“These curses, these blasphemies, these lamentations,
These Te Deums, these ecstasies, these cries, these tears,
Are an echo repeated by a thousand labyrinths;
They are for mortal hearts a divine opium.
They are a cry passed on by a thousand sentinels,
An order re-echoed through a thousand megaphones;
They are a beacon lighted on a thousand citadels,
A call from hunters lost deep in the woods!”
Charles Baudelaire, “The Beacons” (extract), The Flowers of Evil, 1857
Translation by William Aggeler, (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
Based entirely on loans from the collection at Centre Pompidou/Musée national d’art moderne, the Beacons exhibition highlights a selection of masterpieces rarely shown to the public due to their monumental size.
With no specific chronological order, the exhibition's staging provides an overview of the primary movements in art since the start of the 20th century, from Pablo Picasso to Anish Kapoor including Sam Francis, Joseph Beuys and Dan Flavin.
An exhibition catalogue will be published in summer 2014.
Claire Garnier, Curator, Personal Assistant to the Director and Project Coordinator, Centre Pompidou-Metz.
She co-curated the 1917 and Parade exhibitions (Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2012).
Élodie Stroecken, Curator, Assistant Coordinator for Programming, Centre Pompidou-Metz.
She is co-curating the Tania Mouraud exhibition (Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2015).
Different themes will be addressed over the two years in which the exhibition is presented. These include light and shadow, figuration and abstraction, brushwork in 2014.
Labels for Young Visitors
In addition to the wall labels and texts normally posted for each work, special descriptions have also been provided for young visitors. Easy to see and read, these labels provide child-friendly texts so that young visitors may actively participate in their tour of Beacons. Anecdotes, riddles and small activities provide youngsters with essential information on each work.
LIVE EVENTS AND PERFORMANCES
The Art Appreciation Programme resonates even further via the live events and performances that will take place in the Grande Nef starting in autumn 2014.
The themes addressed in the exhibition will be coupled with the events and performances programme. These themes will be spotlighted through conferences, performances, dance and more, right in the exhibition space itself.
Artists will be invited to produce right in the heart of the Grande Nef, creating right in front of the visitors themselves.
The following works are presented in the order in which they appear in the exhibition.
Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Figures and Birds in the Night, 1974
Oil on canvas
This monumental picture was first shown in a retrospective of Joan Miró’s work at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1974, the year he painted it. For this exhibition the Catalan painter, now a mature, accomplished artist at the height of his powers, decided to show his most recent paintings alongside early works. His pictorial vocabulary is majestically deployed here in Figures and Birds in the Night. Miró created his own universe in which infinite combinations of signs can transform themselves with every unpredictable encounter. Yet there is always the notion of equilibrium in his compositions, in which colours and signs are used to counterbalance one another in harmonious counterpoint. The characteristic element of the composition, black, invades the picture space, creating its enigmatic atmosphere, while the colours, applied afterwards, follow the rhythm of the dark drawing.
Yan Pei-Ming (born 1960)
Oil on canvas
Polyptych (7 panels)
The Franco-Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming achieved international recognition for his original approach to portraiture, in which he ignores the criteria of resemblance and identification usually associated with this painting genre. Stemming from his first monumental works respecting the aesthetics of Maoist propaganda, this unusual format invites us to pentrate into faces as we would into a landscape. In order to convey the universality of humanity, Yan Pei-Ming chose painting because it requires a ‘minimum of means for maximum effect’. His lively, spontaneous gestures and duotone technique intensify the features and contrast with his nuanced realist treatment, while the breaks in the imagery open up a space for the viewer’s imagination. These seven pieces were commissioned in 2000 for the Epiphanies exhibition at the Centre for Religious Art in Evry, and its title evokes the artist’s reflections on life after death.
Joseph Beuys (1921-1986)
In 1962, while professor of ‘monumental sculpture’ at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, Joseph Beuys drew close to the Fluxus movement, with whose members he created several performances. Homogenous Infiltration for Piano stems from one of them. Beuys created it in July 1966, after interrupting a concert by Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman by pushing an imposing grand piano entirely covered with felt, an insulating material that had great personal significance for him in his life and art, into the room. The piece’s full title, Homogenous Infiltration for Piano, The Greatest Contemporary Composer is the Thalidomide Child, is a direct reference to one of the major pharmacutical scandals of the second half of the 20th century. In this respect, it is a poignant example of the notion of ‘social sculpture’ that Beuys developed later. Thalidomide, a drug prescribed to pregnant women from the 1950s, caused a spate of deformities in newborn babies. The two red crosses on either side of the piano, symbols of emergency, and whose appearence and normal functioning are hindered by this thick grey skin, become a symbol of these sacrificed children and their families condemned to silence. The artist had to repair the piano’s fragile covering twice, in 1976 and 1984. After the second restoration he decided show The Skin next to the piano to convey the notion of passing time and its impact on the life of artworks.
