Points de rencontres [Meeting Points]: a group exhibition at the Pompidou Center
There are three certain things in the world: death, taxes, and the permanent lack of clothes to wear, but there are only two at the Pompidou – great exhibitions and sunsets. Even after seeing Points de rencontres, my fifth visit in the last three months; that is after the exhibitions of Francis Bacon, Sonja Ferlov Mancoba, Takesada Matsutani, and Christian Boltanski (I wrote about all them), nothing disappointed me, neither the exhibition nor the sunset. However, the restaurant on the top floor did not meet the demands, as it has a closed terrace in December. But come on, Chablis doesn’t freeze at +8 ℃ outside!
While writing about the intriguing exhibition entitled Nepenthe by Bogna Burska, Ivo Nikić, Agata Nowosielska, Marek Rachwalik, Monika Szpener, Andrzej Urbanowicz and Anna Witkowska at Stolarska / Krupowicz Gallery, I confessed that I do not like group exhibitions, because there might be a gigantic disparity between artists. Most collections resemble a jumble of random guests, and the only things that they have in common is a table they sit at and tableware or exhibition-ware.
Thus, I marched into the Points de rencontres exhibition with such ruffled nerves and a “belaying” approach. Once I crossed the entrance door, I ended up next to the naked couple taller than me, i.e., the 1971’s hyper-realistic sculpture typical of John de Andrea, which was adjacent to Marc Chagall’s painting Double Portrait with a Glass of Wine dated from the years 1917-1918. And I got carried away.
Chagall’s couple and bored nudists
This juxtaposition helps you immediately understand what the phenomenal concept of Frédéric Paul, the curator of the exhibition, was. Chagall’s couple is newly-weds, their faces radiate a pure and “sweeping” feeling, and love gushes from the painting like wine from glasses. Moreover, those idyllic-angelic two are confronted with the duet of de Andrea’s: accidental lovers or a couple whose desire has long been weathered.
The woman exudes boredom and indifference, and the man looks as if he preferred to count the pins for the rest of his life rather than force himself to have an intercourse. If one’s innermost fantasy, however, actually IS counting pins…. then sorry for this antithesis. De Andrea’s figures represent zero spontaneity and excitement; even their nudity is not sensual. Well, sensual in a sense, only muddled, tiring and apathetic, and as exciting as faded panties. Little rave.
Emotions between a woman and a man are the theme of both the painting and the sculpture, except that in Chagall’s work, it is pure love and joy and in de Andrea’s one – rather withering and apathy. Because the objects are next to each other, the message of one strengthens the significance of the other.
Art and art-tricks
I found a nearby “text” work of Yuri Albert from 1983, which I worship, containing a writing in Cyrillic: “Приходите в гости! Я буду рад показать Вам свои работы” (“Welcome! I will be happy showing you my works!”).
This work is one of the many extreme manifestations of meta-linguistic play with the viewer’s expectations, the limits of a work of art, or the limit(ation)s of our perception. It is a similar case as you can observe in the painting This is not a pipe by René Magritte. Sure, that this is NOT a pipe, but a painting rendering a pipe. Albert bases on a similar strategy of perfidy, though not an image, but a text. While reading the inscription, the viewer expects that “as a guest”, i.e. AT SOME TIME AND SOMEWHERE, in the place to which one is “invited”; he/she will see the artist’s works mentioned above, thereby forgetting that he/she is looking at one of them HERE and NOW. That’s just jim-dandy!
However, the very location of Albert’s object is just as ironic, because placing it practically at the front of the exhibition gives the viewer the impression that the next rooms would contain only the works of this particular artist, and not more than a hundred paintings, graphics, objects, installations, sculptures and photographs of other authors!
Accommodation spurs creation
Points de rencontres is such a vibrant and specific exhibition that it is difficult to write about it in brief; I would describe every work in detail if I could. According to the curator’s intention, the individual works enter into dialogue with one another, but the contact with the viewer is far from pardoned conversation; on the contrary, it is one great polylogue, a clamor as in a bazaar! If I did not have such substantive background, I would have been watching these works in peace, sitting quietly and paid attention only to curatorial tips. But I’m not as lucky… The more the poor viewer knows, the more (s)he is bombarded with the scream of the works, their contexts, intertexts, associations, references, processions of meanings, and distortions; I always claim that knowledge is unlike handbags, its excess bothers you!
