Raymond Hains

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Raymond Hains is a French artist born in Saint-Brieuc (Côtes-d'Armor) on November 9, 1926. He died in Paris on October 28, 2005. Raymond Hains studied at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Rennes before coming to Paris to present his first exhibition of “hypnagogic” photographs and starting a body of work with torn posters from the streets. In 1960, he signed, along with Arman, Dufrêne, Klein, Tinguely, Villeglé and Pierre Restany, the Manifesto of New Realism. However, he soon distanced himself from the movement to develop his own line of research through the tools of language, analogy, chance and coincidence, revealing the hidden connections between these disparate elements. From the 50s onwards, Hains took part in several exhibitions and international events such as the “Documenta IV” in Kassel, the first Biennale of Paris, the first shows of The New Realism in Milan and Paris, the exhibitions “Paris-Paris” and “Paris-New York” at the Centre Georges-Pompidou as well as “Westkunst” and “Bilderstreit” in Cologne. His works have been presented in several museums in France and abroad. He was awarded the Kurt Schwitters Prize in 1997. Several famous art critics have written about him and many books have been written about his artwork.

From hypnagogic photographs to the “ultra – letter“[edit]

The discovery of photography[edit]

On June 8, 1944, in Laval, Raymond Hains came upon a book entitled “Photographie Française 1839-1936” whose cover, designed by Emmanuel Sougez, happened to be a photomontage picturing an accumulation of lenses of varying sizes with an eye at the center. Hains decided to become a photographer on that day. Armed with his Kodak camera, he then took photographs of war damages, ruins and walls destroyed by bombing.

In 1945, he enrolled in the Sculpture Workshop of the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, where he became friend with Jacques Villeglé. He soon gave up sculpture to dedicate himself to philosophical readings in the gardens of the city. Shortly afterwards, he left for Paris where, in October 1945, he began his apprenticeship with Emmanuel Sougez, director of the photography department at France-Illustration who needed young people who would work for him in his laboratory. There, he gained a good technical knowledge in photography.

From 1946 onwards, he started creating his first photograms and solarizations on paper in his Parisian apartment. He then met André Breton to whom he showed his work. His first abstract photographs were taken by means of a circular reflector equipped with small mirrors, which multiplied and fragmented the subject matter. For his first attempt, he used a copy of an Etruscan object and photographed it through the fragments of fluted glass. He entitled it “Trésor de Golcondo” (“Treasures of Golcondo”). One day, in the family’s glazing workshop, he noticed some rejects of fluted glass splashed with paint - an accidental prism - and decided to use those latter for his photographs. He had effectively developed a new kind of camera, the Hypnagogoscope (expression made of three Greek words : hypnos : “sleep”; agogos “one who leads” and skopein “to observe”). The adjective “hypnagogic” signifying “which immediately precedes sleep”, a state of drawsiness. Hains’ use of hypnagogy enabled him to tear himself away from the usual tendency of photography to mimic : it deconstructed the light and transformed the image into abstract lines. He made use of procedures adapted from pre-war Dada and Surrealism with hypnagogic abstract photographs, often produced with the help of distorting mirrors. In 1948, he opened his first exhibition, “hypnagogical photographs“, at the Gallery Colette Allendy in Paris.

In 1952, he published “Graphism in Photographs. When photography becomes the object” in the fifth issue of Photo Almanach Prisma,[1] where he explained that manipulating the image enabled him to make the subject abstract. This text served as his own personal manifesto, where he questioned the generally accepted notion of realism and affirmed, citing Apollinaire, his conviction of the necessity for the artist to invent new realities.

Capturing images and the “ultra-letter”[edit]

In 1949, Hains produced his first black and white short film with a movie camera he had borrowed : Saint Germain-des Prés Colombiens. From 1950 to 1954, he created several more movies, among which Pénélope, Loi du 29 juillet 1881 and Défense d’afficher. Together with Jacques Villeglé, they adopted the process of visual distortion, adding grooved glass to the camera and producing abstract films, brightly colored and with a moving graphism, inspired by Matisse's watercolour cut-outs. Jacques Villeglé baptized the movie, in which completion he no longer believed in, “Penelope”. Pierre Schaeffer edited a film clip with his own music in 1959 and named it “Etude aux allures”.

