BAM Executive Director Melanie Fales said inspiration for the exhibitions came from Cercle et Carre co-founder and Spanish painter Pierre Daura’s daughter, Martha, who donated a collection of her father’s work to the museum in 2004.
“Through Martha’s philanthropic efforts to place [Pierre’s] works in art museums of the highest standard in the US and Europe, [his] presence on the world’s art stage in the 1920s and 1930s has begun to enjoy much-deserved attention,” said Fales, adding that Martha also put the Georgia Museum of Art’s Cercle et Carre exhibition on BAM’s radar, sparking the process that would eventually bring it to Boise. Now, work by Pierre and more than 30 of his contemporaries—including such notables as Wassily Kandinsky and Fernand Leger—fills eight of the softly lit galleries at BAM.
The name Cercle et Carre was the brainchild of Belgian painter Michel Seuphor, another co-founder of the collective who, according to a sign hanging in the BAM exhibition, felt the two shapes were the “simplest emblem to embody all things,” representing “the rational and the sensory world.” They’re also a repeating theme across the exhibition, which showcases artists intent on returning a semblance of structure to modernism, combatting the quixotic surrealist movement with the introduction of straightforward geometric shapes and sweeping lines.
In Gallery One, where Cercle et Carre begins, most of the works fall into one of two camps: boldly colored or purposely monochrome. On one wall hangs French artist Jean Govin’s “Untitled,” a stereograph centered on a black circle that’s splashed with blocks of bright primary color and intersected by clean black and white lines. On another, Hungarian artist Vilmos Huszar’s “Composition” is a muted reply, featuring five black linocut rectangles against a backdrop of plain, cream-colored paper.
Moving through the galleries, the subject matter becomes more organic, with abstracted human forms, buildings and still life objects recognizable among the sterile geometric shapes. The media, too, become more diverse, running the gamut from hand-crafted pieces of furniture—including a reproduction of a minimalist chair designed in 1984 and upholstered in “pony-style cowhide”—to pen and ink drawings, oil paintings and dreamy watercolors. Henri-Jean Closon’s 1936 “Le visible ne de l'invisible” is particularly intriguing, a small graphite drawing featuring a crosshatch of black lines and curves dotted with circles that give the impression of water droplets. The overall effect is of a spider hanging crumpled in its web, disembodied limbs akimbo.
Pierre’s work is interspersed with that of his contemporaries in Cercle et Carre, but a slow walk through Fifty Fifty is necessary to get a true feel for his artistry, which Fales described as “prolific.” The pieces on display span multiple decades and two countries, transitioning from brightly colored abstracts painted in Spain during the Cercle et Carre years to a collection of snowy farmscapes and portraits crafted in Virginia, where Pierre moved with his family just before World War II.
“Until recently, [Pierre’s] contributions have gone relatively unnoticed,” said Fales, who praised his landscapes for their vibrant, inviting color palettes. “Through this exhibition and a publication, we hope to bring additional awareness and scholarship to [his] work.”