Pantheon Of Modernity

ONE OF THE WORLD’S QUINTESSENTIAL MODERN MUSEUMS LIES IN PARIS. WITH A SET OF OVER 65,000 WORKS, THE NATIONAL CENTER OF ART AND CULTURE GEORGES POMPIDOU HAS MANY HIDDEN TREASURES.

By Florencia Rolon

The museum exhibits its gems sporadically, drawing on both the rotation of its permanent collection as well as loans to exhibitions worldwide. This does not mean that it no longer has unexhibited pieces. Some of these can be seen in the new fourth floor space dedicated to art from 1960 to the present day.

Weeks ago, the National Center of Art and Culture Georges Pompidou showed the first public display of an unexhibited part of its radiant contemporary art collection, which occupied the entire fourth floor of the museum. The iconic French center offers the public a new revision of artistic creation developed from 1960 to the present, by 200 artists throughout 600 works. Special prominence is given to the presentation, structured in chronological order, of recent acquisitions by the Pompidou in the fields of visual arts, architecture, photography and design. Among the artists represented in the ample contemporary collections are Anthony Caro, Sherrie Levine, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Andy Warhol, Pierre Soulages, Robert Rauschenberg, Julian Schnabel, Gerhard Richter, Katharina Grosse, Carsten Höller, Jean Dubuffet and Joseph Beuys, among others. In all, they have sought to give greater presence to non-European artists and creators, to the ethnic and the feminine; this is the case of Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Sandra Vasquez de la Horra of Chile (Viña del Mar, 1967).

The magnificent presentation of the contemporary art collection of the Pompidou seeks to “reflect not only greater ethnic diversity, but also a greater presence of women artists,” in the words of curator Jonas Storsve. He also reasoned that these two guidelines—ethnic and female—are the product of one of the most popular exhibitions organized by the Pompidou in its history: elles@centrepompidou—opened in 2009. For the curator, the exhibition “put women in the center of the history of modern and contemporary art. That exhibition also influenced our recent acquisitions, both in the field of visual arts, design and architecture,” noting that this is the first time that many of the works acquired in recent years by the museum are displayed to the public. “We’ve sought to be more open to non-European artists, acquiring works and giving them greater visibility,” he revealed.

The famous Parisian museum exhibits a new revision of the artistic creation developed from 1960 to the present by 200 artists.
The famous Parisian museum exhibits a new revision of the artistic creation developed from 1960 to the present by 200 artists.

Vasquez de la Horra is the only Latin American artist in the exposition. She exhibits several showcases with her drawings, between dreamlike and grotesque. “It is very tough, this being the only Latin American at the Pompidou,” said the artist, whose drawings have been made on sheets of paper covered with a thin layer of clear wax and then sewn to make them indestructible. The works embody dreams, memories, and experiences from childhood. Awarded last year in Paris with the Contemporary Drawing Prize of the Daniel and Florence Guerlain Foundation, the Berlin-based artist recalled her artistic commitment. “It is inspired by the popular culture of my country, in stories and legends. But it also evokes myths, religion, sex, death, and Chile under Pinochet.” In the rooms devoted to architecture, stands out Brazilian Paulo Mendes da Rocha, 77, the second Brazilian to win the Pritzker Prize—considered the Nobel of architecture—after Oscar Niemeyer, who received it in 1988.

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Always at the forefront, Pompidou Center has sought to give greater presence to non-European artists and creators, and to the ethnic and the feminine.

The groundbreaking character of this recent museum proposal is evident from the beginning, with a giant piece by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, one of the revelations of the 2007 Venice Biennale. His Sasa (coat) mimics an immense cape made with recycled bottle caps. It flows from the wall and its colors resemble a Klimt painting. It is a declaration of principles. “It’s a way of saying that we are aware of the phenomenon of globalization and that in the future, we will need to look more among non-Western artists,” said Michel Gauthier, curator of the contemporary collections of the museum. “In addition, this particular work, made with bottle caps from imported alcoholic beverages, is a questioning of the relationship between the West and Africa.”

In the chronological overview, which also includes extra thematic parts, you can enjoy the leading exponents of the contemporary art movements of the last 50 years, such as George Brecht and Robert Filliou, Fluxus; Mario Merz, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Gilberto Zorio of Arte Povera; and Robert Ryman, Brice Marden, and Agnes Martin, protagonists of minimalism. Among the new acquisitions, standouts are The Rearrangeable Panel (1957-1959) by Allan Kaprow, which the curators display as a link between abstract expressionism and the happening; the untitled psychedelic work by André Cadere; and Plastiche Rede (1983) by Franz Erhard Walther, one of the pioneers of interactivity. In some cases, not only the works are being premiered; also artists are debuting now, entering the Pompidou temple, such as the luminous garland of Cuban American Felix Gonzalez-Torres. “I am very happy with this purchase because we had nothing of his. It is complicated because the artist must be detected before he becomes too expensive in the market,” said Gauthier. The museum, to quote an example, does not have any work from Jeff Koons or Richard Prince. “In such cases we can only expect a donation.” Deceased through AIDS in 1996, Gonzalez-Torres’ renewed conceptual art and significantly influenced French conceptual artists,” said the expert.

The new layout is also the perfect occasion to show stunning works that had not been exposed in a long time, such as Le Jardin d’Hiver (1968-1970) by Pierre Dubuffet, which resembles a mysterious cave that plunges the visitor inside, or the colorful room designed by Yaacov Agam in the 70s for then president Georges Pompidou when he was in the Elysee (French presidential palace). The tour of the museum, which also presents classics such as Andy Warhol, Martin Kippenberger and Jeff Wall, dedicates entire rooms to architecture, design, and multimedia, and it culminates with a giant hallucinogenic mushroom, Giant Triple Mushroom (2010), by German artist Carsten Höller. Furthermore, on the fifth floor continues the splendid tour through the foundations of modern art of the twentieth century (from Pablo Picasso to Yves Klein) and the precursors of such art.  

The National Center of Art and Culture Georges Pompidou arose from the initiative of French President Georges Pompidou to create, in the heart of Paris, an original cultural institution fully devoted to modern and contemporary creation, where the arts would rub shoulders with theater, music, movies, books and audiovisual creation. The Pompidou, located in the heart of the city of lights, in a building of iconic twentieth century architecture designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, was opened in 1977. From 1997 to December 1999 it underwent a rehabilitation process, and it re-opened its doors on January 1, 2000, offering more spacious museum areas and enhanced reception areas. Since then, it has become one of the most visited monuments in France, with about six million visitors annually. The Pompidou Centre will have welcomed in over 30 years, over 190 million visitors.

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