Hains attended “Lettrist” performances, particularly appreciating the work of François Dufrêne, Isidore Isou and Daniel Pomerand. In 1950, he devoted himself to creating a representation in plastic of the written outputs at the heart of the Lettrist movement, shredding the Letters with the fluted glass lens, in this way inventing the “Ultra-letter” concept. Mesmerized by the design and the sound of letters, he played with names such as Camille Bryen or Jacques Villeglé and experienced the meaninglessness of the word once exploded, letters contending, extending, exploding to the point where language lost all coherence. This photographic process of deformation fell within a modern issue initiated by Stéphane Mallarmé, further pursued by Guillaume Apollinaire and later by the “lettrists”. In 1953, Raymond Hains published “Hépérile éclaté” in collaboration with Villeglé. The phonetic poem “Hyperile” written by Camille Bryen, pioneer of lyrical abstraction was exploded into an “ultra-letter”, thus creating the first of its kind : a poem not intended to be read. According to Hains, it was a question of exploding the word into ultra-words that no human could express.


Torn posters[edit]

Hains had already taken many photographs of Parisian posters and had just torn his first posters when Jacques Villeglé moved to Paris in 1949. They started collaborating, producing a series of concert posters, torn and mainly typographic, with a view to creating a new Bayeux Tapestry. The name of their first piece of work - drawn from words that emerged from the chaos of the strewn letters - was “Ach Alma Manetro”. In 1954, François Dufrêne introduced Yves Klein to Raymond Hains in front of the Dôme, on Montparnasse Boulevard.

In 1955, the story “Flagrant-Dali” broke in the newspaper “Combat”.[2] In the previous year, the French book club had published a new work entitled “The secret life of Salvador Dali”. A double spread at the start and at the end of the publication featured a reproduction of “The Hand Multiplied by a Play of Mirrors”, a hypnagogic photograph by Raymond Hains from 1947. The inclusion of the photograph in the paper probably was an editorial error. As a reaction, Raymond Hains asserted his rights as an author to write a protest to be published in “Combat”: “It's on my beard and certainly not on your moustache that I see this hand being used for Dali's purpose: Guided by the antennae-moustaches, your henchman spotted it….”. Hains eventually decided not to proceeed further with the matter. In 1956, Hains met the art critic Pierre Restany at Yves Klein's home. Then, in 1957, he opened his first torn posters exhibition in Paris in collaboration with Jacques Villeglé. The invitation read: “Colette Allendy invites you to cross the exhibition fence: The Act of July, 29 188, or 'lyricism on the sly'”.

The choice of posters - shredded by passers-by and subsequently ruined by the effects of wind and rain - was either a purely plastic one : eyes that set the frame, flat tints of colours spotted by this artist who refers to himself as a “painter of inaction” - or to a greater extent circumstantial choices. Hains brought images and words closer, enjoying coincidences and typographic encounters.

From palisades to “lapalissades“[edit]

After discovering galvanized sheet metal panels in the Bompaire warehouses - stockyards for billboard and hoarding panels - Raymond Hains decided to seize these latter and started photographying the environment and the building work concealed by the hoardings.

