Centre Pompidou: Contemporary Collection

April 24, 2007By Heidi EllisonArchive



Photo: Georges Meguerditchian
Photo: Georges Meguerditchian

Following the successful rehang of its modern art collection (1906-60), the Centre Pompidou has scored another hit with the new presentation of its contemporary collection (1960-present), showing individual pieces chronologically in loose groupings that bring out correspondences and contrasts in colors, textures, forms, surfaces and subject matter, while giving individual works the space they need to express themselves.

Examples abound: One of Yves Klein’s large monochrome “Anthropométries” paintings, in his signature brilliant shade of blue, hangs across from the wild slashings of Willem de Kooning’s “Untitled XX,” with its softer pastel blues tempered by gray, peach, white and touches of red and green. These are followed by Philip Guston’s “Ravine,” with a muted blue-green sky; the brilliant turquoise and screaming yellow of Georg Baselitz’s “Les Demoiselles d’Olmo II,” with its upside-down figures on bicycles; and Ellsworth Kelly’s “Dark Blue Panel,” whose canvas seems to curl away from the wall, the result of an optical illusion.

As you pass by these paintings, enjoying their sensual use of color, don’t miss Toni Grand’s sculpture “Double Column,” standing in the center of the wide aisle. Partially painted with a soft blue-gray and white moonscape, it seems to glow with light from within.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s disturbing all-white sculpture “The Bride,” with her desiccated face, tiny head on a huge body, and gown encrusted with baby dolls, lizards, snakes and other animals, stands across from John Chamberlain’s very different conception of a bride as a sort of car wreck made of twisted pieces of white-painted chrome.

Side rooms contain thematically arranged groups. One, “Forms and Attitudes,” features post-minimalist sculpture from the 1960s and ’70s, including Giuseppe Penone’s terracotta “amphora,” which encompasses male/female and positive/negative in one piece, with the imprint of the artist’s body topped by a creepily evocative cast of the inside of a mouth on one side, and a very feminine round shape on the other. In the same room, Eva Hesse’s sinister larva-like “poles” with splashes of what look like blood, make a perfect foil for Yayoi Kusama’s “My Flower Bed.” The latter, made of reddish stuffed cotton gloves and fabric-covered mattress springs, looks like a living, growing thing and manages to be erect and flaccid at the same time.

Elsewhere, a room-sized Sarkis installation evoking a factory, with a metal sculpture and a recording of repetitive clanking sounds, contrasts with the silence and warmth of the room next to it, lined with rolls of felt and a silent piano in the center by – who else? – Joseph Beuys (his felt-wrapped piano is shown elsewhere in the exhibition).

Another room not to be missed, entitled “La Rose des Vents,” is a wonderland of colorful, tactile works by artists from around the world. Here we get a second chance (after the Pompidou Center’s recent “Africa Remix” exhibition) to see El Anatsui’s beautiful monumental wall hanging, whose soft-looking, sensual surfaces belie the material it is made of: bottle caps. This room is dominated by Cai Guo-Qiang’s gigantic bamboo-and-wood airplane embedded with sharp objects confiscated at an airport. Also on show here is Gutai artist Atsuko Tanaka’s “Electric Dress,” made of colored incandescent and neon light bulbs, which she wore during a happening in Osaka in 1957.

This is just a taste of what is on show (some 500 works). Other rooms focus on design, with one devoted to inflatable furniture and structures, and another to the work of Philippe Starck.

While the Centre Pompidou isn’t offering the latest works from iconoclastic artists here (luckily, we have the Palais de Tokyo for that), it does provide an illuminating overview of what has been happening in the art world over the past 50 years, with works by artists who have stood the test of time. This is an exhibition worth returning to a few times.

Heidi Ellison

Centre Pompidou: Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris. Tel.: 01 44 78 12 33. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (until 11 p.m. on Thursday and Friday). Closed Tuesday. Métro: Rambuteau. Admission: €10. www.centrepompidou.fr/

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