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GALERIE DENISE RENÉ: Form as an Edifying Force

The devastation of the Second World War could have sounded the death knell for the Modernist ideas of the beneficial aspects of industrial development. Nevertheless, Modernism lived on in the Constructivist tradition that proved to be an edifying force in contrast to the destructiveness of war. Galerie Denise René in Paris attracted the largest group of post-war artists who worked with art as a concrete reality in which all that was needed was colour and form.

The Danes Richard Mortensen and Robert Jacobsen were the first Nordic artists who were integrated in the art scene that developed in Europe after the war. Olle Bærtling, who had studied under Fernand Léger, was the first Swedish artist to be accepted into Denise René’s gallery. Just as his contemporary colleagues in the group aligned with Galerie Denise René, Bærtling was primarily interested in the abstract and the concrete, which he channelled into motifs of diagonals and triangles in energy-filled compositions. Another member of the group was the Finnish artist L-G Nordström, who explored the relationship between Concrete Art and music, especially jazz.

In 1951–52, Denise René organised the touring exhibition Klar Form that presented abstract works by artists related to her gallery. The exhibition toured several museums in the Nordic countries and Belgium. In addition to its commercial activities, Galerie Denise René functioned as a think tank for Concrete Art and its theoretical framework. The gallery also served as a model for people who wished to modernise the antiquated ideas that informed many museums at the time. Pontus Hultén, who transformed Moderna Museet in Stockholm, was well acquainted with the work of Denise René. As was Knud W. Jensen, the founder of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark.