JUDIT REIGL (b.1923) escaped from her native Hungary in March 1950, made her way across Europe, mostly on foot, in three months, and settled in Paris. Moved by Reigl’s 1950 painting They Have an Unquenchable Thirst for the Infinite, André Breton declared the work a Surrealist masterpiece and presented the artist’s first solo exhibition in Paris in November 1954. Although Reigl never abandoned her “total” automatic writing—which she defined as the “engagement of mental automatism complemented by corporeal movement”—she left the Surrealist group following the exhibition, unwilling to submit to any authority. Reigl’s works were a genuine artistic revolution, chronologically parallel to the Abstract Expressionist movement in the United States, except that she followed another kind of logic, one that was poetic throughout (and Surrealist in tone in its earliest years).
The oeuvre of Judit Reigl offers a new lens through which to consider the course of European painting in the second half of the twentieth century. Judit Reigl has worked in series, without corrections and discarding many paintings: out of three or four thousand completed in a nearly sixty-year period, she kept perhaps twelve hundred. While there is a clear continuity to the seriespartially explained by the fact that she used the rejected canvases as the foundation of new onesthey are clearly distinct from each other, alternatively figurative and abstract, demonstrating an uncommon approach that the Parisian art world initially found difficult to accept.
In France, Judit Reigl, now 95 years old, is acknowledged as one of the most original figures of post-World War II art. She is recognized for having discarded boundaries and rules once deemed absolute, obliterating the distinction between the front and the back of the canvas (by painting on both sides), and the antagonism between the figurative and the non-objective, while reconciling surrealism and abstraction. Her 2010 retrospective at the Nantes Museum of Fine Arts was followed by a concise survey at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 2012. Besides important selections at the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou; the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Musée de Brou; and other French museums, Reigl’s paintings are in the collections of the Tate Modern, London; the Albertina, Vienna, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. In New York, her works have been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In February, 2016, the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio, inaugurated Reigl’s first museum retrospective in the USA. A survey of the Reigl oeuvre is to be presented at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris starting May 31, 2018.