Centre Pompidou: pipe dreams

Delivered by architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano in 1977, the Centre Pompidou recently celebrated its 40th birthday. We retrace this museum, social and monumental adventure. An account of the “Pompidou touch”, an example of interdisciplinarity and cultural renown. The 40th birthday of the Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges-Pompidou, in Paris, is a national event. The Centre Pompidou was quick to become a world icon, a symbol of France’s avant-garde spirit, supported by the French president Georges Pompidou, and known for its once contested architecture, designed by the Italian-British architectural duo, Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. At the time, some compared the building to a supermarket… “All the better. People won’t be afraid of entering it,” Piano is said to have replied. “Pompidou wanted to reconcile France with the culture of his time, noting that while our country, under the influence of André Malraux, had turned to the arts with conviction, it experienced certain difficulties in taking in more recent innovations from contemporary creation,” observed the museum’s president from 1996 to 2002, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, to Le Figaro. Planted in a once working-class district, coming up with the museum plan, then building it, were real gambles, pulling along with it a few modern and contemporary art galleries, such as the very first one to set up in the area, Daniel Templon, at 30 Rue Beaubourg, in 1972, opposite the gaping hole that awaited the museum at the time. We should mention that on the international avant-garde scene – which was starting to globalise and meet strong competition –, Paris needed a museum to reshuffle the contemporary-art cards. Inaugurated in 1977 with an exhibition on Marcel Duchamp and curated by Jean Clair, the museum, directed by Pontus Hulten from Sweden at the time, put on one themed exhibition after...

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Cy Twombly, the painter of Olympus at the Centre Pompidou

Over 140 works including the painter’s three major cycles… The Cy Twombly retrospective on at the Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou is a key exhibition. Recommended (highly)! By a happy coincidence, the Cy Twombly exhibition was launched at the end of November 2016 while on the other side of the English Channel, an exhibition opened on Rauschenberg – the other “TW”, as Roland Barthes nicknamed him. The two lovers, the two companions, celebrated on the same day by the opening of two retrospectives. One at the Tate (London), the other at the Centre Pompidou (Paris). Robert Rauschenberg had a decisive impact on the career of Cy Twombly; he was the one who encouraged Twombly to enrol at the prestigious Black Mountain College (North Carolina) before the pair combed through Europe and North Africa together for the first time, in 1952. From Lexington to Rome This moment – this shift in the history of the young Twombly – is the starting point of the retrospective at the Centre Pompidou. Curator of the exhibition, Jonas Storsve explains: “This is the first complete retrospective to be dedicated to Cy Twombly, going from 1951 to his death in 2011.” The exhibition begins with the painter’s first experiments from the start of the 1950s, using viscous cream-white industrial paint hollowed by lead-pencil annotations – works that stand out for the economy of their means. During this period, Cy Twombly still lived in Lexington (Virginia), before he left for the Black Mountain College and the other side of the Atlantic. It was not until the end of the 1950s, or even the start of the 1960s, that colour appeared blatantly in Twombly’s work, as a result of his abandonment of industrial paint for less fluid coloured paints in tubes. “This was a very...

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Bertrand Scholler or the Bellechasse spirit

More than an address, 55Bellechasse is a unique place: Parisian but not excessively so, a place where talents from afar cross paths. A contemporary-art gallery whose founder, Bertrand Scholler, seeks to “rehumanise the art market”. In the 7th arronidssement in Paris, a district favoured by embassies, not far from the former Dames de Bellechasse convent, a gallery with a very contemporary slant is tucked away. Here, the master of the premises, Bertrand Scholler, has devoted himself, since February 2013, to “combining certain traditions from the art-dealing profession with an international and entrepreneurial vision of the issues shaking up this profession in the last decade or so”. The aim is ambitious, and demands a few explanations. An encounter with a man of art, a defender of new talents, and an artisan who weaves together exclusive stories. 55Bellechasse is a pretty address, but what else makes this gallery special? We must be the only gallery crazy enough to present artists who are unknown to the fair world. Generally, gallerists present works that come from the secondary market, confirmed names or else very commercial objects. This isn’t our case, and I think that this is where our singularity lies. This is a strategy which is also associated with long-term commitment, in favour of emerging artists whose signatures are still relatively unknown. I get these artists together twice a year, I re-explain to them the aim which is to work as a team. Niloufar Banisadr, Pascal Vochelet, Christiann Conradie, Vladimir Sulyagin… They’re all very different and in my mind, very complementary. The common denominator is that they’ve decided to dedicate their lives to art, wholly committing themselves, to such a point that they no doubt would be unable to do anything else. So is commitment the basis of the “Bellechasse” spirit? It’s true...

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Paper restoration, a neverending adventure

Everything you ever wanted to know about the safeguarding of cultural heritage (and never dared to ask). An hour in the Parisian studio of Antonio Mirabile, a restorer of works on paper and an expert in preventative conservation. What do the reorganisation of the reserves of a monastery in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, the transfer of 5,000 architectural drawings from the collections of Paris’ Centre Pompidou, and the organisation of a colloquium on manuscripts holding Arabic writing in Sana’a, Yemen have in common? One name (Antonio Mirabile), equipped with a double competency: the restoration of artworks on paper and consultancy services on preventative conservation. We find out about degradation and emergency plans, the freezing of flood-afflicted documents… and the yellowing adhesive tape on a Mario Merz work!   From Florence to Paris, via Tashkent, Uzbekistan, what’s your background? I’ve always liked science, and I started my career in Italy at an engineering school. But very quickly, my interest in art led me to enrol in a restoration school in Florence, the Istituto per l’Arte e il Restauro, from 1987 to 1989. Right from the start of this course, you can select the material on which you will work later. For me, it was paper, and… the start of a real passion for books, drawings and engravings. A desire to travel led me to Paris where I started working as a restorer, and where I attended the Sorbonne to acquire more theoretical knowledge by doing a Master’s in preventative conservation in the cultural heritage domain. After obtaining the qualification to work on the collections of the Musées de France, I often worked freelance for the Centre Pompidou from 1995 onwards. The Musée National d’Art Moderne has an Architecture and Design section with many architectural drawings. At Beaubourg, I also carried out...

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Quai Branly: from segregation to dialogue between cultures

Returning to the Musée du Quai Branly after the “Jazz Century” retrospective he organised in 2009, art critic Daniel Soutif is presenting, until 15 January 2017, a vast investigation into African-American artists facing segregation. There’s a funny-looking American flag floating at the entrance of the exhibition “The Color Line. African-American Artists and Segregation”, at the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. The Star-Spangled Banner has swapped its usual colours for black, red and green, the colours of the Pan-African Flag. Red, the colour of the blood that flowed for freedom; green, the colour of lush nature; black, the colour of African-Americans — to pick up the term chosen by exhibition curator Daniel Soutif. The work is called African American Flag (1990). Its creator is David Hammons, one of today’s great exponents of African-American art in the United States. From the outset, this piece announces the objective of Daniel Soutif’s exhibition: to offer a rereading of the History that has been monopolized by a few Westerners. Not a small task… History has its shadowy zones depending on the prism through which we examine it. Shedding light on it is a job that is neither easy nor exempt from a certain violence. Coon art The Pan-African Flag, with its three equal bands of red, black and green, was created in 1920 by members of the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) in response to a satirical — to put it lightly — song, “Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon”. Daniel Soutif’s exhibition makes frequent reference to the “Coons”. The expression, an abbreviation of “racoon”, was used to make fun of African-Americans, and can be found in many documents, tracts, posters, songs, signs, magazines… “The Color Line. African-American Artists and Segregation” reveals a total of 600 works and objects, presented over an...

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