“You can always reverse up and down paintings that have shapes, let's say abstract, and you see real things in them. Someone even wrote an article about erotic forms in Cézanne! So we can say anything. Those who seek some literature in painting will always find it. […] I have always had the impression that French people were turned towards words and literature and that critics, like art historians for that matter, often try to read literature in painting, which stifles the whole adventure of non-figurative art. Instead of looking at a painting, one tries to describe it by the title, by the literary theme; but you have to "read" a painting and understand the artist's expression by looking at the way the painting is constructed: the composition, the harmony or its lack of harmony, the question of emptiness or fullness, the repetition , the color, the drawing, the touch… The direct gaze is full of meanings, and often, in non-figurative paintings, the reason for these choices explains the artist's intention. Even in figurative paintings you learn a lot beyond the so-called "subject".
Abstract from an interview with Jean-Paul Ameline and Dominique Bornhauser, in Manifeste, une histoire parallèle, exh. cat.,
Paris, Centre Pompidou, 1993, p.70-72
The artist Shirley Jaffey
Born Shirley Sterntein in Elizabeth, United States, in 1923 and died in Paris in 2016, Shirley Jaffe studied art at the Cooper Union in New York and then at the Philips Art School in Washington. After that, in 1949, she followed her husband to Paris, city where she lived until her death. There she sozialized with expatriate American artists such as Joan Mitchell or Sam Francis with whom she shares a pictorial practice close to abstract expressionism. Over time, his pictorial universe evolved towards more constructed forms and solid colors in flat tints. In 1966, she exhibited for the first time at the Galerie Fournier, which will represent her until the early 2000s. Her works are exhibited in numerous personal and collective exhibitions in France and abroad.
In a January 1993 interview in the catalog Manifesto: A Side History, 1960-1990, Shirley Jaffe states, “I don't have a system. Sometimes I start with a composition of movements and I build the forms in relation to the desired movement. It gives me structure. Other than that, anything can erupt. I keep the structure as an essential element because I want to keep the tension, but I start to reinvent the movement of things. All my forms are related to each other. They are splintered, centerless, linear" […] "You have to 'read' a painting and understand the artist's expression by looking at the way the painting is constructed: the composition, the harmony or its lack of harmony, the question of emptiness or fullness, repetition, color, design, touch..."
Jaffe's books at Kandinsky Library
"The complete collection of works published on her account fits in a plastic bag which she can easily grab when needed. It is portable, it does not rest on a shelf. The photo archives fit in three or four of these medium-thick shirts whose elastic snaps when you close them."
Shirley Jaffe, [exh. Domaine de Kerguéhennec, 29 June -21 September 2008,
Clermont-Ferrand, Frac Auvergne, 3 April – 25 May2008]
Shirley Jaffe's library entered the National Museum of Modern Art by donation in 2017, along with its archives. It is made up of 401 books and 19 titles of periodicals previously selected by museum agents, who sorted on site and discussed with the artist. These publications enrich the collection of the Kandinsky library, including 138 new books which integrate our collection, by completing it. These prints are essentially catalogs of group exhibitions featuring artists close to him (Sam Francis, Al Held, Joan Mitchell, Jean-Paul Riopelle, etc.), as well as ten artists' books (Robert Barry, Bernard Piffaretti, etc.) and fifteen illustrated books (Warja Lavater, Claude Viallat... but also Shirley Jaffe).
The books are in a very good state of preservation and essentially concern modern art of the 20th century. They are cataloged individually, in Unimarc, stored in the format and kept in a neutral paper envelope. The Jaffe Fund symbol L (for book) or P (for periodical) followed by a serial number allows you to reconstitute your entire library, kept at the Kandinsky library.
Specificity of Shirley Jaffe's library
An artist's library is often a reflection of his encounters, his interests and his sources of inspiration. A quarter of Jaffe's books are accompanied by attached "documents", for example several invitations from the artist, postcards or handwritten autograph letters, which testify to the links she maintained with her artist friends. Some are accompanied by clipped press articles related to the publication. Some copies have a very small print run, such as the exhibition catalog of Stéphane Bordarier at the Museum of Modern Art in Céret in 1986, printed in 15 copies, numbered from 1 to 15 and including an original painting by the artist. On the back of his painting (ex. 13/15 and format 23 x 18 cm), Bordanier wrote an autograph dedication to Shirley Jaffe.
Carole Benzaken's exhibition catalog at the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain devoted to tulip paintings is accompanied by an invitation card, but also by two leaflets of 3 sections each representing painted tulips.
It is also interesting to highlight the 3 copies of the book titled Poste restante wich containe imagined and imaginary correspondences by Raphaël Rubinstein and paintings by Shirley Jaffe. The copies, so-called "gigogne", are similar but not identical. Shirley Jaffe illustrated it with original color gouaches on the front and back of the 16 folded and stepped-pasted sheets on the third cover page.
All the ephemera: invitation cards, postcards, press clippings... kept in each publication have not been classified with the archives, but kept with the book, because these inserts, mentioned in the public data of the copy are closely linked to publication and make it the richness and specificity of the library.
Christelle Courrègelongue, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Centre Pompidou
Shirley Jaffe, Une Américaine à Paris, [exposition, Paris, Centre Pompidou, 20 avril - 29 août 2022], Paris, Bernard Chauveau, 2022
Through this exhibition, the Centre Pompidou pays tribute to Shirley Jaffe who spent most of her life in Paris and who, upon her death, bequeathed her archives, her library and some works to the National Museum of Modern Art. This major retrospective provides a better understanding of the development of the aesthetics of Jaffe's work.
Raphael Rubinstein, Shirley Jaffe, traduction Jeanne Bouniort, Paris, Flammarion, 2014
This is the first monograph devoted to Jaffe. The author follows a chronological sequence to highlight the evolution of the artist's work from gestural painting to geometric patterns.
Shirley Jaffe [exposition Domaine de Kerguéhennec, 29 juin-21 septembre 2008, Clermont-Ferrand, Frac Auvergne, 3 avril – 25 mai 2008], Bignan/Clermont-Ferrand, Domaine de Kerguéhennec/FRAC Auvergne, 2008
The catalog of this exhibition brings together essays and reproduced interviews given by Jaffe, in which she reveals a bit of her conception of painting and artistic creation and evokes her singular journey.