Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pompidou Art

A class of high school students from Belgium pass beneath an eye-catching                      
work based upon the theme of global lighting.                                  
The only thing the Pompidou has in common
with Paris' other art museums.
Very often today, art museums, in their architectural splendor, have a tendency to overwhelm their contents--more museum than art. That would certainly be the case with the Pompidou Centre in Paris except for one major factor. No other art museum in the world has so successfully divorced its powerful exterior presence from its refined, interior space. Outside, it's a mélange of colorful, Art Brute engineering so startling as to be very nearly ugly. In fact, as it first took shape in 1976, the Parisians hated it. Eventually, like the glass pyramid in the forecourt of the Louvre, they got used to it. One wag referred to the Pompidou as "love a second sight." But this is not about the museum. The building I covered pretty effectively a little over a year ago--The Georges Pompidou Centre. This is about the art inside.
Outgrowth, 2005, Thomas Hirschhorn--in keeping with a global theme.
What is it? It's a chrome-plated park bench,
of course, anyone can tell that.
The Pompidou Centre is where the French keep their contemporary art, which is something of an ephemeral term in that some of it isn't really all that contemporary. Basically they define it as art by living artists, though some of them no longer are. I think of it as art from my own lifetime. In having visited the Pompidou about a month ago, it occurred to me that here was a type of art that demanded to be seen in a different light from that of the Louvre or the Orsay, which I'd just visited a day or two before. There I went from room to room looking for the familiar--art I'd taught and written about many times before. I took pictures, took names, and then took off in search of yet another familiar masterpiece. At the Pompidou, all that should go out the window. In fact, I saw only one painting (below) with which I was familiar and very few names I'd ever heard of before. So the secret to enjoying the Pompidou is to jettison virtually all reference to art history.

Sky Backdrop, 2012, Alex Israel, the only piece I saw that I'd ever written about.

Two high school students ponder the
impenetrable with the aid of a video.
Think of the Pompidou, or any contemporary art museum for that matter, as something of a "fun house" as at an amusement park. Postmodern art is meant to be fun, sometimes even funny, if not in content then very often funny looking. Don't be afraid to look at a piece and make fun of it. Some very much deserve such a reaction. Unlike art styles and content from the past, or even Modern Art (perhaps especially Modern Art) often takes itself way too seriously. It's as if artists from the past, though displaying amazing technical talent and insight, didn't dare display a sense of humor. That's not to say that contemporary art is never to be taken seriously. The Pompidou, while I was there, had a video exhibition (probably temporary) exposing Communist propaganda. That's pretty serious stuff. Yet, it was propaganda in the form of entertainment--mostly music and dance--bullet ballets in which the dancers waved Kalashnikovs. Very often it was quite humorous, not intentionally, of course, even downright hilarious at times. I caught myself laughing out loud.

A composite shot of spheres, graduated in size from right to left.

A wire artist in the plaza.
There was still the Modern Art mantra "art for art's sake," items conceived, constructed, and exhibited simply to make some esoteric point about art itself. There were several high school kids and their teachers from Belgium (top) whom I met as I wandered about. Most of the art for art's sake likely went straight over their heads, even as the studiously took notes and pondered what they saw for a paper due when they returned (below). No doubt, every one of them could have titled their essay, "Why?" Why would an artist do that? What's the point? What does it mean? They considered questions their teachers might (with some difficulty) have been able to answer, but not in a manner that adolescent minds could comprehend. Still, even without knowing "why" those young people, perhaps some future contemporary artists among them, could enjoy what they saw, what they felt, what they liked, and laugh at what they hated. I saw several doing just that. Sometimes I was tempted to join them.

A Belgian high school art student rests, reflecting upon the reflective "cube" which he plans to write about when returning to the classroom.

Art outside the Pompidou
The art of the Pompidou does not start nor stop at the front door. Outside, though, it has to compete with the building. Yet, outside too, there is art and artisans waiting to get into the Pompidou, if not this year, the next, or many years in the future (above, right). For the moment they are merely trying to sell their wares or demonstrate their musical or comedy talents for a few euros in tips. I saw an elderly lady outside the museum feeding the hundreds of fearless pigeons (overfeeding them, in fact) with a distinctly choreographed artistic flourish--enjoying the act of doing so as much as the pigeons. I enjoyed watching her. A young boy played in the water of a nearby fountain (left), swishing it around with his hand, watching his own reflection dance over the surface. Other, somewhat older artists created art with colored chalk on the dry concrete. None of them had a small label beside them bearing their name, title of their work, or the ubiquitous artist's statement. They didn't need them, any more than most of the art inside.

Spring in a Rest home of Workers, 1988, Erik Boulatov


No comments:

Post a Comment