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Judit Reigl’s Dance of Death

A feature documentary in progress
(Hungary, France, USA)

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Judit Reigl (1923 – 2020), the Hungarian-born French painter, is recognized as one of the most original artistic figures to have emerged in Europe after World War II. Reigl’s oeuvre is marked by a complex rhythm of recurrence within progression, and it is unified by her abiding determination to materialize boundless space and unimpeded movement in her art. From her earliest Surrealist images in the 1950’s, through the abstractions of the ensuing decades, to the resurgent figure in her final series, the elements within Reigl’s paintings fly, hover, and soar. This fascination with suspended and mobile forms is often obscured by timeless – and now extremely timely – Apocalyptic imagery.

In January 2010, Reigl allowed Dmitriy Rozin to film her over a period of two days, as she was just embarking on a new series of ink on paper scrolls, Unfolding (2010-11). Working on the unfurled and uncut paper on the floor was a natural expression of Reigl’s longstanding preference for seemingly endless surfaces, for creating “local infinities,” as when she covered the walls of her studio with a continuous roll of canvas to make her Unfolding series of the 1970s. Reigl defied the physical ravages of time in her documented video performance. Her work is consummately gestural and she is active and forceful in the extreme.

When ten years later, in February, 2020 Rozin came to film the Reigl in her studio for another two-day session, the artist described her then current Dance of Death series with the words: “Even though my oeuvre is complete in terms of painting, what I draw lately is like a musician’s encore after an exhausting recital… I am tired even before I start, but it feels good to be drawing, and however much strength it saps out of me, it feeds back even more. I draw as I did when I was three years old, everything that’s happened to me since, where I’ve been, what I’ve seen—and what I suppose I see nowadays”.

Reigl’s Dance of Death offers a remarkable pictorial account of a life of continuous creativity, recapping episodes and experiences that stood out the way that one’s life is understood only in retrospect. Old age limits Reigl’s work only in size and may even enhance it in depth. Her quavering yet still expressive lines seem to describe the ripping sensation she says she experiences as the world loosens its grip and falls away. 


Judit Reigl’s  Dance of Death, with a soundtrack of voiceovers by the artist and original music composed by György Kurtág, will incorporate reproductions and installation shots of works on paper and canvases by Reigl, sketchbooks, documentary material including iPhone video by her biographer, Janos Gat, objects from her studio, and both personal and historical photographs that facilitate the understanding of Reigl’s life and oeuvre. The teaser was featured in Judit Reigl’s centenary exhibition, Wrestling the Angel at the Hungarian National Gallery – Museum of Fine Arts In Budapest in 2023, complementing the first presentation of the full series of 777 Dance of Death drawings.

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