Claude Aveline

CLAUDE AVELINE (Paris, 1901-1992).
Claude Lemand

Three aviaries for a Bird-Who-Doesn’t-Exist.
Translated from French by Valérie Hess.

Tom Laurent: The Museum of the Institute of the Arab World is showing part of the col­lec­tion that you have put together with your wife, France Lemand, around the poem Portrait de l’Oiseau-Qui-N’Existe-Pas by Claude Aveline, and which is part of your recent Donation. Can you go back to the gen­esis of this writing and remind us who was Claude Aveline?

Claude Lemand: Everything began in 1950. Claude Aveline (Paris, 1901-1992) drew a bird and wrote a poem on a piece of paper mea­suring 32 x 25cm. From 1956 to 1982, he used to visit gal­leries and artists, putting together two col­lec­tions of works on paper by 194 artists, which he then donated to the French MNAM (National Museum of Modern Art), works by (Atlan, Bissière, César, Debré, Foujita, Hajdu, Masson, Music, Severini, Tamayo, Zadkine,…): 108 works in 1963 which were exhib­ited at the Centre Pompidou in 1978, and another 86 in 1982.

Claude Aveline was a pro­lific writer and the peak of his glory and of great lit­erary cre­ativity cul­mi­nated from 1933 to 1944 and from 1945 to 1968. Using a beau­tiful clas­sical lan­guage, he wrote novels, essays, five detec­tive novels, 2 vol­umes of short sto­ries, chil­dren’s books, poems,… It is inter­esting to com­pare L’Étranger by Camus (1942) with Le Prisonnier by Aveline (1936).

Claude Aveline was a leading figure for the Parisian cul­tural scene of the 1930s. From 1933 onwards, he sup­ported the working classes and was a writer with ties to the Front Populaire, like many French intel­lec­tuals of his gen­er­a­tion. He cam­paigned against the Fascist regimes in Europe and for the Republican Spain. He was also a com­mitted resis­tant, first amongst the intel­lec­tuals from the net­work of the Musée de l’Homme, then in the resis­tance’s under­ground move­ment in Lyons and its sur­round­ings. In 1944, he pub­lished with Éditions de Minuit Le Temps mort, an admirable and poignant novel. Twenty-five years later, he pub­lished Monologue pour un dis­paru, a poem full of revolt, written in memory of his friend Jacques Lion, who was arrested by the Gestapo and who died in depor­ta­tion.

T.L.: You have been a pre­scriber of sev­eral artistic cre­ations that are directly related to this poem. What does the Portrait de l’Oiseau-Qui-N’Existe-Pas rep­re­sent for you?

C.L.: Claude Aveline was a fan­tastic story-teller. He loved speaking in public and reading his texts to his friends and rel­a­tives, to the radio or to a large audi­ence. The poem has a didactic dimen­sion (when he lists all the phys­ical fea­tures of birds: wings, beak, legs and feet, feathers…), a playful dimen­sion, a psy­cho­log­ical and philo­soph­ical dimen­sion. As for the verses at the end, “No one is ever happy / And how do you think the world can be well in these con­di­tions?”, it appears that the poet chose an enig­matic ending that throws the reader into an end­less reflec­tion and into a dream. It seems to me that this poem car­ries a sym­bolic inter­pre­ta­tion of all its com­po­nents without any tricks. Just like the Albatros by Baudelaire, it also reflects in a sim­pler way the poet’s way of life and that of the artist who fully immerses him­self in the uni­verse he cre­ated and who is chal­lenged in real life. Art is a means to sub­li­mate the real world and make it bear­able.

Claude Aveline him­self was sur­prised and happy by the spec­tac­ular fate of his little multi-lay­ered poem, “from the playful to the aes­thetic side, from the tragic to the enter­taining aspect”. Some artists rep­re­sented it as a simple bird with its dis­tinc­tive phys­ical fea­tures. Others found in it a fan­tasy and a game. Many read it like an invi­ta­tion to seek and find the bird that lies dor­mant within each of us. Incidentally, the sen­tence “he would like to be afraid of death one day”, clearly refers to the bird as being a symbol for humanity. Written in 1950, Portrait de l’Oiseau-Qui-N’Existe-Pas, is also a poem of its time, the years of Occupation, of resis­tance and of exter­mi­na­tion: mil­lions of birds flew away to the death camps. This idea haunted the writer’s thoughts, whether it be in his life or in his numerous post-war texts. It later sur­faced again as a cry of revolt and of horror in his mem­o­rable Monologue pour un dis­paru.

