Nouveau réalisme was a French movement which can be seen as a European counterpart to pop art

Arman (Armand Fernandez), 'Condition of Woman I' 1960
Arman (Armand Fernandez)
Condition of Woman I 1960
Mixed media, metal, wood and glass
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé, 'Jazzmen' 1961
Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé
Jazzmen 1961

Introduction

Founded in 1960 by the critic Pierre Restany, artists associated with nouveau réalism (which translates as ‘new realism’) made extensive use of collage and assemblage as well as painting.

Some of the artists incorporated real objects directly into their work, acknowledging a debt to the readymades of Marcel Duchamp. The leading exponents of this aspect were Arman, César, Christo, Jean Tinguely and Daniel Spoerri.

Raymond Hains, Mimmo Rotella, Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé and Wolf Vostell developed the décollage, or torn poster technique, making striking works from accumulated layers of posters they removed from advertising hoardings. Among the painters were Valerio Adami, Alain Jacquet, Martial Raysse (who also made notable installations) and the German, Gerhard Richter, who named his work Capitalist Realism.

One of the most significant artists associated with nouveau réalisme was Yves Klein who died prematurely in 1962. He was enormously inventive in his short career, staging happenings and carrying out early examples of performance art using his own body, and anticipating conceptual art as well as making remarkable paintings.

Nouveau réaliste artists in focus

Yves Klein

Yves Klein experimented with various approaches to art making, including performance.

This video shows him using naked women as ‘human paintbrushes’ to make his Anthropometry paintings, which were produced as elaborate performances in front of an audience.

Nothing works
Find out about Klein’s notorious 1958 exhibition The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State Into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility – better known as The Void – for which he presented an empty gallery space; along with the work of other artists who have similarly explored the theme of ‘nothing’.

Christo

Christo (Christo Javacheff), 'Wrapped Cans. Part of Inventory' 1959-1960
Christo (Christo Javacheff)
Wrapped Cans. Part of Inventory 1959-1960
Painted metal, canvas and string
object: 120 x 105 mm
Purchased 1981© Christo

Born in Bulgaria, Christo moved to Paris in 1958 where he met art critic Pierre Restany, and artists Arman and Spoerri who were associated with the nouveau réaliste movement. He began to make artworks by wrapping objects…a practice he was to continue, but on a much larger scale.

TateShots: Christo
Christo’s public interventions have included wrapping coasts, cliffs and huge buildings. In this video he talks through his processes and some of the difficulties he faces in undertaking his ambitious projects. 

Nicola L

Although she trained as a painter, in the mid 1960s artist Nicola L began to develop her Pénétrables series of structured canvases in which the viewers could introduce parts of their body and get into the skin of the painting – literally!

Created for various improvised performances in public spaces, Nicola L’s Red Coat is an example of her experimentation with presenting the human body as a conceptual piece of art. Find out more about this, and other artworks by Nicola L in this TateShots video:

Artist interview: Nicola L
Nicola L talks about her work in relation to pop art, and the politics and wider art scene of the 1960s.

Nicola L: biography
Read about the fascinating life and work of Nicola L.

Nouveau Réalisme in context

Ushio Shinohara Doll Festival 1966
Ushio Shinohara
Doll Festival 1966

The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop
Find out what was happening in art around the world during the 1960s and 1970s at the same time as nouveau réaliste artists were developing their ideas in France. This 2015 Tate modern exhibition explores how different cultures and countries, from Latin America to Asia and from Europe to the Middle East, responded to pop art

You can kiss a Lichtenstein, but you can’t kiss us
Read this article to find out about nouveau réalisme within the wider context of European responses to pop art.

Related glossary terms

Pop artdécollageassemblageperformance art