Paris: Art et Action, 1923-1927. Collection of 4 large performance posters created by and for the Art et Action theatrical troupe (see below). Very good. Item #3893
COLLECTION OF FOUR SPECTACULAR 1920s PERFORMANCE POSTERS CREATED BY THE FRENCH LABORATORY THEATER "ART ET ACTION," NOW LITTLE-KNOWN BUT IN ITS DAY A SIGNIFICANT INFLUENCE ON AVANT-GARDE THEATER PRODUCERS, ACTORS, SCENIC DESIGNERS, AND ARCHITECTS.
These posters are very rare due to their extremely limited production, in some instances for "confidential" performances for select audiences only. The transient pieces of ephemera were created by the Art et Action troupe only to be destroyed. For these visionaries, the goal of "art" was not objectification but experience.
As stated by the curators of the Merrill C. Berman Collection: "Art et Action was an experimental theater group founded in Paris by the actress Louise Lara (1876-1952) and her husband, the architect Édouard Autant (1872-1964). The company existed between 1919 and 1939, straddling the interwar period. Left-leaning in their politics, the couple was influenced by innovations in Soviet theater, which they witnessed, for example, in performances directed by the Russian directors Alexander Tairov and Vsevolod Meyerhold in Paris in the early 1920s. Lara and Autant envisioned revised relationships and hierarchies within the microcosm of theater as a blueprint for a new social order.
"The graphically bold posters and programs featured here announce Art et Action’s performances, which were always free of charge and were often presented in their modest Grenier Jaune (Yellow Attic) studio at 66, rue Lepic in Montmartre. Mostly unsigned, these announcements are thought to have been created by Lara, Autant, their son Claude Autant-Lara (1901-2000), or the artistic director of the performance specified."
Lara and Autant incorporated Edward Gordon Craig's strategies for architectural set design, with an approach to performance that emphasized multi-sensual simultaneity. The audience of an Art et Action performance might experience simultaneous poetry (recited and sung), atmospheric music, confusing lighting, and experimental dance, all combined to produce shared cross-sensory perceptions. Autant and Lara presented characters who were seen only as shadows (or even shadow puppets), heard but not seen.
Apollinaire's concept of Simultaneous Art greatly influenced the work of Lara and Autant, having explored similar ideas about creating art as an "experience" rather than as an object. The couple accomplished this by utilizing juxtaposed and discordant media and narratives simultaneously, thereby producing multiple "meanings" for the spectator, thereby allowing for multiple simultaneous interpretations about the event. "Drawing on classical tradition of the theater as a space for vision, and audience as spectator, Lara and Autant re-conceptualized the roles of theater director and architect. The 'meaning' of the art is indeterminate; the juxtaposition of simultaneous elements presents multiple possible meanings resolved by the participation of performers and spectators" (SOURCE: Gray Read, Modern Architecture in Theatre: The Experiments of Art et Action. 2013, p. 3).
CONTENTS OF THE COLLECTION:
1. "Nous avons puise dans l'oeuvre de Charles Peguy les elements d'un ouvrage scenique [...] LES SAINTES HEURES DE JEANNE D'ARC. Symphonie orale." [Paris: 1923]. Intaglio and relief print on wove paper (45 x 32.5 cm, light surface creasing). Boldly realized poster, signed with the "A et A" monogram, expressing the dark atmosphere of the Art et Action performance, which presented two poems by a Charles Pierre Peguy (1873-1914): "Le Porche du Mystère de la Deuxième Vertu" and "La Tapisserie de Sainte Geneviève et de Jeanne d'Arc." Claude Autant-Lara created the scenic design, which was composed of five transparent tapestries, creating a shadowy effect, as reflected in the present poster with its blackest-black surfaces, printed in thick greasy black ink, creating reliefs. The multiple layers of the performance created an surrealistic moment through polyphonic vocalization. NB: this poster appears to have been ingeniously created by one intaglio impression (border) and one relief impression (text).
2. "LES NOCES 'WESELE.' Libre réalisation en trois phases du drame de Stanislas Wyspianski." Paris: 1923. Intaglio and woodcut relief, printed in blue on light blue wove paper (55 x 38.5 cm, light creasing around edges). Striking poster which appears to incorporate into its design knotted wood and crude Art-Brut letterforms. The play was based on the 1901 book "The Wedding" by Polish writer Stanislaw Wyspianski (1869-1907), a reflection on the rough rural life of the Polish countryside in the tradition of the Young Poland movement, the Polish version of the fin-de-siécle and modernism in art and literature. Autant and Lara's production of "Les Noces" is notable for its prominent use of paper puppets.
3. "TETE D'OR DE PAUL CLAUDEL." [Paris: 1924 or 1927]. Relief print on gold embossed paper (49.5 x 32 cm, short tear in upper margin). A rare poster for the Art et Action production of Claudel's drama "Tête d'or." The scenographer was Autant himself, and he organized the performance around the motif of a tree, simulated on stage by stretched drapery which, depending on the lighting, could represent the trunk of a tree like that of a column.
4. "LES CUIRS DE BOEUF: MIRACLES EN DOUZE VITRAUX." [Paris: 1925]. Intaglio and relief print on crepe paper (55 x 40 cm, creasing in outer blank margins). The Art et Action performance was based on the little known play by Georges Polti. The poster's bold lettering forms the shape of a Gothic window, echoing elements of the Medieval era that was depicted in Polti's text. The poster was printed on extremely fragile crepe paper; that our example survives in such excellent condition is almost unbelievable.
The BnF has examples of all four posters, but their copy of "Les cuirs de boeufs miracles en douze vitraux" is printed on wove paper, not crepe paper (as here). There is a copy of "Les saintes heures de Jeanne d'Arc" in the Merrill C. Berman Collection, and the Beinecke Library has a copy of the "Tete d'or de Paul Claudel."
Selected references: Michel Lioure, Paul Claudel, Tete d'or de Paul Claudelm 1984, p. 88. Dominique Millet-Gerard, Tete d'or: le chant de l'origine, 2011, pp. 34-35. Michel Corvin, Le theatre de recherche entre les deux guerres: le laboratoire Art et Action, 1976.