By Catherine Grenier
"Modernités plurielles" is a manifesto-exhibition, offering a fresh, expanded vision of modern art. Drawing on its rich collection, the Centre Pompidou is now presenting a global history of art from 1905 to 1970 for the first time. Through a circuit of over 1,000 works representing 400 artists and 47 countries, this enriched interpretation of the history of art is a deep immersion in the remarkable diversity of artistic forms.
Open to different countries in the world and a wide variety of aesthetics, "Modernités plurielles" illustrates the complex, dynamic relationships between modernity, identity, universality and vernacular culture running through the entire history of modern art. This contextual exhibition re-situates the masters of the avant-garde within networks of artistic exchange and emulation typical of this period, one full of questions and abundant invention. It embraces all disciplines, showing cross-fertilisation and confluences between the different arts (including the plastic arts, photography, film, architecture and design), together with the interaction of modern art with traditional practices and non-artistic expression. Throwing the focus off-centre to encompass peripheral or little-known territories and practices, it offers a large number of discoveries and establishes new narratives. The main movements are revisited, together with more diffuse aesthetic clusters. For example, the two outstanding landmarks of cosmopolitan artistic life in the capital, the First and Second Paris Schools (before and after the war), are reconsidered in all their diversity. The exhibition is attentive to the different experiences of artists in Western and non-Western countries, and highlights a shared history while proposing a range of essential historical reference points. In this respect, a new approach has been adopted, with highly varied documentation consisting of art reviews from all over the world provided beside the works.
Adopting a historical perspective, the exhibition follows a chronological order. But it also bears witness to open and discontinuous temporalities generated by exchanges and artists' processes of reaction to avant-garde ideas. By confronting the canonical, linear viewpoint of movements with a history of marginal and peripheral approaches, it replaces a history of influences with a map of connections, transfers – and resistance movements too. Different sections in the rooms, staged as mini-exhibitions, trace the international fortunes of certain modernist impulses (Expressionism, Futurism, Constructivism, etc.) while presenting local movements that arose in connection with these impulses, or in reaction to them. With the Fifties to Seventies period, the exhibition casts light on themes common to many areas (Totemism, Outsider art) and global constellations that developed around certain aesthetic currents – constructed and informal Abstraction, Kinetic art, Conceptual art – which continued into the Seventies. Above and beyond the international expansion that characterises the exhibition, it also provides a wider overview of aesthetic creative forms. Thus the spotlight is on aesthetics hitherto little represented or not given their full due. A large section is notably devoted to the different sorts of realism that appeared between the Twenties and Forties, notably in Latin American countries. The "Magic Realism" movement and its international echoes are shown alongside international Surrealism, whose presentation is associated with the unifying figure of André Breton. In another register, several iconic Naif art and Outsider art works will be found along the circuit. Lastly, artists' interest in non-Western arts, the popular arts, modern life and the applied arts is revived in several sections that illustrate this broader view so characteristic of the modern period. Thus, for example, the room devoted to "expressionisms" brings a wide range of artists together (Macke, Kirchner and Nolde; also Picasso, Matisse and Delaunay) and varied forms of art, called up by the Almanach of the Blaue Reiter, compiled by Vassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. The section dedicated to the Michel Leiris donation reunites – for the first time – the Western art works in this collection with the non-Western works allocated to the Musée du Quai Branly when this prestigious donation was made. The French art scene, attracting artists from all over the world, either to study or in exile, was particularly cosmopolitan up to the Second World War.