The very genesis of the exhibition is equally multi-voice, actually seven-voice. Well, last year, the Center Pompidou Accélérations grant fund was created. It is a modern form of the patronage typical of the Enlightenment – each of the seven constituent companies (including Orange) accommodates one artist and finances his/her works. Next, the Pompidou Accélérations Center fund buys them and donates them to the Pompidou Center, which includes them in its collections, of course, after green-lighting the deal by the museum committee.
By the way, the similarity between the patron in art and the patron in law always amuses me. It is a homonym for most people, but, as it often happens in linguistics and life, the reality is quite different.
Smart mercenaries and free attorneys
ATTENTION! If you do not like to get rich etymologically, skip the next piece and go straight to the The Patron’s New Clothes section, but shame on you. However, if you cannot live (and rightly so!) without Latin and the history of the Polish language, then read on.
“Mecenas,” (“a patron” in Polish), as a courtesy form of address, exists only in Poland – so sophisticated we are. It stems from the name procuratores mercenarii (Lat. mercenarii – mercenaries), paid “attorneys,” who differed from ordinary procuratores – free “attorneys,” public in today’s terms. Over time, the term procuratores mercenarii split into two professions – procuratores began to mean only “prokuratorz” [prosecutors], and mercanarii was simplified to the polonised form of “mecenasi” [attorneys] and narrowed to today’s barristers or advocates.
And the jig is up. Polish “mecenas” has been functioning in law since the 16th century, but the “mecenas” in art is at least those sixteen centuries older, and its roots go back to the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, what does it have to do with the price of tea in China?
It does, however, because it comes from the name of Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, a Roman politician, adviser, and best homie of Octavian Augustus. The full name was Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, but not the one the Caesar’s salad is named after. The one in question was Caesar Cardini, also Italian, who lived 20 centuries later and was a cook, not an emperor, by profession. Thanks to his family property, and the Emperor, Maecenas did not complain about finances. So, as he was a wealthy man, he decided to generously support poets and artists, including Virgil, Horace (introduced, by the way, to Maecenas by the former), or Propertius.
Write to the emperor what is the emperor’s
Maecenas, as a patron, did quite well – he instructed his proteges what to write to make the Emperor like it. Surprise, surprise! For example, thanks to Maecenas, Virgil churned out Georgics, an obtrusive agricultural narrative poem that was consistent with the economic policy of Octavian Augustus. After the civil war, agriculture in the Empire suffered severely, so Virgil, supported by Maecenas, created a work encouraging the cultivation of land, vines, fruit trees, breeding cattle and bees.
The poem contains some interesting phrases such as amor terrae, which means “love for (cultivating) the land” because working on the farm is a virtue and duty of a true Roman. The premiere lecture took place in the presence of the Emperor (surprise, surprise no. 2), who, of course, got delighted by that rubbish. Thus, Virgil strengthened his position and could leisurely write a real bestseller, namely The Aeneid.
Equally interestingly did Maecenas set Propertius up. He persuaded him to write a few poems about Roman customs, buildings, or monuments, as well as elegies dedicated to Marcellus, who was a nephew of … Octavian Augustus. Hello! Who else could it be? Moreover, those lamentation songs were a trigger to lifting Propertius, so were to Polish poet Jan Kochanowski a dozen or so centuries later, because they solidly influenced his work..
The patron’s new clothes
While reading about how the Pompidou Accélérations Center grant fund works, I thought it would be great if such a thing appeared in Poland. Instead of all this media balderdash about corporate social responsibility, the world of tomorrow, how art enriches the corporate image and how rosy is the picture of employees and contractors being affected by paintings in their environment, a few companies could gang together, stop disseminating all these clichés and do something for arts, artists, customers, employees, dogs, cats and so on.