Dufrêne, Hains and Villeglé, subsequently referred to as “décollagistes”, exhibited their work at the first Biennale of Paris in 1959 at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. Hains presented the political poster “Votez Maujovis” upon the exhibition as well as a fence made from wooden flats entitled “the fence of reserved places”. During the Biennale, he spotted the Clartés Encyclopedia opened on the page dedicated to desserts in a shop window located on the boulevard Saint-Germain; featuring a pudding named “Palissade”, a sort of cake made with confectioner’s cream and surrounded by a ring of biscuits. Later on, at a dinner, he met Geneviève de Chabannes la Palice, descendant of the lord of La Palice. In 1963, he travelled to Lapalisse, a village in Allier (French department), and discovered there some sweets called “vérités de la Palisse”. Proclaiming himself a “dialectician of lapalissades”, he then started a piece of work based on the random proximity of those references together with semantic shifts, and presented a copy of the Palisade cake on the occasion of the Salon Comparaisons in 1960.

New Realism[edit]

A new perspective approach to the real[edit]

On April 16, 1960, during an exhibition at the Apollinaire Gallery in Milan, Pierre Restany launched the concept of “New Realism”. The constitutive declaration for New Realism would then be signed on October 27, 1960 by Arman, Dufrêne, Hains, Klein, Raysse, Restany, Spoerri, Tinguely and Villeglé at the home of Yves Kleins. “The New Realists recognize their collective singularity. New Realism : a new perspective approach to the real”. An inaugural exhibition entitled "40° above Dada" (“40° au-dessus de Dada”) was held at the J Gallery run by Jeanine Restany, Pierre Restany's wife. Hains, in his “old lag period” at the time, presented his galvanized sheets. Yves Klein violently objected to the exhibition title chosen by Pierre Restany, as well as any affiliation with the Dada movement, insisting on his work being removed from the exhibition. On October 8, 1960, at La Coupole, Raymond Hains signed the following manifesto together with Martial Raysse, written by Yves Klein on the restaurant's paper tablecloth : “New Realism is dissolved”.

In 1961, an exhibition at the Gallery J displayed a selection of 20 posters found by Hains and Villeglé between 1950 and 1961. This series of political posters related to the dramatic events associated with the Algerian conflict and De Gaulle. The show was entitled “La France Déchirée (“France in Shreds”). Hains refused to sell the posters or else to make money from such a painful subject as his country being torn apart. He then exhibited “the palisade dessert” and offered a slice of the cake on display to each guest at the festival of New Realism at the Muratore Gallery and later at the Roseland Abbey in Nice.

In 1963, Daniel Spoerri turned the Gallery J into a restaurant for 11 days. On March 8, Chef Daniel Spoerri offered a menu in tribute to Raymond Hains: “The Abstract, the Cicisbeo of the critics”. Among the dishes served were the “Palisade Dessert” and “Gala” cheeses, reminders of the “Flagrant - Dalí” affair.

Hains was passionate about literature, and The Illiad was one of the most important books in his library. Hains, referred to by gallery manager Iris Clert as “my foal”, decided to build a horse in planks covered with posters, later wrapped by Christo. This “wrapped neo-Dada”, conceived by Gérard Matisse, was put on display in front of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris for the “Salon des Comparaisons” in 1963. With this “Monument to the painter gagged by art critics”,[3] Hains denied any affiliation with the Dada movement and distanced himself from posters, panels and New Realism. “I hereby remove the Raymond Hains who worked with posters like an old skin”.

The following year, he took part in the exhibition “50 years of collage” at the Saint-Etienne Museum of Art and Industry.

The SEITA & SAFFA cycle[edit]

“New Realism is not a group of artists but rather a brotherhood. An ensemble of little Césars sharing out the world in the same way one would share a cake. Yves Klein takes the blue, César the car compressions, Arman the dustbins, Villeglé, Rotella and I the shredded posters, Christo the wrappings. With the New Realists, we are leaving the world of painting to head towards a world of truth. Artists stop making art to become personified Abstractions”.[4] Raymond Hains will continuously strive not to fall into the trap of repetition, renewing his body of work, not letting critics as an Affichiste. During his Italian period, which began in 1964, he went as far as splitting his personality by creating two fictional artists, SEITA and SAFFA (acronyms for the Italian and French national companies for tobacco and matches).