T.L.: As well as a col­lector, you also have your gallery in Paris through which you rep­re­sent sev­eral artists, some who par­tic­i­pated in the cre­ation of the col­lec­tion show­cased in Issoudun. How do you rec­on­cile these two activ­i­ties, col­lecting versus selling art­works?

C.L.: The Parisian art dealer and the great art col­lector Heinz Berggruen used to say, “I am my best client”. Since 1988 and as the years go by, I took the habit of not only pur­chasing art­works from almost of the exhi­bi­tions in which the gallery’s artists took part, but also of orga­nizing inter­na­tional the­matic exhi­bi­tions (Masters of the Tondo, Contemporary Artist’s Books, Pieces for a Museum, Portrait of the Bird…) where these artists could show­case their works (paint­ings, sculp­tures, draw­ings, artists’ books) side by side to world-famous names and create new ones.

It brings me so much sat­is­fac­tion to see an excep­tional and suc­cessful art­work that I trig­gered: that is the proof that my intu­ition was right when I thought that par­tic­ular theme cor­re­sponded well to that par­tic­ular artist. There is a lot of dis­cus­sion on the new art dealers-pro­ducers: for the past twenty-five years I have been pro­ducing the edi­tions of all my artists, without broad­casting it and without ever asking any form of spon­sor­ship or sub­sidy. Being an art dealer-pro­ducer does not pro­duce any finan­cial wealth yet it brings such joy to live amidst a wide range of art­works that I like.

T.L.: Looking at the artists you encour­aged to work with this poem, the inter­na­tional dimen­sion in your choices can be detected. What are the cri­teria of your selec­tion? Was it a way of “checking” the uni­versal char­acter of Claude Aveline’s text, with regards to the very dif­ferent ori­gins of the selected artists?

C.L.: My pas­sion for painting, sculp­ture and artists’ books had driven me to abandon every­thing in June 1988 in order to create a gallery and to build a col­lec­tion, being glob­ally open-minded towards artists who came from dif­ferent geo­graphic, cul­tural and aes­thetic hori­zons and who had chosen Paris, tem­porarily or per­ma­nently, as the cap­ital of their life, of their cre­ation and of their inter­na­tional outreach.
Since 1995, my wife, Claude Aveline’s grand­daughter, and I con­tinued what he had under­taken. We invited around twenty artists to seek inspi­ra­tion in the poem (in French or in one of the 55 trans­la­tions) to create not one but sev­eral works using all media pos­sible.

Museum cura­tors and direc­tors of art cen­ters inter­ested in our col­lec­tion greatly appre­ci­ated its inter­na­tional dimen­sion (20 artists from 11 coun­tries and 4 con­ti­nents) and the mul­tiple mediums of the works. The whole col­lec­tion is rich and har­mo­nious. Visitors are invited to dis­cover, reflect, enjoy and give free rein to their own cre­ativity, to con­tinue the saga launched in 1950 by Claude Aveline.

Claude Aveline, Picture of The-Non-Existent-Bird.

Here is the pic­ture of the Non-Existent-Bird.
Not its fault if the Good Lord who made every thing omitted to create it.
It has a look of other birds, for non-exis­tent crea­tures bear some resem­blance
to those that exist.
But they haven’t a name.
Which is why this bird is called the Non-Existent-Bird.
And why it is sad.
Perhaps sleeping or waiting for the moment of exis­tence.
Wondering what sort of beak or wings it will have, will it be able to dive under water,
as actual birds do, without spoiling its colours ?
It would like to hear itself sing.
It would like to be afraid of death.
It would like to have very ugly, very much alive baby-birds.
So the dream of a non-exis­tent-bird is to stop being a dream.
No one is ever sat­is­fied.
And that being the case, how can all go well with the world?

Paris 1950. Translated from French by George Buchanan, 1966.

Copyright © Galerie Claude Lemand 2012.

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