The Pompidou Accélérations Center, as part of its mission, accommodated seven artists in the first half of 2019. Emotions were the theme of the first edition of the whole event. The topic is broad and universal, albeit annoying and clichéd as an end-of-semester paper at Cultural Studies or an old I-phone.
However, it went great because the new works of seven residents, namely, Hubert Duprat, Lionel Estève, Alexandre Estrela, Agnès Geoffray, Jonathan Monk, Camila Oliveira Fairclough, and Bruno Serralongue, born over the period 1967-1979, blend with a selection of hundred works having been created since 1905 by both anonymous and top artists. These hundred works were selected out of over 120,000 (wow!) exhibits from the Pompidou Center collection, which complied with the curator’s intention.
A date at the museum, i.e. a meeting point for art
Individual works are combined in such a pattern that further contexts and meanings enrich them. They rummage through our souls and fish out the whole packet of emotions: from laughter to tears, from love to hate, from delight to disgust. Emotions are the common denominator, hence Points de rencontres – “meeting points.”
Thanks to the Pompidou Accélérations Center fund, the museum can add a lot of great works to its collection. One of my sweethearts is Jonathan Monk’s The World in Safety Vests collage tapestry, the title of which accurately reflects clearly what the work looks like. This is a tough love, though. While living in Paris city center, I did not care about the underground being “grounded” due to the yellow vests’ movement. However, the message from Air France notifying me that my flight was likely to be canceled was something different, just as white wine is different from red wine. Fortunately, the flight to Warsaw was not canceled, so I am not offended by the collage.
Monk is my most significant discovery of Points de rencontres; the exhibition also presented his earlier installations, including Secret Love (2013), a piece of a span with love padlocks with initials. As one of our postmodern myths says, attaching such a knocker to a bridge or something in another public place (big “secret” to me, really!) is to guarantee the eternal feelings between the owners of the initials.
12 x 18 = the Pompidou Center
In turn, All the Eighteens in 2018 (in Order of Appearance) means, as the title implies All the eighteens in 2018. In order of appearance – a sequence of 12 calendar cards stacked together with the number 18 written on them. As in Alice in Wonderland, it is always six o’clock, so looking at Monk’s object, I had a strange impression as if the time had stopped on the eternal eighteenth day: today is the eighteenth, yesterday was the eighteenth and tomorrow it would be the eighteenth as well. It will always be the eighteenth.
In general, there were many noteworthy installations at the exhibition, which makes me happy, unlike in Poland. Well, unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, for me, the rope around the Zachęta [National Art Gallery in Warsaw] is not enough. In turn, there is no rope at the Pompidou Center, and the only string that appears at the Points de rencontres is a string of light bulbs, i.e., the famous, almost three-decade-old Untitled installation (1993) by Felix Gonzales Torres. Having just seen the large exhibition of Boltanski and his various light bulbs located on the floor above, seeing Torres’ work was quite an enjoyable experience to me. Light bulbs, light bulbs, light bulbs everywhere. If someone still were not tired of wires and bulbs after visiting the Pompidou, there is a Leroy Merlin with an electrical department in the tenement house opposite the museum.
A lot of sculptures and installations were created as part of the Pompidou Accélérations Center accommodation program. There was, among them, the rather dull video installation of Mire d’essai de fixité by Alexandre Estrela, combining Bauhaus, the eponymous control panel, algorithms, and pseudo-artificial intelligence; hardly surprising Hubert Duprat’s limestone sculpture and a much more interesting Lionel Estève’s “ball” kinetic sculpture of Multiplication. It acted like it had been drunk, as if it had been losing its balance now and then, retaking control of it, then losing it again.
The Multiplication installation is so abstract that you can recognise there both a hanger and children’s toys, molecules and a head massager (or “a device to connect yourself to the space,” as we used to say in my family house). A kind of a three-dimensional Rorschach test.
