André Bloc (1896 - 1966)
Multifarious artist, architect, plasticien conseil, founder and director of three famous French magazines, L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui (1930), Art d’aujourd’hui (1949-1954), Aujourd’hui: art et architecture (1955-1967), André Bloc was a figure of reference on the international scene, and a pre-eminent figure in the debate on artistic and architectural culture from the 1930s to the late 1960s.
After studying engineering, and getting a degree at the École Centrale in Paris in 1920, Bloc was soon drawn to art-making and to the definition of a form of the “Synthesis of the Arts” and of a “Unit of Creation”: this was to be the main objective of his work as an artist, architect, and cultural figure. To offer a concrete idea to the complete and fruitful collaboration between artists and architects, in 1936 Bloc promoted in Paris the founding of the Union pour l’Art (for which he filled the role of secretary general) along with Pierre Vago, as well as of a committee presided over by Auguste Perret. In 1949 he shared with Le Corbusier the vice-presidency of the Association pour une Synthèse des Arts Plastiques headed by Matisse, which was founded on the same principles as the ones that were to underlie Groupe Espace, founded by Felix del Marle in 1951. The movement included several European cells, among which the Italian MAC-Espace group established in 1955, where Gianni Monnet played a pivotal role. The war years marked a watershed in André Bloc’s activity, and at the same time a gap in his scientific biography. He spent several years in Biot, in southern France, learning and practicing the art of ceramics, after being forced to leave the directorship of L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui and his house in Boulogne-sur-Seine because he was a Jew.
In 1949 he began to design the Maison-atelier in Meudon, outside Paris, where he would live for the rest of his life, and which was acclaimed by the critics as a successful experiment in the synthesis of the arts. The great Park hosted a series of sculptures of different sizes and types: these included Sculpture-Habitacle no.1 (1962), later replaced by Sculpture Habitacle no. 2 (1964), and the Tour (1966), two impressive examples of a path that led from sculpture to architecture. The vacation home on Lake Garda, designed by Vittoriano Viganò, known as Casa La Scala (1954-1958), expressed his passion for architecture, which he would begin practicing again together with Claude Parent for his second vacation home, the Maison experimentale, also called Villa Bloc, in Antibes (1959-1962). Parent and Bloc developed a special understanding and a solid collaboration, the latter artist as plasticien conseil; the role would lead to his starting up a series of interdisciplinary projects and the consolidation of his personal expression of the “Synthesis of the Arts”. From his urban studies Paris Parallèle (1959-1960, along with J.-P. Beguin, Jean Chemineau, Pierre Vago, Marcel Lods) where he covered the role of sculpteur-plasticien, to the Maison de l’Iran at the Cité Universitaire in Paris (1960-1968 designed with Claude Parent, Mohsen Foroughi, Heydar Ghiai, René Sarger), to the project for a city car called “Urbaina” (1962, with Jean Lin Viaud and Marcel Bercy), André Bloc dealt with the creative process on different scales, bringing together groups with similar ideas.
His work as an artist remained eclectic, evolving constantly, marked by the exploration of the aesthetic and formal potential of evermore modern materials and by the cross-pollination with reflections on architecture and the practice of this trade. In this field as well, Bloc proceeded from jewellery to site-specific sculpture, which he often named “Signal” in so far as they were both landmarks and markers of the topical moments of his aesthetic, formal, material studies.
The 1960s were characterized by strenuous and solitary research into new spatial forms dominated by an organic matrix, and foreshadowing a new way of living. Anticipated by numerous maquettes habitacles (featuring “undisciplined geometry”, “fantastic geometry”, “continuous enveloping”, “helicoidal overlapping” according to the classification offered by Claude Parent), and by two sculptures, Sculptures Habitacles, made in Meudon, the arrival point of these ideas is Bloc’s third vacation home built in Carboneras in Spain (1964-1966), a large “architecture-sculpture” also known as “El Laberinto, representing the last of his architectural works.
André Bloc died in an accident in New Delhi, India, in 1966. The artists and intellectuals in his circle dedicated the last issue of Aujourd’hui: art et architecture (December 1967) to him, which continues to offer a precious testimony of Bloc’s multifarious, fruitful activities.