In 1964, he initiated the cycle of the two artists SEITA and SAFFA by displaying a giant box of matches illustrated with La Fontaine's Fable ‘The Ass in Lion’s Skin’ at the Leone Gallery in Venice. “I had imagined two artists, each having a monopoly on matchboxes. These gimmicks would help illustrate what I think of New Realism, which also could have been named personified Abstractions”.[5] SAFFA created reproductions of matchboxes produced by the Italian tobacco company: The SAFFA. His French partner, SEITA, only reproduced the French matchboxes produced by the SEITA. The following year, Hains arranged an exhibition entitled “Seita and Saffa: copyright by Raymond Hains” at the Iris Clert gallery in Paris. Giant matchboxes were displayed, signed with the two acronyms Seita and Saffa, “fictional and incendiary” artists, with Hains presenting himself as their agent. Clert had also provided for two firemen to be on site to strengthen the rendering. Her request had initially been challenged as there were doubts as to whether the matches possibly could ignite. She managed at last to prove that a match, when being struck against the box's strike strip did -indeed- light up, and two firemen were duly posted at the gallery that very evening.

With his play on roles and identities, Raymond Hains symbolically set fire to anything that could make him only known for working with Affichisme, Palisades or New Realism.

In 1964, during the Venice Biennale, he presented the so-called “Biennale déchirée” (“Torn Biennial”) and four years later the “Biennale éclatée” (“Shattered Biennial”): for which he deformed the catalogue covers of each National Pavilion thanks to a prism of fluted glass.

Photo-reports “and Macintoshages”[edit]

In the mid 1970's, Raymond Hains developed his "at-home" works in the form of detailed, dated reading notes which he stored, together with his books, in archive boxes and Airbus suitcases. From then on, the artist resorted to a mnemonics principle associating words, accidental encounters, readings and journeys.

His photo-reports, a series of photographies taken while staying in different cities, were created through a process of distortion of meaning, by visual analogy, puns or semantic collusions. At first glance, these latter may appear like simple photo-reportage revealing fragments of reality. Although often taken as frontal views, these photographs were however not objective. Raymond Hains used to start from encounters, events, texts, words or names to then build complex situations in which each component enabled the apparition of a large fragmentation of the meaning. Hains often staged key figures who had met along a street, sentences or even within play on words.

In 1976, a first retrospective exhibition dedicated to Hains’ work was organized by Daniel Abadie at the National Center of Art and Culture (C.N.A.C.) on Berryer Street in Paris. Raymond Hains named the show, which was the last one to be displayed at the CNAC, “La Chasse au C.N.A.C.” (“Hunt at the C.N.A.C”). Daniel Spoerri organized a dinner entitled “La faim au C.N.A.C.” (Hunger at the C.N.A.C.”) for the occasion. That same year, Hain presented “L’Art à Vinci” at the Lara Vincy Gallery, exhibiting a poster portraying Mona Lisa made by students together with his first photo-reports.

He presented in 1986 the exhibition “Homage to the Marquis de Bièvre” at the Cartier Foundation (Jouy-en-Josas) with a collection a photo-reports. Located in the Bièvre valley, the Cartier Foundation inspired Hains to create a Cartier-Bresson-Brassaï-Man Ray Foundation. Since Jean-Pierre Raynaud erected a “Red Pot” (“Pot rouge”) in the Cartier Foundation, Raymond Hains decided to link the “Peaux-rouges” (which sounds like Pot rouge, signifying red-skinned) to the editor Pauvert (here again a play on words with the word peaux-verts meaning green-skinned). Pauvert published a book entitled “Vercingétorixe”, a tragedy written in verse by the Marquis de Bièvre. Hains then slid towards the Gauls with Asterix, Caesar, the famous “thumb” artwork of the artist César… In 1994, he presented a second exhibition at the Cartier Foundation entitled “Les 3 Cartiers” (“The 3 Cartiers”). Cartier and Jean Nouvel, the architect responsible for the new building of the Cartier Foundation in Paris, take us from Saint-Malo (where the explorer Jacques Cartier - who discovered Canada - was born) to the Bièvre valley, then on to London where the director of the renowned jeweller Cartier hosted General De Gaulle during the second World War. The exhibition comprised Asterix, Caesar, the beavers of the Bièvre valley - referring to Jean-Paul Sartre being nicknamed as “the beaver” by Simone de Beauvoir – as well as Hains as the new Jacques Cartier of the Foundation.

