March 31, 2012

What's on at the Centre Pompidou

There is a lot happening on the museum scene here in Paris with three interesting shows at the Centre Pompidou alone.

Let's start with a small but compelling exhibition "Josef Albers in America:  Paintings on Paper".  The German-born Albers (1888-1976) was one of the first teachers at the Bauhaus but as pre-World War II  pressure from the Nazis increased he fled Europe for the United States where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.

Albers became known as an Abstract painter and color theorist with his iconic "Homage to the Square" remaining hugely influential on Modern and Contemporary artists to this day.  This series, begun in 1950, allowed Albers to explore his color theories with flat monochromatic squares arranged concentrically on Masonite.  His work inspired a generation of American artists who admired the simplicity and totality of these paintings.  Nonetheless, Albers remains largely unknown in Europe and this exhibition of 80 oils on papers is a long overdue introduction of his work to a new public.

Upstairs on the sixth floor is a new exhibition devoted to a master of 20th Century Modern art, Henri Matisse.  Not simply a retrospective, "Matisse Pairs and Series" explores his obsession with repeating compositions over and over but with different canvas' and treatments every time.  In an almost "practice makes perfect" philosophy, Matisse repainted and reworked his subjects in an attempt to achieve the ideal form, representation, relationship between design and color and surface area - seminal quests in the evolution of Modern art.

Representing each stage of his career, from Pointillism to Fauvism to his late paper cut outs, each painting is displayed accompanied by a sister work (or two or three) giving the viewer a fascinating insight into how the idea was developed.  This is a very engaging show and the best part is - it's coming to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this December!

Last but far from least is the marvelous "Danser sa vie - Dance and the Visual Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries".  This show was a surprise hit with the catalogue sold out within weeks of its opening and it was so interesting that I went through twice, on two different occasions, just to make sure that I hadn't missed a thing.

 Using video, documentation, photographs, paintings, vintage costumes and even live performers, "Dance Your Life" looks at the very strong relationship between dance and the revolution of modern visual art.  The exhibition is organized into three main sections beginning with Dance as Self-Expression and a look at the pioneers of modernity including Isadora Duncan and Vaslav Nijinsky and how their rejection of traditional ballet set the stage for Expressionism. 

It continues with Dance and Abstraction and the reaction of the art world to the Industrial Revolution.  Now both dance and painting were simultaneously being pared down to their bare essentials – the simplification of movement and form.  Performance examples include Loïe Fuller’s Serpentine Dance and Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet while Sonia Delaunay’s rhythmic color symphonies and Gino Severini’s dynamic Futurist works echo these trends.  Wonderful film footage of the incomparable Josephine Baker shaking her feathers is juxtaposed with the geometric, machinist Mechanical Ballet while original Bauhaus costumes turn on a nearby pedestal (see right). 

The final section focuses on Dance and Performance starting with the reactionary Dada actions at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 and continuing through Fluxus, Conceptual Art, the Post Modern Era and on through Pop Culture.  Here we have video of Jackson Pollack performing his own stylized dance as he sprayed paint onto the canvas and in the 1960’s Yves Klein using nude women as paintbrushes.  Dance and art merged as one with no contradiction in terms.

I leave you with this photograph taken through an open window along the escalators that take visitors up to the top of the Centre Pompidou.  In the distance you can see Sacré Cœur and the cage in the foreground is for the window washers!  The view is really fantastic and you can see how absolutely gorgeous the weather continues to be.  I have one more blog to post from Paris – a visit to the Salon du Dessin and its treasure trove of beautiful drawings – so I hope you’ll check back soon for this trip’s final installment.

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