Incoherent Arts, a laughable “Incos” movement in the 19th century – Liberation


The band of real fake artists gathered around Jules Lévy caused a sensation at the end of the 19th century with his ironic and schoolboy works before falling into oblivion in the history of art.

In those years, those of a Third Republic in love with controversy, the memory of the Commune still vivid, we knew how to have fun in Paris. From the Latin Quarter to Montmartre, idle and partying bands with brilliant names – the Fumistes, Zutistes and other Hirsutes – compete in creativity in parodic salons, where people protest against naturalism à la Zola and good bourgeois taste. Among them, a certain Jules Lévy, 25, broker at Flammarion and founding member of the Hydropathes. During the summer of 1882, he came up with the idea of ​​a new joke: an exhibition “people who can’t draw”. This is how the incoherent Arts are born.

«Art monochroïdal»

After a first attempt at a fair, Lévy invites his journalist friends, caricaturists and poets to exhibit in his tiny studio. The start of a decade of vernissages happenings, where all of Paris thronged – including Manet, Renoir and even Richard Wagner. We “admire” a smelly foot sculpted in a piece of Gruyère cheese, a plaster bust covered with labels of mineral water (The Venus of a Thousand Waters) and hundreds of visual puns. Comedian Alphonse Allais draws a kind of compilation from it, thePrimo-avrilesque albumironically inventing “monochroidal art”. The book will become cult, from dadas to Yves Klein.

In Lévy’s band, who swears “not making art, of course, and never having wanted to make it”, we also find the “Monologues” Paul Bilhaud, author of the famous black monochrome, and Emile Cohl, future inventor of cartoons. And even, for a short passage, Toulouse-Lautrec. The promotion is ensured by the famous review of the Black cat (which Lévy published for a time) and above all the disguised balls given by the group, which even Marcel Proust echoed, terrified at the idea of ​​seeing his sweetheart rubbing shoulders with these debauched people. The last ball took place at the Olympia in 1893, marking the end of a movement that had never defined itself as such.

Relegate dadas and surrealists

The Incoherent Arts were quickly forgotten, their works never collected or exhibited – historians estimate that most were destroyed in the aftermath of the feasts. Rediscovered in the 1960s by lovers of “pataphysics”, the “Incos” remained a niche until the end of the 20th century. Several researchers, Daniel Grojnowski, Denys Riout or even Catherine Charpin, are then looking into this “forgotten link in the history of art”without deciding on the Levy case: prophet of modern art or awe-inspiring bourgeois prankster?

An interest that culminated with an exhibition at Orsay in 1992, before the Incohérents returned to obscurity, until the discovery of the “magic trunk”. A new joke from beyond the grave, which could rewrite the history of the avant-garde, and relegate dadas and surrealists to the rank of followers? After all, legend has it that Marcel Duchamp died, literally of laughter, with an Allais book in his hand.


Source: Libération by www.liberation.fr.

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