Anna Eva Bergman: woman painter, woman’s painting, woman as painter [by Tracy Danison]

N°33 1947 %22‘Ensomhet’ huset (gyllne snitt)%22:Solitudethehouse(the gilded part)

Anna-Eva Bergman  N°33 1947 ‘Ensomhet’ huset (gyllne snitt), “Solitude: the house (gold part)”

Gestern, hab’ich zu viel Weißwein getrunken…

It’s always so difficult to know where to begin. The sound of the phrase Gestern, hab’ich… makes me hear Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. It reminds me, too, of how very dissimilar things, like bosons and quarks or frogs and badgers or faces and dances, are mostly similar. Someplace, even, everything is joined at the hip.

Which puts me in mind of the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris’ exhibition of painter Anna-Eva Bergman’s work, put together by curator Hélène Leroy and called Voyage vers l’intérieur.

Born in Stockholm in 1909, raised in Norway, trained in Austria, dead at Grasse, France, in 1987, Bergman was part of the so-called Ecole de Paris: the vast numbers of mostly Euro-Atlantic artists who worked in or from Paris from 1900 to 1960.

MAM-Paris describes Bergman as a key figure in post-War European painting. And Bergman surely does have the necessary immortal hand and eye of a top quality painter. But what struck me about Voyage is not the high quality of Bergman’s work or her place in the Euro-Atlantic esthetic pantheon, but its success in underlining Bergman’s development as painter.

N°6-1960 %22Pyramide%22:Pyramid. Photo © Claire Dorn - copieAnna-Eva Bergman N°6-1960 “Pyramide”/Pyramid. Photo © Claire Dorn

I came away from Voyage thinking, believing, that Bergman’s development is not so much a matter of visual styles, visions or ideas, periods, as, for example, with Picasso, but a matter of how she sees what she sees.

Bergman’s hand and eye manage to find, refine and then to paint her perception of the material world. I experience her work as sharing her perception with her. Contrast this with my experience of Picasso’s oeuvre: admiring his ability to manipulate perception, to put Dora Marr in pieces and put her together otherwise, so to say.

Bergman’s key-figureship among the giants of the Ecole de Paris is owing first, I think, to her evident ability to identify the elements of her own perception and to identify the structure she gives those elements. Second, she has the hand and eye to material represent the elements in her structure in such a way that a spectator can experience her seeing and perceiving.

N°26-1962 %22Feu%22:Fire. Photo © Claire DornAnna-Eva Bergman N°26-1962 “Feu”/Fire. Photo © Claire Dorn

For me, in situ, the take on Bergman as painter begins with the MAM’s good selection and placement of the artist’s early work. In addition to her remarkable hand and eye, the selection strongly marks Bergman’s admirations in contemporary painting. It’s Bergman but I feel I see, say, Otto Dix in some clubbers in decadent volupté or Fernand Léger, say in a garishly-colored geometric flying machine. I look out toward the long part of the gallery and her admirations have given way to exploration of Anna-Eva Bergman consciousness as a painter: a house called N°33 1947 ‘Ensomhet’ huset (gyllne snitt), “Solitude: the house (the gilded part)”. In the moment, I am just struck by its originality of the intriguing geometries and colors and texturings that make me say to myself “Sure, it’s Anna-Eva’s house”.

Later, when I do my reverse visit, I’ll realize that ‘Ensomhet’ exemplifies the particular quality of her life’s work. For me as a spectator, from ‘Ensomhet’ on, Voyage vers l’intérieur is not a tour of the development and refinement of Bergman’s perceptual or painterly essence or of her psyche. As a painter, she shares her way of seeing; her work become a conversation piece for my reflection, as sharer, on experience and perception.

1. Mountains 14 - copie 2Anna-Eva Bergman N°13-1976 “Deux Nunataks”. Photo © Fondation Hartung-Bergman

Just to pick some ongoing themes that experiencing her work enables: how am I able to share Bergman’s how? How can I experience what I always think of as un-shareable: What is an individual if it’s joined at the hip with all other individuals? If such exists, what is the spice and everything nice, the snips, snails and puppy-dog tails that make for a “shared/true perception”? Is that “true” somebody’s Yahweh & Jesus cult or a Kant & (William) Blake coffee klatch? Submission under Authority or Freedom under Reason? …

Back to the exhibition. It was very refreshing to come out of the Voyage vers l’intérieur feeling as if I’d had some insight into Bergman painter. That’s a rare enough thing whoever the painter may be. But it’s really, really rare when it comes to woman painters.

I think that is so because the curator needs to gather so many exemplary (chronological and written) inputs around an essentially Beyond Words topic – no matter what, when it comes to saying what is there and how so, it’s bound to be jagged and incomplete. So, hats off to MAM-Paris and its curatorial teams. 


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