Julio Le Parc (born 1928)
A precusor of kinetic art and Op Art and a founder member of the GRAV (Groupe de recherche d'art visuel) with Yvaral and François Morellet in 1963, Julio Le Parc has created interactive works in which the viewer can take an active part and immerse himself. Intent on trying to provoke 'a different behaviour in the viewer [...] and finding with the public the means to combat passivity, dependence and ideological conditioning, by developing the capacities of reflection, comparison, analysis, creation and action', Julio Le Parc's work comprises several series of pieces, most of which are interactive. Created for his exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in 2013, Déplacement du spectateur n°1 is a variation of the original work, Cercles virtuels par déplacement du spectateur, created in 1965 and now in the Centro Cultural General San Martín in Buenos Aires. It is part of the Reliefs à déplacement du spectateur series that the artist began in 1962-1963. It consists of a simple motif that distorts and creates optical effects when the viewer moves in front of it, thereby giving the viewer a key role in the activation of a work in constant metamorphosis.
Simon Hantaï (1922-2008)
From 1960 onwards, Simon Hantaï experimented with a new work method, folding and crumpling the canvas then covering it with colour before unfolding it. In doing so this Hungarian painter, who lived and worked in Paris from 1948, introduced the notion of chance into his work and painted ‘blind’. The result of this folding and painting process appeared only when the canvas was unfolded, with the painting itself participating in its own creation. The pure, minimalist abstraction of Tabula, one of Hantaï’s last series of works, is balanced by its obsessively geometric pattern, inspired by childhood memories of his mother’s checked apron. The folding technique also produced a poetic effect that Hantaï described as ‘starring’, varying depending on the thoughtfulness or vigour with which he created each work. The encounters between the corners of each square materialise the folding process and infuse the canvas with its choreographic rhythm, punctuated by the luminous white intervals contrasting with the painted areas.
Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
Robert Delaunay created this work for the International Exposition of Art and Technology in Paris in 1937. Having encountered the limits of easel painting, he was now exploring the monumental possibilities of large-scale murals, whose imposing dimensions and public exhibition enabled him to reach a much larger audience more in keeping with his social conception of art. These four decorative panels also illustrate the painter’s will to unify the creative inspirations of architecture and painting in a harmonious synthesis or ‘total work of art’. The synthetic iconography of rail transport constitute the heart of this relief deploying the coloured discs and abstract rhythms characteristic of the artist’s compositions. The helicoidal movement induced by the geometric forms is also a tribute to technological progress then embodied by Paris, city of history and modern progress.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
In 1924, after working for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, notably on Parade (1917), Picasso created the sets and costumes for the ballet Mercure. Its music was composed by Erik Satie and its theme and choreography were by Léonide Massine. Mercure was premiered on 15 June 1924 at the Théâtre de la Cigale. It was part of ‘Soirées de Paris’, a series of private events organised by Count Étienne de Beaumont.
Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
In his preparatory studies for Composition with Two Parrots, Fernand Léger tried adding an element in the figures’ hands that would balance the composition. His aim here was to exploit the law of contrasts, hence his choice of these multicoloured birds, each of which forms an island of colour contrasting with the darker tones dominating the composition. In the same way, the frontally-depicted figures contrast with the geometric or organic forms, and their imposing scale also contrasts with the paradoxical sense of lightness pervading the picture. The composition’s elements – figures, parrots and clouds – are combined for their visual qualities. The areas of colour are outlined in black and forms are visibly emphasized by their drawing. Léger, who wanted his pictures to ‘command the room’, frequently painted on this monumental scale. Composition with Two Parrots was shown in several cities in the United States during the Second World War, after which the artist donated it to the Musée national d’art moderne in 1950.