Raymond Hains has, for years, accumulated books, catalogues, postcards, images, assorted notes and texts that constituted an inexhaustible reserve of references that fed his work and his imagination. His library comprised numerous boxes of archives sorted by city, theme, artist, and journey, from which he drew inspiration, making it a complete site of projects in progress.

Raymond Hains created his first « Macintoshages” in 1997. The term was coined from a motley formation of words such as “machin” (French for ‘thing’), machine, Macintosh, Mac Luhan, the Mac Miche mother and other analogies. Macintoshage is a facility designed for bringing computer based texts and images closer as well as manipulating them, those latter being linked to various themes. These multi-window/text-image Macintosh arrangements were displaying the screen as well as computer tools. In an innovative way, texts and images were there the source for a project in constant progress: they could be virtually pasted or unpasted, opened in accordance with current affairs or even combined in the same way the unconscious mind would act in the process of dreaming.

At that time, Raymond Hains also started working on a series of “pavement sculptures”. Equipped with his camera and strolling through the streets, he took pictures of certain details on construction sites, isolating a concrete block, a cone, or a spirit level left on the ground, in which he sensed a potential sculpture.

Within the eclectic and multifaceted body of work produced by Raymond Hains, similarities with the surrealist esthetic and particularly with principles expressed by André Breton are to be found. André Breton indeed described the world as “sudden parallels, petrifying coincidences (…) and the kind of association of ideas they provoke - a way of transforming a gossamer into a spider web” in the book Nadja published in 1962.

In 2001, the Centre Georges Pompidou devoted an important retrospective exhibition to Raymond Hains in Paris : “La tentative” (“The Endeavour”).

Raymond Hains died on October 28, 2005 at the age of 79.

The Galerie Max Hetzler has been working with the estate of Raymond Hains, represented by Thomas Hains, since 2014.

Major solo exhibitions[edit]

  • 2003 La boîte à fiches, Musée Art et Histoire, Saint-Brieuc, Fr
  • 2002 Raymond Hains : Art Speculator, Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, US
  • 2002 Réquichot Dado Rochaïd Dada, Les Abattoirs, Toulouse, Fr
  • 2001 Raymond Hains. La Tentative, Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Fr
  • 1998 Brève rencontre avec Raymond Hains. Documenta X, quai Voltaire, Galerie de la Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, 13 quai Voltaire et vitrines du quai Voltaire, Paris, Fr
  • 1995 Raymond Hains, Akzente 1949-1995 / Accents 1949-1995, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna, Austria
  • 1995 Raymond Hains, Gast auf der Durchreise, Portikus, Frankfurt, Ge
  • 1994 Les 3 Cartier. Du Grand Louvre aux 3 Cartier, Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art, Paris, Fr
  • 1986 Hommage au marquis de Bièvre, Fondation Cartier for Contemporary Art, Jouy-en-Josas, Fr
  • 1976 La chasse au CNAC, Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, Fr
  • 1976 L'Art à Vinci, Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris, Fr
  • 1973 HAINS – SAFFA – SEITA, Galleria della Trinità, Roma, It
  • 1970 SAFFA, Galleria Blu, Milan, It
  • 1968 La Biennale éclatée, Galleria L'Elefante, Mestre, It
  • 1968 Documenta IV, Kassel, Ge
  • 1965 SEITA & SAFFA, copyright by Raymond Hains, Galerie Iris Clert, Paris, Fr
  • 1964 SAFFA et SEITA, Galleria del Leone, Venice, It
  • 1964 La Biennale déchirée di Raymond Hains, Galleria Apollinaire, Milan, It
  • 1961 La France déchirée, avec Jacques Villeglé, Galerie J, Paris, Fr
  • 1957 Loi du 29 juillet 1881 ou Le Lyrisme à la sauvette, with Jacques Villeglé, Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, Fr
  • 1948 Photographies hypnagogiques, Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, Fr


