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Failure of the Marseille Exhibition

Potlatch #27 (2 November 1956)

Translated by Gerardo Denís

August 4 was to see the opening of an Avant-garde Arts Festival in Marseille, organised with the support of various official bodies promoting tourism and the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Planning. It was obvious from the chosen venue — Le Corbusier's "Cité Radieuse" — and from the list of expected participants, that this event would be the apothesis of the confusionist and retrograde tendencies that have consistently dominated modern expression for the past decade. Public consecration of such a gathering came, as is usual, just as the hollowness of these tendencies was becoming obvious to a growing sector of intellectual opinion; at a time when an irresistible momentum is beginning to carry us towards an overwhelming liberation in all areas.

Four days previous to the opening of the Avant-garde Arts Festival, the Lettrist International launched a boycott appeal, on the grounds that the Marseille event would contribute strongly to a future division between two camps with no possibility of dialogue between them.

Participants in this spectacle, in which none of the elements that will be seen in twenty years' time as typical of 1950's stupidity are missing, will find themselves irremediably branded with having taken such an indiscreet part in the most sublime manifestation of the spirit of an age. We therefore encourage all of the invited artists, at least those who do not consider themselves finished, to dissociate themselves immediately from this hodgepodge of deism, tachism, and impotence . . . We call on the international avant-garde to denounce the intent of this manoeuvre and to publicise the names of those who are party to it.

The Avant-garde Arts Festival, received by the press with almost universal indifference (only two Paris dailies made very brief mention of its inauguration), Abandoned at the last moment by several of its organisers and many of whose events did not succeed in drawing an audience of more than twenty spectators, quickly showed itself to be a failure, even in financial terms.

One or two articles in the sympathising weeklies were not enough to conceal the liquidation of the pretty Tachisto-Seccotino avant-garde. At most, they made every effort to sow discord by implicating the opposition. Thus, the Figaro Literary Supplement, in its August 11 issue, claimed that the Lettrists took part in the Festival and boycotted it at the same time. Then, the following week, on publishing our fomal rebuttal, they significantly omitted the last sentence: "The appeal by the Lettrist International, which you mentioned, was not, of course directed at art merchants and was widely heeded."

The fact is that by August 1956, it was too late to impose a coherent vision of modern art based on a repetition of past experiments. The post-war period of reaction is coming to a close. It was also too late to pay civic homage to the heroes of an avant-garde that has become inoffensive. It was never offensive in the first place, and this is now becoming obvious. Above all, this perios is basically characterised by anarchic and fragementary restatements. It was therefore ill-advised to try to extend the undertaking — simply by setting the theatre festival, a poor relation of the Avignon festival, in "modern" surroundings and by hastily tacking on painting and cinema — to show a unity that has never existed. Its only chance of existence lies with the unified revolution that is now getting underway.