The long-awaited return of surreal and vibrant Haitian art


Colin Gleadell (The Telegraph) writes about Haitian art and the three-part exhibition series, curated by James Brett, “Art + Revolution in Haiti,” which opened on September 23 and will be on view until November 11, 2018 at The Gallery of Everything (4 Chiltern Street, London). Here are excerpts from Gleadell’s review; see full article at The Telegraph:

Whatever happened to Haitian art? An intoxicating mix of Afro-Caribbean Voodoo and Western Catholicism, it was characterised by a distinctly naive, vibrantly coloured style, and enjoyed a red-hot market from the Fifties to the Eighties.

At the time, the founder of surrealism, André Breton, wrote about it and collected it; authors Truman Capote and Jean-Paul Sartre popularised it; Nelson Rockefeller, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and The Museum of Modern Art in New York bought it; entire auctions in New York and Paris were devoted to it. Since then, though, it has fallen in value, both historically and commercially speaking. A victim of its own success, it degenerated into a form of mass-produced tourist art, and became plagued by fakes. Christie’s New York tells me that its Latin American department, which used to handle sales of Haitian art, had not sold any for 20 years.

Now, the London-based  The Gallery of Everything, run by the “outsider art” enthusiast James Brett, is stepping into the breach with three exhibitions devoted to Haitian art over the next few weeks. In doing so, Brett recreates something of the sense of discovery that took place in those early years, presenting what he feels has lasting value and giving it a new context.

The association with Breton, in particular, invites a new interpretation of Haitian art, one that is more aligned with a kind of black surrealism, rather than its traditional associations with naive and primitive art, latterly seen as pejorative terms.

Mindful that one of the most highly regarded artists of our time, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), is of Haitian origin, and that there has been a sea change in attitude towards artists of African origin (particularly in America), the exhibition series, which Brett has titled Art + Revolution in Haiti, is an attempt to incorporate Haitian art into the recent attention that has been paid to art from the African diaspora more generally. “The old white collector base that drove the market and its exhibition programmes needs liberalising,” says Brett.

It was not until the Forties that a distinctive Haitian art was generally acknowledged by the outside world. A key moment came in 1944, when the Haitian government backed the American artist and teacher DeWitt Peters to create the first gallery and art school in the country in Port-au-Prince.

The artists who worked there, such as Hector Hyppolite, a Voodoo priest, formed the nucleus of a Haitian art movement. In 1946, following years of American occupation and control, the liberal government of president Estimé helped popularise it through cultural exchange and flourishing tourism.

Brett’s first exhibition, opening this weekend at his Fitzrovia gallery, will focus on the metal cut-out sculptures of Georges Liautaud (1899-1991), a blacksmith who was discovered in the Fifties by DeWitt Peters, while making crosses in a cemetery. Liautaud’s Voodoo-inspired shapes and animal deities will be accompanied by paintings and drawings by other artists on similar themes. [. . .]

[Image above: Préfète Duffaut’s «Le Générale Canson» 1950, CREDIT: © PRÉFÈTE DUFFAUT /THE GALLERY OF EVERYTHING.]

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