Restany – a charismatic critic with several enemies

The passionate art critic Pierre Restany (born 1930), who passed away this Ascension Day, was perhaps the last of the old kind in France. Hardly anyone was as active, constantly debating, with esprit and culture-critical energy, all around the world even though globalisation had yet to become a prestige word. Among other things, he was the standard-bearer for Nouveaux Réalistes (the first large exhibition in 1960) featuring Yves Klein, Arman, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, César, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Christo and many more.

I would bump into Restany at Café Beaubourg, where he gathered a young generation of critics and artists around him. He would often stay away from the institutions, with one important exception, when in 2002 he shouldered the moral responsibility as President for Palais de Tokyo with curiosity for this grand, ground-breaking artistic and social experiment, and because of his friendship with, and support of, the two directors Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans.

Pierre Restany made many enemies when he claimed that France no longer was the nexus of contemporary art, and when he harshly criticised French cultural policy. But he was also charismatic when he lectured at the congresses of AICA, the international organisation of art critics, with his white flowing beard, white shirt, his head slightly leaned backwards, the cigar, the closed eyes, the inward listening and the somewhat nasal voice, which stressed each individual syllable in order to give maximal emphasis to that art experience which filled him and which he could convey with such intensity.

Christian Chambert Chairman of Svenska Konstkritikersamfundet Vice President AICA

[Published in Svenska Dagbladet, Stockholm on June 7, 2003. Translation from the Swedish by Joakim Gleisner.]