Specters of Artaud

Language and the Arts in the 1950s

September 19 - December 17, 2012 /
Sabatini Building, Floor 3

This exhibition looks at how Antonin Artaud's desire to transcend the limits of language - both spoken and written - lived on in the work of a series of creators linked to the avant- garde movements of the mid 20th century. Although Artaud's reception in theatre and post-structuralist theory has been thoroughly documented and analysed, to date little attention has been paid to the influence that his theories and proposals have had on the realm of the visual arts. This imbalance may be largely the result of the protagonism of neodadá in the historiography and exhibition of post-war art.

Specters of Artaud. Language and the Arts in the 1950s  includes about three hundred works by artists primarily from three geographical areas - France, the United States and Brazil - and it suggests that the process of appropriation, recontextualization and translation of Artaud's multi-faceted legacy is actually part of a broader intellectual history, one that is closely linked to the emergence, on both sides of the Atlantic, of a set of interdisciplinary art practices that called for the development of alternative models of modernity.

The exhibition traces the influence of Antonin Artaud in the various ramifications of the Letterist movement, which was founded by Isidore Isou and Gabriel Pomerand in 1946. At the same time it shows how his legacy was reinterpreted by some important figures from the North American avant-garde (John Cage, David Tudor, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Kline...), as it examines the decisive role played in this process by the Black Mountain College (where in 1952 the writer Mary Caroline Richards read a fragment of her still unfinished translation of Le théâtre et son double that would be the inspiration for Cage's Theatre Piece #1) , and analyses Artaud's influence on both Brazilian concrete poetry and on the work of two artists from the same country, Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, who explored the potential of a more corporeal reception of the work of art. In addition, through a wide array of documentary and audiovisual materials, the exhibition shows how his book Van Gogh le suicidé de la société became a key element of the anti-psychiatry movement.

In collaboration with:


Exhibition´s details

Organized by: 
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Kaira Cabañas and Frédéric Acquaviva
Antonin Artaud, Ronaldo Azeredo, Emygdio de Barros, Pierre Boulez, Stan Brakhage, Jean-Louis Brau, John Cage, Augusto de Campos, Haroldo de Campos, Mário Carneiro, Amílcar de Castro, Henri Chopin, Lygia Clark, Willy Corrêa de Oliveira, Jean-Pierre Daniel, Guy Debord, Fernand Deligny, Raphael Domingues, François Dufrêne, Öyvind Fahlström, Hermelindo Fiaminghi, Ferreira Gullar, Pierre Henry, Leon Hirszman, Reynaldo Jardim, Yves Klein, Hazel Larsen Archer, Maurice Lemaître, Josée Manenti, Almir Mavignier, Gilberto Mendes, Hélio Oiticica, Carmen de P. Arruda Campos, Claude Palmer, Lygia Pape, Carlos Pertuis, Décio Pignatari, Gabriel Pomerand, Robert Rauschenberg, Mary Caroline Richards, Pierre Schaeffer, David Tudor, Serge de Turville, Edgar Varèse, Marc Vaux, Franz Weissmann View more