Michel Ragon had known misery. The truth. Fatherless, to escape poverty, the obscurantism which covers it and the world without culture which crushes it, he had read a lot, discovering the authors in alphabetical order and the infinite riches of literature.
Factory worker, farm worker, laborer, he had sought to meet proletarian poets and writers, lived in an attic in Paris and began to write an abundant work (about fifty titles: poems, essays, monographs of artists, architecture books, novels, autobiography). Driven by curiosity, he had become, without having even imagined it, art critic, collaborator of the review Arts. He had founded Cimaise participated in the COBRA adventure, organized exhibitions. Linked to the great painters of New Realism (Arman, Tinguely, Yves Klein, Spoeri) and lyrical abstraction, his opinions counted, his voice was heard. When he was the radiant minister of culture, André Malraux, who inspired him, had even entrusted him with missions.
In parallel to his activities in the art world, this libertarian Vendéen had built a work with ” memory of the vanquished ” that of its origins (My mother’s accent, overwhelming tribute to this narrow, upright and dignified woman whom he had loved so much) like that of the lost fighting of the working class (The Red Handkerchiefs of Cholet) or the peasant world (The poppies have returned). This autodidact, who only had the certificate of studies, will even be an editor and will publish Jean Fourastié, Pierre Schaeffer, Iannis Xenakis, Jean Baudrillard …
In September 2013, approaching his 90th birthday, Michel Ragon had told in his last book, Diary of a disillusioned art critic, how he approached the banks of old age. His body let him go. He walked with a cane, fell, smashed his bones. He was afraid of entering the museums he had surveyed so much. The agitation of the crowd oppressed him, made him dizzy. What have my friends become ? he sighed, bruised by the ravages of age. Many were dead; others, formerly adulated, had been let go at the time (Nicolas Schöffer, Georges Mathieu). In his eyes, still others had denied themselves like Pierre Daix (“From Stalin to Pinault, what a journey!”) or Jean Clair, too black, too radical, in his diatribes.
He suffered from being forgotten by some art historians
Michel Ragon was saddened to see art swing into the field of financial speculation, works destined to be only stock market values. He deplored the advent of an institutional avant-garde, cherished by the powerful, which aimed only at luxury in a mixture of unnatural genres. He suffered from being forgotten when art historians spoke of periods when his presence was not negligible. His origins of “little thing” as much as his discretion doomed this modest man, with a very gentle look, a throaty voice, firm on the essentials, forged in the fire of his libertarian convictions, to undergo the erasure which is the tomb of the humble.
He still had the friendship of a few, including that of Colette and Pierre Soulages, and the love of Françoise that this anarchist married in 1968 (they must not have been many that year…) in the chapel of Ronchamp, Le Corbusier’s celestial vessel where the sacred is kept watch.
Born June 24, 1924, Michel Ragon, dying February 14, 2020, followed for a few days, the publisher and graphic designer Massin, who died last Sunday. They had known each other since 1946. A friendship of seventy-five years which death untied in less than a week, without Michel Ragon taking with him the secret or the light of a hope. Although … His funeral will be celebrated on Wednesday, February 19, at Saint-Eustache church. Then, Michel Ragon will rest in the Montparnasse cemetery, in the midst of the artists who had so irrigated his life, his gaze, his sensitivity.