Untitled | Henri Michaux | Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa
Past exhibition

An unclassifiable figure of the arts and literature of the 20th century, Henri Michaux (b. 1899, Namur, Belgium–d. 1984, Paris) greatly influenced the artists and writers of his time over the course of his long life. Both a “poets’ poet” and a “painters’ painter,” lionized by figures in both fields like André Gide and Francis Bacon, Michaux feverishly produced thousands of works on paper whose full extent is only now becoming apparent. This exhibition, organized in collaboration with the Michaux Archives in Paris, covers fifty years of Michaux’s creative activity, focusing on his most important periods and series. Bringing together some 230 of the artist’s visual works, documents, and personal objects, Henri Michaux: The Other Side is organized around three principal themes, offering a panoramic view of each: the human figure, the alphabet, and the altered psyche.

The show emphasizes the formal and material parallels and convergences between these three themes, and reveals central aspects of the artist’s modus operandi, underscoring his constant interest in science, musicology, and ethnography. Some of Michaux’s fundamental series, like the fonds noirs (black backgrounds), the frottages (rubbings), the mouvements (movements), and the dessins mescaliniens (mescaline drawings), are amply represented in this show, which includes works never exhibited before as well as pieces from major national and international collections.

Curator: Manuel Cirauqui

Henri Michaux
Untitled, 1981
Acuarela sobre papel
367 x 270 mm
Colección particular
© Henri Michaux, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018

Did you know that...?


From a young age, Henri Michaux (b. 1899, Namur, Belgium; d. 1984, Paris) strived to understand his self nature and the nature of the world around him. His life and work were based on a constant process of self-exploration. 
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"Do you want to learn what your self is? Disconnect. Withdraw to your inside. You’ll learn by yourself what’s crucial for you… " Self-exploration is a constant quest in Henri Michaux’s creative practice, and one he engaged in throughout his life.
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Julián de Ajuriaguerra (b. 1911, Bilbao; d. 1993, Villefranque, France) was a major Basque scientist and one of the most important psychiatrists in contemporary history. He met Michaux in Paris and collaborated on his mescaline experiments by documenting and analyzing the effects of this substance on the artist.
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Mescaline is a psychoactive substance obtained from plants that can be found in certain varieties of cactus, such as peyote cactus, which has been used by Native Americans for both medicinal and ritual purposes.
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"1930–31 In Asia. At last his voyage[...] India [...] Indonesia, China [...] countries about which he will then have to think and ruminate for years. " As a young man, Henri Michaux discovered that in order to progress towards self-knowledge he would first need to free himself of the socio-cultural barriers that shaped his way of thinking.
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"Music, the art of behavior […] Eight minutes of folk music say more about an unknown people than a hundred pages of notes and writings. [It is] the most revealing psychological document. " Music is central to Henri Michaux’s aesthetic explorations. Through music, the artist was able to connect with the present moment and achieve deep states of meditation.
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Just as Henri Michaux was fascinated by the world of sound, many composers were attracted to writing musical adaptations of his works.
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Henri Michaux also experimented with musical improvisation, though he left no record of this activity other than his writings and the recollections of his neighbors. For his improvisations, Michaux relied mainly on the piano and a number of percussion instruments he had acquired through his travels
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"I write to course through myself. Painting, composing, writing: to course through myself. That is where the adventure of being in life lies." Despite a natural talent for writing, at first Henri Michaux did not want to devote himself to it, judging that it distanced him from free expression, which he considered essential.
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While exploring the possibilities of language, Henri Michaux became interested in the graphic side of writing and calligraphy, the shapes of letters. In this regard, he was inspired by the calligraphic nature of Chinese and Japanese characters that he discovered on his travels, and which he would adapt in his painting in an attempt to create his own visual register.
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"As for living creatures and things, who has not wished to get a fuller, better, different grasp on them, not with words, not with phonemes or onomatopoeias, but with graphic signs?" In painting, Henri Michaux discovered a medium that freed him from words, in which he could experiment with a new language that allowed him to express his inner world in a more direct and spontaneous manner.
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