31 Mar 2020
This text was published in the [Programmzeitung, April 2020] (https://www.programmzeitung.ch/AlleBeitraege). Since the Kunstmuseum Basel is currently closed and the works by and with Kiki de Montparnasse cannot be viewed on site, it can also be read here - together with an exhibition view of the two works.
If social media had already existed in the 1920s, Kiki de Montparnasse would certainly have been an influencer with countless followers. Who was this multi-talented artist? Born in 1901 as the illegitimate daughter of a worker in Burgundy and raised in the poorest of circumstances, she came to Paris as a twelve-year-old and conquered a place in the art scene. Thanks to her social and artistic skills, she was able to lead a self-determined life in a male-dominated environment for a long time. Her last years, however, less dazzling, were marked by alcohol and drug abuse.
The trace of this bold artist and emancipated woman has not been lost to this day and lives on in numerous paintings by Chaïm Soutine, Amedeo Modigliani, Alexander Calder and in film experiments such as Léger's Ballet Mécanique. Famous are the photographs of Man Ray, whose model and lover she was during the most important period of his surrealistic work. Kiki belonged to the closest circle of the Parisian bohemian scene, appeared not only as a dancer and singer, she also tried her hand at painting and had a sold-out exhibition in 1927 in the gallery Au Sacre de Printemps. Her depictions show an unbiased, spontaneous way of expression in saturated colours. She was probably acquainted with Karl im Obersteg, who owned one of her paintings and her signed memoirs. In the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel, Les Lavandières (1927) is shown alongside the iconic nude by May Ray, Le violon d'Ingres (1924) – two pictures that could not be more different. While the washerwomen, probably going back to Kiki's memories of her youth, show the everyday working life of women who do hard work with their backs bent, the curved back nude, inspired by an odalisque by Ingres, is the projection of a coveting gaze. The woman's body becomes a musical instrument that celebrates the senses beyond the hardships of everyday life.
Written by: Iris Kretzschmar, art historian, art mediator and freelance author