UVaM - University of Virginia Art Museum


Past Exhibitions

Jean Hélion
Reality and Abstraction
August 31 - December 16

Curated by Matthew Affron, Curator of Modern Art and Associate Professor, McIntire Department of Art

The French painter Jean Hélion was a leading figure in the world of abstract art during the 1930s. He created extraordinary geometrical compositions that balance pristine clarity with both a strong dynamism and a sense of unceasing transformation. He helped to found a significant international artists' group called Abstraction-Création in Paris, participated in many important exhibitions in Europe, and forged connections with modern art circles in the United States. Hélion spent much of the 1930s shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic and between studios located in Paris, New York City, and Rockbridge Baths, Virginia. Much changed for Hélion at the end of the 1930s. He turned from pure abstraction and took up everyday themes, rendering these forms in a figurative style. This seemingly simple shift is more complicated than it might first appear. His abstract compositions had contained configurations of form that were ultimately converted into recognizable figures and objects. Simultaneously, the newer figurative pictures possessed strongly formal qualities. Hélion, therefore, complicates any simple opposition between notions of abstract art's detachment and realism's involvement in social immediacy.

This exhibition explores Hélion's evolution through and then away from abstract art. It includes eight significant paintings and a substantial number of works on paper—executed in watercolor, charcoal, and ink—whose fluid spontaneity complements the paintings' immaculate handling. This exhibition is drawn from a private collection, with an additional important loan from the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University in Roanoke. Matthew Affron will teach a seminar in the art department to accompany this exhibition.

The Museum's programming is made possible by the generous support of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.

The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the B. Herbert Lee '48 Endowed Fund, Albemarle Magazine, Ivy Publications LLC's Charlottesville Welcome Book, and The Hook.

Download exhibition label copy (pdf) >

Members' Preview Reception
Thursday, August 30
5:30 - 7:30 pm
In the Museum

Final Friday Receptions
August 31, September 28 & October 26
5:30 - 7:30 pm
In the Museum

Special Lecture
The Artist In Society: Jean Hélion, painter, writer, prisoner
by Deborah Rosenthal
Thursday, October 11
5:30 pm
Campbell 153

Saturday Special Tour
by Matthew Affron
October 27
2 - 3 pm
In the Museum

Family Art JAM
Abstraction According to Hélion
Saturday, November 17 & Sunday, November 18
1-3 & 3-5 pm
RSVP 434.243.2050

Lunchtime Talk
by Matthew Affron
Tuesday, December 11
12 - 1 pm
In the Museum

Composition by Jean Helion

Jean Hélion
France, 1904-1987
Composition, 1934
Oil on canvas,
13 3/8 x 17 3/8 in, 33.86 x 44.03 cm
Courtesy of Family of Jean Hélion
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS),
    New York/ADAGP, Paris