Louise Nevelson (1899-1988)
Louise Nevelson was born in Russia and emigrated to the United States in 1905. This work evokes both the cubist forms she studied as a young artist and the verticality of her new home, New York. Following a trip to Mexico in 1950, where she discovered the geometric facades of the temples and mural frescoes, she began a series of monumental sculptures vertically juxtaposing rectangular boxes. These works are assemblages of found pieces of wood, painted black (which she said ‘contains all colours’) to hide the different orgins of each fragment. Black unifies the ensemble within an architectural environment, creating an atmosphere that envelops the viewer. Her use of mirrors enabled her to play with shadows and reflections and intensify the illusion of a waterfall.
Claude Viallat (born 1936)
Claude Viallat was a member of the Supports/Surfaces group, a major French avant-garde movement in the 1970s. From 1966, he systematised the practice that became his ‘trademark’. At a time when the French art scene was still dominated by the School of Paris and the Narrative Figuration movement, Viallat adopted a logic running counter to classical painting. He deconstructed painting by questioning its most fundamental elements: colour, the brush, the canvas stretcher, the easel and the canvas itself. He embarked on an ‘unlearning’ process, putting his practice of painting completely into question. In the principle of the system, he found a salvatory constraint and created this characteristic form, which he applied to the canvas first by using a rectangle of foam then a cardboard stencil. This form is ‘neither figurative nor organic nor geometric nor symbolic’, and as such it prevents any escape into the imagination.
Frank Stella (born 1936)
In the 1960s, Frank Stella, one of the major figures of American minimalism, pioneered a new radicality in the conception of painting. He painted large-scale ‘shaped canvases’ in which it is the picture’s geometric pattern that determines its form. His painting took another radical turn in the 1970s, when he began using curved and metallic relief forms in increasingly sculptural pictures. In the 1990s, he took this process one step further in his series of Imaginary Places series. Palombe is an example of this complexification of his formal vocabulary. Composed of a tangle of forms with personal connoatations, with his use of digital tools manifest in the vectorisation of some of them, they appear to be still merely in the sketch stage. Many of his works are inspired by classical literature and history. This work’s title, Palombe, is a reference to the author of the 14th-century adventure novel, The Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Knight.
Pierre Soulages (born 1919)
When he was a child, Pierre Soulages drew a snowy landscape with Indian ink contrasting with the white paper. He remained ever-faithful to black, striving tirelessly to reveal its infinite variations and intensities. Each of his pictures is part of a unity whose temporality is emphasized by its title, stating merely its dimension and the date it was finished. Apprehended as objects, these paintings explore the medium’s materiality, unconcerned with expressing the artisti‘s states of mind and eliminating any interpretation of gesture. In 1979, in the Soulages, Recent Paintings exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, he unveiled the first of his ‘ultrablack’ paintings, a term he employed from 1990 to designate ‘“another” space in front of the picture itself’. Painting 202 x 453 cm, 29 June 1979 is one of these paintings marking a new departure in his work. Black, which Soulages regards as the ‘colour of light’, is modified by its active observation by the viewer, whose perception of the pigment changes as he moves while contemplating the painting.
Jean Degottex (1918-1988)
During a stay at Portsall in Britanny in the summer of 1954, Jean Degottex painted France’s Atlantic coast at first hand. A self-taught artist, he was then abandoning direct representation for a conception of the landscape as a vehicle for meditation. At the same time, André Breton was initiating him to far-eastern culture. Influenced by Japanese and Chinese calligraphy, Degottex’s painterly expression liberated itself in the free, confident gestures that we can retrace here by following the path of his brush. For the first time, Degottex was painting on a monumental scale conveying this absolute commitment of body and soul. The picture’s title is a reference to ‘Furyu ‘, the principles of elegance, finesse and beauty defining the Zen state of mind. Aware evokes one of the four fundamental states of this philosophical doctrine: the ephemeral nature of things.
Pierre Alechinsky (born 1927)
An active member of the CoBrA (acronym of Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) movement from 1949 to 1951, Pierre Alechinsky later immersed himself in Chinese painting. No longer painting on an easel but on the floor, this new, overhead painting position encouraged him to use his body movements more freely and liberate his brushwork. During his only trip to Japan in 1955, Alechinsky discovered Zen philosophy and the disciplines of calligraphy. From then on he transposed this painterly mastery of the splash and the cursive line into his works in Indian ink and acrylic. The technique he used in this oil on canvas, whose texture here is similar to paper, has the suppleness, amplitude and rapidity of calligraphic gestures. The composition, structured around the central window, is teeming with arabesques. The literary influences of this ‘writing painter’ are manifest in his choice of title, a direct reference to Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure novel, The Lost World.
