THE NEW REALISM IN SCULPTURE
Preface by Anthony Blunt
The Gordon Fraser Gallery, Cambridge, 1937
All serious artists, whether painters or sculptors, are confronted at the present day with the alternative: Realism or Non-Realism. The question is never presented in this crude form, since artist has before him every style from extreme abstraction or fantasy to the most minute photographic fidelity. But the problem can be stated as a simple contrast, because the groups of painters which claim to be progressive and to which therefore a sensitive
artist will belong today stand at opposite ends of the scale. On the one hand are the Superrealists, With their doctrines of anti-rationalism, reliance on the subconscious and neglect of the outside world; on the other are the New Realists.
This is not the place to attempt a definition of Realism of universal application. It will be more useful to define the attitude of the New Realists in particular. The artists who can be classed under this title do not form an organised group, but they have certain fundamental principles in common. For them realism is an attitude towards life not merely towards art. They believe that art, being a serious human activity, must be concerned with serious matters that the artist must be capable of looking out directly on the real world around him and of expressing his view of it in his work; that he must be able to maintain this directness in face of the serious problems of life and not merely of the agreeable or minor aspects which even academic painters can treat in a realistic style.
It will be of interest to all who believe that a revival in art at the present time can only come from a return to realism, to see the steps by which a particular artist has made this return The present exhibition of Péri's work shews his development from 1918 to 1937. From 1920 to 1924, like most sensitive artists, he was absorbed in abstraction, more precisely, in his case, in constructivism. The earlier drawings shew him as an Expressionist. From 1924 to I928 he tried to realise his formal ideas in the most abstract of the visual arts, architecture. Realising that this was not his real medium he tried his hand at sculpture in 1928, and began the march away from pure pattern, spending the years I928 to 1930 in studying problems of movement and 1930 to I933 on static figures. By 1933 these investigations had given him the technical equipment to tackle more complicated realistic problems. From the crucial Street Corner Meeting, executed in 1933, to the present day he has devoted himself to the rendering of the ordinary life of the people in the streets and parks of London. His groups represent everyday scenes of the worker's life in a straightforward but subtle technique, and in the medium of concrete, the use of which, as the most important building material of today, opens up the possibility that sculpture may again be united with architecture. In this way sculpture can again become a communal art, and Péri can be said to have done for it what the Mexican fresco painters have done for painting; that it to say, to have brought it into contact with the serious reality of the day and made it an art for the whole people instead of the entertainment of a small intellectual élite.
Catalogue for the exhibition