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A poster from an exhibition of Incoherents

In 1882 Parisian writer and publisher Jules Levy, had a very innovative idea. He started holding exhibitions that were meant to make people laugh. Levy was annoyed by the seriousness of art and wanted to ridicule it. His satirical style of art, extended to also make fun of society and politics. This is how “The Incoherents: A Short Lived Art Movement” was born. I say short because the initiative lasted for just ten years, until 1895.

The 1880s were opportune times in Paris. The annual Salon-founded in 1903, which held exhibitions of various artists and introduced art movements, was going through an institutional crisis. “The Arts Incohérents”, a sort of burlesque and parodical counter-Salon meant to be both an artistic exhibition and a public entertainment.

Cabaret Poster

Parisian artists of all sort-musicians, performers, painters and writers entertained audiences and patrons in cabarets with improvised performances. Additionally, the performances emphasized in humor and satire. Moreover, parodies of famous pieces of art, political and social satire, graphical puns-homonymy or homophony, corruption of objects, monochroïds, were at the root of these exhibitions. The public, amused, followed suit. 

In addition to the amazing performances, the movement spread very fast and effectively due to the successful advertising. Well-orchestrated advertising campaigns, a benevolent press, cleverly chosen locations contributed to the success of these exhibitions-demonstrations and costume balls.

Soon however, Levy started to be the victim of criticism and censorship. Additionally, people accused him that he used the movement only for his own benefits. To add to its downfall, some claimed that the Incoherents presented work which was deliberately irrational and iconoclastic, “found” art objects, the drawings of children, and drawings “made by people who don’t know how to draw.” All these made the Incoherents a short lived art movement.

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