French artist Bernard Buffet exhibition at Opera Gallery Singapore
Opera Gallery brings the works of the late French artist Bernard Buffet to Singapore.
From 28 July to 18 August, Opera Gallery Singapore will present a selection of works of French artist Bernard Buffet from the early 1950s until his death in 1999 through four themes: circus and portraits, still lifes, bouquets of flowers and urban landscapes. Opera Gallery, Hong Kong, had previously exhibited the artist’s works in the exhibition ‘The Theory of Line’ in 2015.
Buffet studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and had his first solo show at the young age of 19. Buffet’s works are often monochromatic and without shadow or depth. Across the canvas is a web of pencil lines crisscrossing the canvas, giving its surface texture. Buffet favoured representation to abstract art, and his figures are often angular and outlined in black. The darkness of his oeuvre worked well with the bleak post-war atmosphere that is lined out in the Jean-Paul Sartre’s writings on existentialism.
Alas, after initial excitement about Buffet’s works, they were quite quickly shunned by critics and fellow artists as abstract expressionism and minimalism came to the fore 1950s and 1960s, who thought his works to pander to conventional, popular tastes. In response to this, the artist’s wife, Annabel Buffet says, “I understand completely that some people do not like his paintings; art is all about emotion, a spontaneous reaction. But I will not allow anyone to challenge his talent as a painter. His profession was his oxygen; he devoted his life to it with such unquestionable generosity and honesty.”
While Buffet was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1971, and elected at the Academy of Arts in 1974, his works were better appreciated outside of France, especially in Japan. In fact, the world’s largest collection of his works, with more than 2000 paintings, watercolours, drawings, engravings, illustrated books and posters, can be found at the Bernard Buffet Museum in Surugadaira, Japan.
The museum was founded in 1973 by Kiichiro Okano, a great admirer of the artist’s moody works, which he felt a kinship with as a war veteran. “His art undoubtedly was a new dawn, which overcame the melancholy in my mind,” says Okano. “Since then, I have been a captive of Buffet. His paintings showed me a new light, and a new road and his paintings only could do that as I had no religion. This is how my ardent admiration for Buffet started.”
Other than the Bernard Buffet Museum, the artist’s works can also be found in the collections of the Vatican Museum, National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Wellside Gallery in Seoul, Tate Gallery in London, National Gallery for Foreign Art in Sofia, Bulgaria, among others.
Recently, there has been renewed interest in Buffet’s work in France. The Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris organised a retrospective of his work at the end of 2016. It is the only public museum with a significant collection of the artist’s work, mostly from Maurice Garnier, the artist’s long-time dealer. Around the same time, the Musée de Montmartre also put up an exhibition of Buffet’s work. Earlier in the year, the biography ‘Bernard Buffet: The Invention of the Modern Mega-Artist’ was published, to make a case for the artist’s influence.
The exhibition ‘Bernard Buffet’ at Opera Gallery is a rare chance to see the artist’s artworks up close in Singapore, to appreciate his talent as a painter, and to make up one’s mind about his rightful place in art history.
Opera Gallery’s new space in Singapore will be at ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn. More information at operagallery.com/singapore/.