A Walk Through Le Musée sentimental d’Eva Aeppli at the Centre Pompidou Metz

Eva AEPPLI, Livre de vie n°7, 1975-1980.

By LARA PAN, July 2022 

If you’re an art lover who happens to stop by France this summer or fall, it will be incumbent upon you to pay a visit to the Centre Pompidou Metz. The city of Metz belongs to northeastern France, situated at the confluence of the Moselle and Seille rivers, northwest of Strasbourg and south of the Luxembourg frontier. 

In May of this year I visited this city and discovered the spectacular work of Eva Aeppli, curated by Anne Horvath and Chiara Parisi, who is the director of the institution. Given the sheer variety of directions explored by these curators, this exhibition reveals a special atmosphere that is difficult to describe with words. 

Born in Zofingen, Switzerland in 1925, Eva Aeppli grew up in Basel, where she studied anthroposophy under the field’s progenitor, Rudolf Steiner.

Only by passing through the unique artistic universe of Eva Aeppli can a spectator come to understand how her work encompasses fictions that come to her in dreams, or the alternate states that she transmutes into her unique compositions, filling otherwise inanimate objects with life, and thereby situating them such that they never escape the omnipresence of death constantly present in Eva’s work. 

Eva AEPPLI, La Table, 1965-1967.

The Second World War would have an everlasting impact on Eva Aeppli. She studied painting, engraving, and sculpture at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel. And at the age of 16 she learned of the existence of concentration camps while reading Die Moorsoldaten (Peat Bog Soldiers, 1935) by Wolfgang Langhoff. This piece had a long- lasting effect on her work. 

Aeppli moved to France in 1952, where she shared a studio space with her husband, Jean Tinguely, at lmpasse Ronsin, where Constantin Brâncuși also lived. And in Paris she developed meaningful friendships with Daniel Spoerri, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Pierre Raynaud, and Pontus Hultén.

She belongs to that group of exceptional women artists who have been forgotten due to the conventional rules and attitudes of the patriarchal society that had been dominating the art world at the time. Aeppli didn’t want to embrace the contemporary popular art movements, such as New Realism, Pop Art, and lyrical abstraction. Perhaps the barriers she faced in being properly acknowledged, however, had more to do with the ways in which her work repositions the viewer. It relocates us to a territory that does not immediately give us a language by which we can contextualize our experience. Her compelling sculptures are not simply static figures; rather, they suggest range, variety, and even playfulness. And Le Musée sentimental d’Eva Aeplli provokes an impulse that encapsulates possessiveness, the sad feeling of nostalgia, but also the diversity of her ideas and imagination. It’s so well curated that it gives us the sense of there being an exhibition hidden within exhibition, which itself is hidden within another—continually deeper layers of meaning to penetrate into with more and more reflection. 

To travel to Centre Pompidou Metz is not only worth it to see Eva Aeppli’s singular artistic universe, but also for gaining insight into how the curators artfully integrated this universe with the works of other

artists. This exhibition generates the rare sense of artworks communicating with each other so well that they almost have their own secret language, even though they’re by different artists.

Vue de la Salle LA TABLE dans l'exposition Le Musée sentimental d'Eva Aeppli.

My coup de couer is certainly La Table (1965-1967), consisting of 13 figures. Every figure has its own individual identity. No one is a portrait of a real person, yet they’re no less vivid. And across from this work we encounter a masterpiece of Andy Warhol, The Last Supper (1986 ), the work that he did at the end of his life as a clin d’œil to his sexual orientation and deeply religious internal tensions, as well as a living a space to rethink the mystical symbolism of the historical moment’s contemporary belief systems. Thus, Aeppli and Warhol, in this exhibition, are so beautifully paired.

Another work of Eva Aeppli’s, Les Livres de Vie (1975-1980), sees through the “eyes” of Emma Kunz, who embraces the encounter between science and spirituality. And, an extremely talented artist of the new generation, Goshka Macuga is another jewel of this Exhibition.

Additionally, it is impossible not to mention the documentary film, Je vais vous parler d’Eva, that so adeptly represents and portrays the work, life, and encounters of Eva Aeppli through the eyes of Jean Tinguely and Daniel Spoerri. The film shows two talented artists, Davide Bertocchi and Yann Mallard, who have been commissioned to collaborate on rendering one singular, mesmerizing, and intimate encounter with Eva. The piece is thereby able to approach Eva’s oeuvre in a broader context, and does a wonderful job of exploring her sensibilities, passions, and interests.

Vue de la Salle LES PLANÈTES dans l'exposition Le Musée sentimental d'Eva Aeppli.

To conclude, I’d like to dedicate a few lines to the outstanding lighting and set design done by Jean Kalman, who is also known for his collaboration with Peter Brook, the recently passed Christian Boltanski, Parisi, and Horvath, a team whose work combined the various concepts in this exhibition to create an exciting challenge to the traditional curatorial form.

But most importantly, Eva Aeppli finally gets the flawless retrospective of her work that she has so richly deserved for so long, and we can only wish that this retrospective has the opportunity to be displayed at many other great institutions across Europe and the United States. WM

Lara Pan

Lara Pan is an independent curator,writer and researcher based in New York. Her research focuses on the intersection between art, science, technology and paranormal phenomena.

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