Maeght Adds Fresh-From-Studio Art : Art: The venerable French firm's third generation is also expanding with galleries in Beverly Hills and Paris.


Maeght is a venerable name in the art world. American art aficionados typically mispronounce it "Mate" instead of "Mag," but they know Maeght as a leading modern art publisher, patron, collector and dealer. And they love the Maeght Foundation, which presents major exhibitions and hosts resident artists on an idyllic estate in St. Paul de Vence, in the South of France.

What some Maeght fans may not know is that the famous French firm, long synonymous with modern art luminaries, is expanding its operations and updating its image. The third generation of Maeghts--Yoyo, Isabelle and Jules--is on the move. Along with a few trusted outsiders, the grandchildren of patriarch Aime Maeght are propelling the family tradition into the future. Two new Maeght galleries have opened, in Beverly Hills and Paris, and both make room for fresh-out-of-the-studio artworks.

"Miro, Braque and Giacometti are part of my culture. I can't remove them from my head or my heart," said Yoyo Maeght, who last December opened a grand new gallery in the historic Marais district of Paris, near the Georges Pompidou Center. After refurbishing the Hotel le Rebours, a hotel particulier (urban castle), she installed an enormous bronze sculpture by Joan Miro in the 17th-Century courtyard.

The sculpture ties her gallery to the Maeght Foundation--where luxuriant grounds and modern buildings are well stocked with works by such modern masters as Miro, Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Calder, Fernand Leger and Mark Chagall--but what she has chosen to show inside is contemporary art. The exhibition program continues the family tradition, but it also represents her personal taste. "There isn't art that I like for myself and art that I like for the gallery. It's the same thing. I'm very lucky to show what is inspirational for me and art that is my choice," Maeght said during a recent trip to Los Angeles. The gallery complex--which includes a bookstore and offices--is the Maeghts' primary exhibition space in Paris, complemented by longer established galleries on Rue du Bac and Avenue Matignon.

Maeght came to California to visit the Benedicte Saxe Gallery in Beverly Hills, the only Maeght gallery in the United States and--along with outposts in Barcelona and Tokyo--one of three outside France. When it opened last fall, at 434 N. Bedford Drive, the gallery had the familiar Maeght look--with well-stocked shelves of Maeght Editions books, posters and limited-edition prints. Clients could find a selection of pricey original artworks as well as affordable gifts.

But last week the airy, high-ceilinged space was transformed for a show of Japanese artist Aki Kuroda's paintings. Out went most of the shelves and display cases; in came eight large paintings, plus acrylics on paper, serigraphs and volumes of "Noise," a sumptuously produced literary and art quarterly that is edited by Kuroda.

In Los Angeles briefly for the show's installation and opening, Kuroda called his vivid yellow, blue and red paintings "luminous spaces of the universe" and "extraordinary landscapes." A 48-year-old artist who moved to Paris from his native Kyoto 20 years ago, Kuroda said that figurative images in his paintings don't represent specific people but "a search" as well as "a measure of space."

"I am interested in light--the light of the cosmos, the light of painting," he said, referring to his vigorously painted fields of pure color. "I'm also interested in black--the black of ink and written text, the black of black holes," he said of black painted borders that encase some of the canvases. These "frames" corral space, but they also "let light come in. Contemporary art has become too morbid. I want to speak about light and life," he said.

Kuroda's show is the gallery's first exhibition of contemporary art, but it won't be the last, Saxe said. Having settled into Beverly Hills after working with the Maeght family in France for 10 years, she intends to import two shows of master graphics each year and two contemporary paintings. In addition, she plans to organize an annual group exhibition of works by young American artists.

Saxe chose her address partly because of Beverly Hills' international renown and the familiar, vaguely European aspect of the business district, but now she notes with pleasure that the two blocks between her establishment and Rodeo Drive put the gallery "a long way" from one of the world's most famous boulevards of conspicuous consumption. Many of her visitors are physicians with offices nearby, she said, and out-of-town visitors tend to come from New York and Chicago. Bedford Drive is "very American" and "a very agreeable place to work," she said.

"Benedicte can do her own program in Beverly Hills. Each gallery is separate, but they have a similar ambience. Each is more than a gallery; it's also a family and a publisher," Maeght said. While Yoyo Maeght has established herself as a contemporary art dealer, her sister Isabelle manages Maeght inventories, loans and museum exhibitions. Their brother Jules coordinates the printing business and computer operations.

The three entrepreneurs are the children of Adrien Maeght, who followed the lead of his late parents Aime and Marguerite Maeght and now oversees the gallery and publishing empire.

The tradition began in the 1930s when the elder Maeghts opened a lithography shop and galleries in Southern France and soon began to work with artists who have become the giants of modern art. As their business grew from a small family affair to a world-renowned enterprise, the Maeghts opened a gallery in Paris in 1945 with a show of Henri Matisse's work and inaugurated their foundation in St. Paul de Vence in 1964 as a memorial to their son Bernard who had died of leukemia.

The foundation--lodged in a building designed by Jose Luis Sert--has a collection of 6,000 artworks, a library, a film program and workshops for the creation of lithographs and ceramics. Offering such major exhibitions as Max Ernst and Nicholas de Stael retrospectives, the foundation has attracted more than 3 million visitors in 26 years of operation.

Maeght-affiliated artists have the advantage of exploring a wide range of art making, including prints and books, and they are connected to the family's intellectual and artistic circle. Growing up in such an art-rich family has obvious advantages too, Yoyo Maeght said.

She was born Francoise but dubbed Yoyo as a baby, when she mimicked her German nurse's "Ya, ya." The nickname stuck and she made Yoyo her legal name.

Yoyo Maeght deviated from the family business briefly, while running a toy store in Paris, but now she is intensely involved with artists whom she represents exclusively and treats almost as family. "I don't show their work because we are friends. We are like that because I show their work," she said.

As to the criteria for admission to her stable, she said that an artist's work must first strike her visually and then measure up when she asks how it fits into art history. "I don't show a school or style of art. I don't show abstract or figurative art. I show different artists, each of whom has his own identity. The look of the art is very different, but the intellectual appeal is the same," she said.

Her artists, such as Kuroda and theater designer Helene Delprat, "are obliged to go further with their art (than they could on their own); they are not obliged to produce small items for sale," she said. "They are free to do what they want."

Maeght's obligation, on the other hand, is "to bring (opportunities for making and exhibiting art) to the artists, not just show their paintings," she said. "I'm not a painter, but I can create something. The best thing I can dream is to bring something to an artist."

In that regard, the Maeght tradition hasn't changed. Adrien Maeght recently told an interviewer, "What I do is help the artists whom I care for realize their work. Give them a studio, if they need one; give them the means to produce; in short, all that one can bring to an artist in order to improve his or her working conditions. Certain artists are very self-sufficient; others are less capable when faced with practical constraints. Our role is to make their life easier."

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