The year 1966 represented a crucial turning point for François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne—a year that was defined by a succession of wildly inventive exhibitions that swiftly exposed the artists to an appreciative international press. By the end of that year, their artistic evolution from the periphery of the Nouveau Realiste movement had been confirmed by their self-christening as a single creative entity—Les Lalanne—soon a metaphor for their highly personalized artistic expression. Critical acclaim was immediate—their participation in the Salon de la Jeune Peinture, January 1966, marked the first legendary appearance of a flock of sheep—generating positive reviews from the art press, who were swift to observe the surrealistic, ambiguous personality of the installation. By April that same year, François-Xavier and Claude had become the focus of a feature in Vogue magazine, whose writer Jean Cau dryly observed: “The ground-floor studio is chaos….bottles, cans, pieces of sheet metal, screws, nails, locks, wire, metallic shards…..That’s what the Lalanne’s studio is like. Three of you in there at once feels like being in the subway at rush hour. ‘It’s too small,’ says Lalanne calmly.” Artistic momentum continued in the ensuing months, culminating in the October 1966 inaugural exhibition at the celebrated Alexandre Iolas Gallery in Paris, initiating a supportive partnership that was to endure for decades. It is within the charged atmosphere of this highly creative environment that the present unique work was created.
François-Xavier had decided to abandon painting in 1952, having met Claude the same year. The two artists moved into a small studio on the Impasse Ronsin, now recognised as a legendary community of artists in Montparnasse, where they moved in an eclectic artistic microcosm that included Constantin Brancusi (a major inspiration and friend), Max Ernst, René Magritte, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle, amongst many others. Although Les Lalanne mixed with the Nouveau Realiste group, they did not adhere to the group’s manifesto, steadfastly retaining their artistic independence and vision. Shortly after Brancusi’s death in 1957, the Lalannes moved to the Impasse Robiquet. It was here, using a welding machine bought jointly with Jean Tinguely, that François-Xavier developed his first sculptural work, Rhinocrétaire, subsequently exhibited at Jeanine Goldschmidt and Pierre Restany’s Galerie J in 1964. The initial Iolas gallery exhibition in Paris in October 1966 was swiftly followed by an inaugural show at the Art Institute of Chicago, January 1967, a further show at Iolas’s New York gallery, and additional critical acclaim was generated by an extensive February 1967 Life Magazine article that furthered the international profile of Les Lalanne.
The present bar was conceived and created by François-Xavier for private collectors, M. and Mme. Mayersdorff of Brussels, during this important and pivotal moment. However, unlike the anthropomorphic structures created specifically for their gallery shows, The Mayersdorff bar, together with its precedent he had created one year previously in 1965 for Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé (sold Christie’s Paris, Collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé, 23 February 2009), were in fact the consequence of discreet private commissions from discerning, pioneering clients and were rarely, if at all, exposed publicly. Both of these two bars are unique. Each bar exploits counterpoints of various metals offset by blown glass, and may be interpreted as two variations on a theme—the compact, restrained 1965 YSL example exploiting straight lines and planes, while the larger 1966 Mayersdorff bar delivers a more agile, mobile personality enhanced by a succession of graceful curves, circles, and spheres. Both bars exhibit extensive use of ‘maillechort’, an alloy that is a malleable blend of copper, zinc and nickel with a mellow silvery surface that allows a subtle play of light. Each has mechanical elements to conceal the bar apparatus, and unlike the single rectangular work surface of the YSL bar, the Mayersdorff bar features paired, overlapping horizontal surfaces of ovoid outline.
If the conceptual personality of the YSL bar can be described as summoning the precision of a scientist’s laboratory, then the Mayersdorff bar appears to have been conceived for a more poetic, intuitive type of science. With a spirit that is at once functional and playful, the bar appears as if metaphoric apparatus for the concoction of alchemy—a workbench designed to stimulate magical composition. Alchemy—the ancient raising of pure substance, through science and intuition—is here imagined by François-Xavier as metaphysical form essential for human interaction. Reassured by the presence of an over-sized egg, symbolic of life and of birth, reprising the Sun at the core of our galaxy, the ancillary vessels feature as satellites arranged as an astronomer’s celestial orrery, the elliptical surfaces superimposed as if a planetary ring system. If the structural language of these two unique bars is rooted in geometry and spatial awareness, there remains a naturalistic reference that is anchored by the egg form. François-Xavier reprised the motif of the egg once again as a central feature of his Autruches bar, 1966-1967, executed not in patinated metals as the two earlier unique bars, but in bronze and Sèvres biscuit porcelain, which was subsequently produced in an edition of six.
Les Lalanne constructed their own realm, where Surrealism, fantasy and anthropomorphism synthesise as a poetic combination of arts. They lived a life out-of-step with contemporary influences and joyfully embraced determining their own parallel paths, developing a visual language that was guided by personalised idiom, one which continues to challenge and transcend categorisation. The present work is a seminal and unique example of Francois-Xavier’s genius, created at the pivotal moment of his artistic development.