The Fifties, Sixties and Seventies likewise experienced an influx of artists from various parts of the world. The Centre Pompidou collection reflects this history, with a large number of works from art scenes now being rediscovered. In the modern and post-Second World War periods, this is particularly the case with Asian artists, especially from China and Japan, to whom a whole section is dedicated. The exhibition also sheds light on the work of artists from the Maghreb and the Middle East. A number of major pieces by these artists, now swelled by recent acquisitions, are presented in the section on the development of abstract art between 1950 and 1970. For the first time, works by Baya, Abdelkader Guermaz, Farid Belkahia and Huguette Caland are on show. The spotlight is also on the artistic scenes of Central Europe, where many artists contributed to constructivism, and later conceptual art. They have been studied to a greater degree, but are still regrettably unfamiliar. There is an accent on artists from European countries that are sometimes neglected, like Spain, Portugal and the Scandinavian countries. As regards Africa, this exhibition includes for the first time a room showing the different forms of artistic expression that developed there between 1950 and 1970, about which no documented history has yet been written.
Visitors can discover over two hundred completely unfamiliar works from the collection: works brought back into the spotlight, new acquisitions and donations. The preparation of the presentation went hand in hand with an ambitious research programme on the collections, and an active acquisition policy. The exhibition thus reveals all the diversity of one of the world's top-ranking collections in terms of quality, and also – something not many people know – in terms of the number of countries and artists represented.
WOMEN ARTISTS OF THE WORLD This history of art, dedicated to a wide range of artistic expression, also focuses on a large number of works by women artists. Forty-eight artists from nineteen different countries are represented in the many sections making up the exhibition. Alongside well-known figures like Natalia Goncharova and Sonia Delaunay, many important artists can be found, whose role and work have been forgotten or relegated to the sidelines, although several of them, like Maria Blanchard, Chana Orloff, Pan Yuliang and Baya, were much appreciated by their colleagues during their lifetime, and enjoyed a high public profile. With works by Frida Kahlo, Suzanne Roger, Maruja Mallo, Tamara de Lempicka, Alicia Penalba and Behjat Sadr, among others.
THE WORLD IN REVIEWS The remarkable documentary collection of the Kandinsky Library has been brought into play to provide a journey through the different facets of modernity within the exhibition "Modernités plurielles". Art reviews from every continent (Ma, Zenit, Proa, Život, Black Orpheus, Souffles) are displayed alongside the works, shedding informative light on the tour. These documents, of remarkable visual quality, bear witness to connections, exchanges and sometimes disputes, bringing to life a modern art scene that was already more globalised than we realised.
ASIAN MODERNS The Centre Pompidou collection presents visitors with both the modernist styles of Asian artists established in Western countries (Léonard Foujita, Takanori Oguiss, Liu Haisu, Zao Wou-Ki) and those of traditionalist schools (ink paintings), who opted for a cultural alternative to Western modernity. Among these Chinese and Japanese artists who adapted tradition to only a few modern characteristics, some are now very famous, like Zhang Daqian, Wang Yachen and Xu Beihong. These works, shown for the first time in the museum circuit, evoke a lively debate in artistic Asian communities on the desire to participate in European modernity versus that of asserting a Pan-Asian identity.
INTERNATIONAL FUTURISM The exhibition endeavours to show the broad sweep of international developments in the artistic avant-garde. The rooms devoted to "International Futurism" show the wide range of reactions to Futurist thinking: Simultaneism, Rayonism, Vibracionism, Synthetism and so on. They bring together works by artists of various movements, like Balla, Boccioni, Duchamp-Villon, Picabia and Larionov. The widening of the geographic field brings to light major works by lesser-known artists (Yakulov, Baranov-Rossine, Souza-Cardoso). One focus rediscovers an unjustly forgotten artist, Henry Valensi, whose "musicalist" work lies at the crossroads of Cubism and Futurism.
THE EXAMPLE OF INDIAN ARCHITECTURE Architectural work in India represented a major landmark in the contemporary urban situation: the relationship of the city to its environment and that of architecture with its cultural imprint in the face of industrialisation were tackled head on by the architects in the Fifties, avoiding the traditional opposition between East and West, modernity and tradition, learned and vernacular culture, industry and craft, modernity and spirituality. "Modernités plurielles" presents the work of the architect Raj Rewal (b.1934) and the numerous drawings and models of architecture he has donated to the Centre Pompidou.
(Introduction by Catherine Grenier)