Sam Francis (1923-1994)
After the Second World War, study scholarships awarded to American war veterans enabled a number of aspiring young artists like Sam Francis to cross the Atlantic and train with French artists. Sam Francis arrived in Paris in 1950 at the height of Lyrical Abstraction and Informalism. Later in the decade, he took part in the group that formed around the critic Georges Duthuit, Matisse’s son-in-law, and embarked on a series of white paintings prompted by his discovery of the Mediterranean light in the South of France. From then on colour became his prime preoccupation. In Lovely Blueness reflects the influences of his travels during his Paris years. His decomposition of his paintings into coloured cells was inspired by the Byzantine mosaics he saw in Italy and his fascination with white was awakened in Japan. A prelude to this blue paintings in the 1960s and also his large-scale works, this picture inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin’s poem In lieblicher Bläu, marked the end of Sam Francis’ stay in France.
Joan Mitchell (1926-1992)
Joan Mitchell studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she discovered key influences in the work of Paul Cézanne, Édouard Manet and Pablo Picasso. Although regarded as a member of the second generation of New York abstract expressionist painters, truly speaking she was neither an abstract painter nor a landscape painter, seeking primarily to express personal sentiments and memories in her painting. Intent on extricating herself from the agitation in the American art world at that time, she went to live in France in 1959 and remained here for rest of her life. In 1968, she moved to Vétheuil, one of the favourite haunts of the Impressionists, where she bought a house overlooking the Seine Valley and devoted all her time to painting. This triptych, La Grande Vallée XIV (For a Little While), belongs to series of pictures with the same title painted from autumn 1983 to the summer of 1984, while she was still mourning the recent death of her sister. Mitchell wanted to paint a ‘feeling of a space’, that of the childhood she shared with her beloved sibling, by creating a gestural and coloured transposition of sensory and emotional experiences.
Anish Kapoor (born 1954)
The Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor, who regards himself as both a painter and a sculptor, achieved international acclaim for his works composed of geometric forms covered with pure pigments. The spiritual dimension of his work lies in his quest for an infinite, poetic world beyond the visible, and which can emerge from amidst our material reality. This meticulously polished reflective piece achieves this by literally overturning the surrounding space. The sensory experience produced by his use of a concave mirror profoundly upsets our perception and succeeds in rendering the void visible. Instead of reflecting a mimetic image of reality, these non-narcissistic mirrors create distortions and illusions, playing on the relationship between the void and the solid, interior and exterior, material and immaterial. The artist also emphasizes the work’s reflective properties by using a dark red that simultaneously absorbs and reflects the light.
Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
One of the major figures of American minimal art, Dan Flavin developed a new formal language from 1963 in works composed solely of fluorescent tubes, attaining an extraordinary level of purity using a single, standardized industrial component. Working on the frontier between painting and sculpture, he created his light pieces for specific and sometimes unusual exhibition spaces. An example of this ‘situational’ art, Untitled (to Donna) 5a is one of a series of works created for the corner formed by two walls, thereby doubling its reflective surfaces. The piece projects light in two directions, inwards towards the wall and outwards towards the viewer, flattening the hollow space of the corner on the one hand and remodelling the exhibition space on the other. From the outset, Flavin dedicated his works to poets, artists and people working in the art world. Donna, the young woman to whom this work is dedicated, was working in his New York gallery while he was creating it. ‘5a’ is the number of this particular work in the series to which it belongs.
Robert Irwin (born 1928)
Following his Dot Paintings, a series of pictures with curved edges, Robert Irwin began questioning the necessity of expressing oneself within the confines of the picture’s edges. This work belongs to the Discs series, in which plays on the illusion of ‘dissolvlng’ a convex Plexiglas circle on the wall on which it hangs. Robert Irwin again succeeded in eliminating the four corners of his ‘painting’, whose light, radiating from the middle, forms a luminous rosette with blurred edges. Plunged into an unexpected sensory experience, the viewer cannot determine whether this round form is convex, concave or flat, or at what distance it is. This evanescent piece, whose prime material is light, is characteristic of the Californian Light and Space movement that emerged in the late 1960s and sought to dematerialise the artwork. The Discs series (1966-69) was Robert Irwin’s last ‘painting’ project before he began creating perceptual environments and ‘site specific’ installations.
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