A new old collection
As for the works from the Pompidou permanent collection, I relished the painting mentioned above of Marc Chagall from 1918, but also, for example, the Orphic, or, to put it differently, simultaneous and colorful Rhytme (1938) by Sonia Delaunay. Other works are The Deep (1953) by Jackson Pollock, a three-decade younger painting of Lomolarm by Paul Klee (the phonetic transcription of “L’homme aux larmes,” i.e., “Man in tears,” is so yummy), or my beloved Affectionate (Homage to the Square) by Joseph Albert from 1954. While writing about Neo-sacral art, I mentioned that Kazimierz Malewicz’s square is my soft spot, so I completely share the tender and orange homage to the folded quadrangle..
However, what pleased me probably the most was the presence of the French version of some of the ink drawings from Alphabet for Adults – an artist book that Man Ray published and designed for the Copley Gallery in 1948. The book consisted of 39 drawings depicting the letters of the alphabet combined with specific cartoon-like props. A cartoon is not the same as an animated film but let us pretend that it is so for the time being, because it is not for real. I know, blurry stuff, but the visual impact is not like using Netflix, no one said it would be easy.
And how does such an inter-generational tango, or juxtaposing the old works with the ones created during the accommodation period work in practice? For example like that: a journalistic, literally black-and-white photo of the venerable Henri Cartier Bresson is a neighbor of a fairy tale Pliures by Agnès Geoffray, which is a series of 9 silk scarves with digitally photographs imprints, then folded in such a way that she had obtained a completely different image.
Paris: a city of the croissant, baguettes and morning deconstruction
I adore such obscurity as breaking boundaries between genres, experiments with printing and fabric, visual origami. The scarf is unified with the photo, but it is a free union, which is deconstructed during interaction with the viewer because the viewer tracks all these folds, pleats, crevices, and tensions arising from them.
To my constant joy, every other quasi-scientific or artificially critical text contains the word “to deconstruct” or “deconstruction,” but hardly anyone is fully aware of what exactly the term means in its home domain, namely literary theory. So, … “What deconstruction is not? Everything, of course! What is deconstruction? Nothing, of course!” wrote Jacques Derrida in Letter to a Japanese Friend. You now know everything about deconstruction, that is, as much as an average third-year student of Polish Philology does. More than nothing and less than anything.
Seemingly contradictory meanings accumulate in crevices, cracks, delamination of the text (being the fabric of words) to the same extent as in the proper fabric in Geoffray’s silks. So many decades ago, did Derrida trumpet that the crevices are strange, but necessary because, from them, the meanings emerge. Thus, it happens in folded, or full of bends, Geoffray’s fabrics.
Even Derrida would be frightened by Freud
However, it is not a piece of cake because these cracks/shifts simultaneously evoke a sense of unreality, strangeness, and anxiety in the viewer.
What results from the collision of a complex, noble material with hyper-realistic photography is shocking and slightly macabre. I did not take a photo of a white fabric, folded like linen, with a hand on it (Pliures V) to show you, because, as I have probably read too many Scandinavian detective stories, this photograph of Agnès Geoffray looks like a photo of a cut limb from a crime scene to me.
The Pliures II scarf with the “white lady” is even more amazing. It is folded in such a way that the printed dame ends where the fabric is folded. As a result, the white-headed lady looks like she was… headless. Yikes!
I have written, once or twice, about the Freudian uncanny, so you know that there is nothing scarier than everyday objects, known things that suddenly appear as unknown, foreign, and, therefore, dangerous. So, how does your potentially bloodthirsty scarf appear to you now?
It’s good to hang in a well-known company
At Points de rencontres, not only were the new works confronted with the old ones but also various works from the permanent collection were put together. Such a juicy juxtaposition evokes a feeling of deep satisfaction in me, comparable only to devouring a delicious cheesecake. I like it when an exhibition is so thought out that when I commune with it, I achieve full, pleroma-like, bliss. So, I do feel like after eating a cheesecake.
Along comes a well-shaped example of a juxtaposition of works by two artists belonging to the Pompidou collection: Lucio Fontana and his full-of-cuts “Concetto spaziale, Attese [T. 104]”m (Spatial concept. Expectations) from 1958 is adjacent to a work having my favourite title, namely Untitled by Heimo Zobernig from 1989.
