French Sculptor Pierre Sabatier Gets His First Major Retrospective in New York

Oct 31, 2016 9:08PM

“You employ stone, wood and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces. That is construction,” wrote Le Corbusier in Towards a New Architecture (1923). “But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good, I am happy and I say: ‘This is beautiful.’ That is Architecture. Art enters in.”

That blurred line between art and construction was of particular interest to the legendary Swiss-French architect, whose body of work included architecture and urban planning as well as design, painting, and writing. It comes as no surprise to learn that, a generation later, Le Corbusier was a major influence on another French artist, Pierre Sabatier (1925–2003).

Like his famous predecessor, Sabatier was interested in both functional design and art for its own sake. Also like Le Corbusier, Sabatier explored the intersection and overlap of two related but distinct mediums—in his case, architecture and sculpture. His impressive oeuvre ran the range from mosaic murals and large-scale metal assemblages to architectural environments, including his signature concrete “playgrounds.” On top of that, he designed site-specific interiors for public and private institutions across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Needless to say, some of Sabatier’s works can only be experienced in situ. Others, including some of his better-known sculptures and design pieces, can be seen in New York at Magen H Gallery for a major Sabatier retrospective. Thirteen years after the artist’s death, the comprehensive exhibition marks the late artist’s first solo show in the United States. It’s also the first time several of his previously unseen works are available for public view.

Highlights include segments of the massive wall sculptures, such as “Mur Vivant 70” Wall sculpture (circa 1970), that helped put Sabatier on the map. Made of hammered copper and brass, these sculptures were originally installed inside Parisian banks, insurance companies, and sports stadiums. Also included in the retrospective are several smaller works such as the alluring “San Andreas” series of coffee tables. These bronze pieces look like giant slabs of stone conveniently fractured to form tables and benches.

Sabatier’s unique, exquisite work was nevertheless frequently intended for a workaday audience. Looking at his sculptures and design pieces, another phrase coined by Le Corbusier comes to mind: He called the architect “a poetic engineer,” a term that neatly encapsulates Sabatier’s creative mind at work.

—Bridget Gleeson

Pierre Sabatier’s work is on view at Magen H Gallery, New York, Nov. 3–Dec. 5, 2016.

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