Shows that made history: Inaugural exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou
In 1977, the great Pontus Hulten, who had previously worked for the Moderna Museet, was the director of the Centre Pompidou. His eight years (1973 – 1981) as the Beaubourg Director are considered to be a golden age, a reference for all those who headed the famous institution after him. He organized, from 1977 onwards, a rich series of shows: “Paris-New York”, “Paris-Berlin”, “Paris-Moscou”, and the grand finale, in 1981, “Paris-Paris”.
This was the first time that such important confrontations happened. This series was a collaboration of international scale, totally innovative, and that required a complex scheme of relationships based on complementarities and differences between the multiple international mediators. Pompidou and Hulten wanted Beaubourg to become a tool of mass cultural and political communication.
“This exhibition is conceived not as a conventional exhibition, but as a set of presentations illustrating a theme” – Pontus Hulten about “Paris-New York”
These huge multidisciplinary exhibitions involved specialists from all horizons. The catalogs, which sell for huge prices today, have become veritable collector pieces. Paris-New York, the first exhibition of the series, evokes the variety and wealth of the cultural Franco-American relations over the last century. Hulten’s great strength is that of having recreated the atmosphere of emblematic places from the beginning of the twentieth century: Gertrude Stein’s apartment in Paris, where prominent artists such as Matisse and Picasso used to gather in 1905 around Hemingway, Stieglitz’s or Mondrian’s studio, or Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery, the catalyst for all New York creation in the ‘40s.
The show recreated a context allowing to understand how New York was able, little by little, to rise to the level of Paris. The masterpieces presented, some of which were borrowed from private collections only for this exhibition, are references for the battle between old Europe and the new continent in the history of modern and contemporary art.
The “Paris -” series has helped the Centre Pompidou become a major institution dedicated to contemporary art in France. More than a million people visited the four series, while the Center was criticized by the French press; the event made the news in the international press, opened the way for a new museology, contributed to the deletion of the hierarchy between mainstream and marginalized art, and presented numerous videos. The “first Beaubourg”, the one before Dominique Bozo, wants to be international, multidisciplinary and interactive, destined to a much wider audience.
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