Fontana, like crazy, rebelled against traditional painting, playing with space in his paintings by appropriating that space from the world external to the painting. In turn, Zobernig, as in any of his broken mirrors (as you see you see me in one of them), not only refers to various hits from art history (including Mondrian’s, of course) in a rather funny way, but also he, above all, plays with the issues like the artist’s limits, work and space, as well as the possibility of doubling them.
Mirrors, locks and everything else
Like Fontana, Zobernig defines space, but in a new and different way. Not only does his broken mirror duplicate the viewer and the exhibition space, but also, and above all, it plays with the concept of the site-specific installation or the “in situ” phrase. Therefore, Zobernig’s work is continuously remodeled, and in each subsequent place where it is exposed, it is created from scratch.
Moreover, while taking a picture of myself in this installation, I thought that we live in a culture of selfie-ism. If we upload our distorted, “far-from-ideal” image incompatible with the applicable canons to Instagram, it is only the image distorted intentionally, artistically, necessarily with the hashtag #modernart (I wrote a lot about selfies and self-portraits in some other vernissage column).
My dear, beloved example of the “meeting place” is Jericho by Barnett Newman from 1969 (another of my faves at the exposition!) and The Deep by Jackson Pollock from 1953. In addition to the fact that their authors were friends and were representatives of abstract expressionism, these two works have one more thing in common: they both, albeit differently, play with the “cutting,” violation, crack falling from the top to the bottom of the painting. In Pollock’s work, it runs deeper into the abyss into which the viewer looks, while in Newman’s one, it is a vertical strip, typical of his works, which the artist calls zip due to its shape.
Art is not as logical as mathematics
The Points de rencontres exhibition gives you the best of what contemporary art can offer.
I remember that 7 years ago I was with my journalism students at British British, Polish Polish exhibition at the Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art. I always took them to various exhibitions as part of my classes, the point of which was to make them write critical reviews of the works of arts seen there. One student was looking at Katarzyna Kozyra’s Pyramid of Animals and said that he had no idea what that was all about, he didn’t understand that at all. I told him that thanks God he thought so, because contemporary art is not as logical as mathematics. If Kozyra’s installation hadn’t forced him to think about the ‘what the heck’ thing, launch cognitive processes, it would have meant that the zoo we were in was not art, but a decoration, a clothes hanger, or the first purely utilitarian thing at hand.
It is no big deal if the viewer has completely no idea what he sees; what counts in contemporary art is emotions and reflections evoked by a given work. And in my opinion, any emotions, anything except for indifference, are a determinant of good art, because art can’t be ‘lukewarm’ and bland like a cold, diluted espresso.
Contemporary art must evoke emotions, but also it cannot aim at touching the viewer at all costs, because the more viewers, the more sensitivity. Moreover, if art sells cheap pleasure to everyone, then it resembles a noisy desperate woman who would do anything to draw anyone’s attention. Undressing and waving the “look at me” banner is not the only way to draw one’s attention.
Z Centrum Pompidou zawsze wychodzę przerażona. Przerażona, bo boję się, że po tym, co przed chwilą widziałam, już żadna wystawa mnie tak nie poruszy albo już nigdy nie zobaczę tyle doskonałej, zmuszającej do myślenia sztuki współczesnej i do końca życia będę zmuszona oglądać przeintelektualizowane albo niedointelektualizowane miernoty, nie wiem, która opcja jest dramatyczniejsza. Mimo tego zagrożenia za każdym razem ryzykuję i znów biegnę do Pompidou, lubię życie na krawędzi. Natomiast faktycznie po tegorocznych wystawach – Baconie, Boltanskim i właśnie „Points de rencontres” – czuję się jak po obejrzeniu dobrego koreańskiego horroru i weź spróbuj to jakoś przebić. Ale jakoś Centrum Pompidou ciągle się to udaje.
PS wiem, że nie jest to typowy felieton wernisażowy – ani słowa o gościach, winie, oświetleniu, oprawie muzycznej itp., ale są pewne wybitne wystawy, o których mimo nieobecności na otwarciu muszę napisać. I felietony o takich wystawach znajdziecie tylko na Wernisażerii!