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Focus | Alicia Penalba

4th - 7th April, 2024

On the occasion of Art Paris Art Fair 2024, the gallery is dedicating a FOCUS space to sculptor Alicia Penalba. This exceptional selection is a unique opportunity to rediscover her singular, sensitive universe and her relationship with abstract art through her three main areas of research: totemic sculptures, mural sculptures and winged sculptures.

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“One day, I took a piece of earth and started to give it a shape, and that gave me more satisfaction than a drawing, because a drawing, even if I try to render the three dimensions, is only a drawing, whereas a sculpture gives those three dimensions, immediately.”

Alicia Penalba

An emblematic figure of the Post-war Parisian art scene, Alicia Penalba is one of the few female sculptors to have thrived in a sector dominated by men. During her lifetime, she was the subject of major exhibitions in Europe and America, and her legacy is still carried on today.

For this FOCUS exhibition at Art Paris Art Fair, the gallery is delighted to present important, historical, works that have featured in exhibitions in world’s leading institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Centre Pompidou, to name but a few.

Gyula Košice, Alicia Penalba, Antonio Berni, devant Hommage à César Vallejo, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1962 ©AAP.

The landscapes and culture of Penalba’s childhood in Argentina left her a lasting impression that was felt all along her career. Her “Totems” series, the cornerstone of her entire production, is imbued with spiritual significance, acting as bridges between the physical and spiritual realms.

These vertical bronzes, rising towards the sky, often feature closed cavities and slits revealing hidden mysteries. This duality in the fascinating interplay of fills and voids invites the viewer to contemplate both the outer form and the inner life of these sculptures.

Penalba’s Totems are described as biomorphic, that is, they possess forms reminiscent of natural or human organisms. However, these are not literal representations, but rather abstract interpretations that capture the very energy of nature.

The work Hommage à César Vallejo (1955), which is presented at Art Paris, is also part of the Centre Pompidou’s permanent collection.

In the late ’50s, Penalba’s style evolved into an explosion of totemic forms, allowing light to shine through the heart of her work. This new direction led to the creation of unexpected forms, which she translated into wall sculptures and installations that associated her art with the urban landscape. Penalba did not hesitate to take on large-scale projects, creating monumental works interacting with nature and architecture.

As Penalba matured as an artist, her forms diversified, embracing horizontality and extended planes. Always close to nature, her sculptures often recall natural elements such as shells, flowers or even rocks…

Monumentality meets intimacy in Grande Orolirio, with its imposing, fantastical forms interacting with the surrounding space.

Rumeur d'ailes, 1974. Bronze, 72 x 45 x 47 cm, avec socle | 28 5/16 x 17 11/16 x 18 1/2 inches, with base

The winged series, which appeared in the 60s as an artistic exploration at the height of her emancipation as a woman and as an artist, revealed her desire to soar to freedom.

Alicia Penalba, there, invokes the imagery and sensation of wings and waterfalls to awaken feelings of liberation and pleasure in the viewer. She defies gravity with her layered bronze planes, creating a beautifully choreographed dance. The pure forms stretch out to escape towards the ends of the sculpture, giving movement and dynamism to the works.

In Rumeur d’ailes, the precarious balance of the “wings” highlights the artist’s ingenuity in transforming bronze into a fluid, lightweight material. Penalba succeeds in visually capturing the ascent to the heavens, reminiscent of her early totemic sculptures, but reinterpreted in a completely new way.

“All forms exist in nature. […] A form becomes abstract because it creates a new myth that originates only in the mind of men.”

Alicia Penalba

About the artist

Born in 1913 in Argentina, Alicia Rosario Pérez Penalba is considered to be one of the great figures of post-war sculpture, one of the few women sculptors of the 1950s to have achieved international recognition. Deeply marked by the memory of the wild landscapes of her childhood, Penalba carried her work simultaneously towards the fragmentation of forms, the conquest of space, and monumentality.

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