first solo exhibition at the Galerie du Dragon in 1957. It was then shown at documenta 2 in Kassel in 1959, and at the Galerie Claude Bernard in 1960, as part of the “Penalba” exhibition which paved the way for her success.

Other exhibitions followed, amongst which the most important in her career: “Penalba”

at the Otto Gerson Gallery in New York in 1962, the 6th Sao Paulo Biennale in 1961, where Penalba won the Grand Prix for Sculpture, the Festival dei due mondi in Spolete in 1962 and the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris in the same year.

More recently, the copy belonging to the collections of the Centre Pompidou (n°3/4) was exhibited during the “Femmes années 50. Au fil de l’abstraction, peinture et sculpture” at the Soulages Museum in Rodez in 2019-2020, and as part of “Elles font l’abstraction” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2021.

César Vallejo, one of the greatest South American poets of the twentieth century

César Vallejo’s incandescent and wistful poetry has consolidated his status as one of the most innovative South American poets of the twentieth century, alongside Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz and Vicente Huidobro. His short, intense life was entirely devoted to an existential and humanistic quest.

Born in 1892 in Peru, Vallejo arrived in Paris in 1923 and struck up friendships with a number of Montparnasse artists, most notably the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro, Robert Desnos, Tristan Tzara and Antonin Artaud.

In Paris, he led a poet’s life and published articles in several magazines. He authored several collections, the most famous of which are “Human Poems” and “Spain, Take This Chalice from Me.” He also wrote a novel, “Tungsteno” in 1930, plays such as “Lock-out,” and a children’s story, “Paco Yunque.” Vallejo, who was in a fragile state of health, died in Paris in 1938.

“Dans l’âme de celui qui a grandi dans les Andes, ou qui y vit, persistera toujours l’impression qu’il est comme une blessure dans le paysage abrupt fait de hauts plateaux où végète difficilement une herbe jaunâtre et de massifs rocheux et arides. Les habitants de ce vaste drame géologique, presque tous indiens ou métis d’Indiens et d’Espagnols, sont silencieux et durs, à l’image même des Andes.
Flagellés par les inclémences de la nature et les inclémences sociales, ils vivent dans une souffrance qui remonte à des siècles et semble se confondre avec l’éternité.”

Ciro Alegría, écrivain péruvien, dans « Le César Vallejo que j’ai connu »

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