• Loi du 29 juillet 1881 ou le Lyrisme à la sauvette, texts by Jean-Philippe Talbo, Galerie Colette Allendy (Ed.) : Paris, 1957

• Iris.Time. SEITA & SAFFA. Copyright by Raymond Hains, n°21, 12 October 1965. Texts by René Brô and Iris Clert.

•[catalogue], Raymond Hains, Paris, CNAC, 1976

•[catalogue], Paris-Pâris, texts by Catherine Bompuis, Frac Champagne-Ardenne (Ed.) : Reims, 1987

•[catalogue], Raymond Hains, Poitiers, Musée Sainte-Croix, FRAC Poitou-Charentes, PS1, New York, 1989

• Hains et la pansémiotique, Bodson Guy, Daligand Daniel, Ducorroy Joël, Duval Bruno, Sünder Richard, Vincendeau Jean-Louis, AFP (Ed., Association française de pansémiotique : Paris, 1989

•[catalogue], Raymond Hains, Paris, Centre Georges-Pompidou, 1990

•[catalogue], Raymond Hains. Les 3 Cartier, texts by Nicolas Bourriaud, Hervé Chandès, Hélène Kelmachter, Allen Weiss, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (Ed.):Paris, 1994

• Raymond Hains et Marc Dachy, Langue de cheval et facteur temps, Actes Sud, 1998

•[catalogue], Raymond Hains, author:Catherine Bompuis, Museu d'art contemporani de Barcelona - MACBA (Ed), 2001

•[catalogue], J'ai la mémoire qui planche - Raymond Hains, direction of the publication : Pierre Leguillon, Paris, Centre Pompidou (Ed), 2001

•[catalogue], Raymond Hains, Art speculator, texts by Molly Dougherty, Christine Macel, Tom MacDonough, Christian Schlatter and Aude Bodet,Goldie Paley Gallery/Moore college of art and design (Ed.):Philadelphie, 2002

•[catalogue], Raymond Hains, uns romans, auteur : Forest Philippe, Gallimard (Ed.), Paris, 2004

• Entre collage et décollage, deux Bretons novateurs: Villéglé et Hains, by Liliane Riou, magazine Hopala! La Bretagne au monde, no 18, p. 47-56, novembre 2004-février 2005

•[catalogue], Raymond Hains, La Boîte à Fiches, FRAC Bretagne ; ODDC / galerie du Dourven (co Ed.), Saint-Brieux, 2005

•[catalogue],Raymond Hains - itinéraire d'un piéton de l'art, Centre International d'Art Contemporain, château de Carros, stArt (Ed.): Nice, 2006

•[catalogue],Raymond Hains, Jacques Villeglé : Pénélope, Les Éditions du Regard, Paris, 2012


  1. ^ « Graphisme en photographie. Quand la photographie devient objet ». Photo - Almanach Prisma, N° 5, 1952
  2. ^ Combat, newspaper, 20 May 1955
  3. ^ François Dufrêne, « Les Entremets de la palissade, le Néo- Dada emballé et le Sigisbée de la critique de Raymond Hains », published in "Encyclopédie des Farces, attrapes et Mystifications", Paris, Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1964.
  4. ^ Otto Hahn, « Raymond Hains », Beaux-Arts Magazine, April 1986 ; « Raymond Hains. La tentative. », Album de l’exposition, Centre Pompidou, 2001
  5. ^ Interview with Marc Bormand, 16 February 1999 ; « Raymond Hains. La tentative. », Album de l’exposition, Centre Pompidou, 2001

External links[edit]