The Ecstatic Eye. Sergueï Eisenstein, filmmaker at the crossroads of the arts

ExhibitionsThe Ecstatic Eye. Sergueï Eisenstein, filmmaker at the crossroads of the arts

From 28th September 2019 to 24th February 2020

Locations : Grande Nef
Category : Exhibitions
Public : All ages

Sergueï Eisenstein, the mythical film director who made the glory of Russian and Soviet cinema is really more than a film director. Cultivating the art of montage and of rhythm to the point of inventing a new visual language in the middle of the 1920’s, Eisenstein always put himself at the crossroads of the arts. A man of the theatre, artist, theorist, collector and insatiable reader, he never ceased to enrich the history of art throughout his career.

Centre Pompidou-Metz is offering a retrospective of his work in relation to the influence of this universal heritage. We will cover the great films which made him famous (The Strike, 1925 ; The Battleship Potemkin, 1925 ; October, 1928 ; The General Line, 1929 ; ¡ Que Viva Mexico ! , 1932 ; Alexander Nevsky, 1938 and Ivan the Terrible, 1944-46), but also his theatrical experiments, his drawings delving into his prolific imagination, or his unfinished projects. The exhibition goes back over the artistic inspirations and visionnary approach of the film director, to the productions with strong ties to the history of Russia but also to his numerous voyages in Europe, to Mexico and to the United States, to his preferred reading and his encounters.

If, during his lifetime, Eisenstein was an artist that the whole world snatched up and whose work and philosophy deeply moved minds, today, this aura has considerably worn off owing to his cinematagraphic work no longer being systematically shown via the cinema clubs. Likewise, the complexity and the reach of Eisenstein accomplishments have for a longtime been underestimated because of idealogical interpretations reducing his work only within the context of Communist USSR and to his relationship with Stalin.

The exhibition The Ecstatic Eye. Sergueï Eisenstein, filmmaker at the crossroads of the arts therefore intends to enable the discovery or the rediscovery for French and European audiences of a major name of the seventh art and of world culture, a man considered as the Russian “Leonardo da Vinci”, and who was the first to present himself as a film director dressed in artists’ clothing. We are therefore insisting on Eisenstein's the doer, the amateur, the collectionner, the commentator and the image editor, a visionnary Eisenstein, always eager to experiment in a radical manner and to have a deep and durable impact on the spectator. By drawing on the vast range of references that Eisenstein uses in his work, this confrontation between fixed images and images in motion can unveil in an exemplary way the manner in which a creator produces his images, at a time when the question of artistic genesis had become central : showing how Eisenstein prepared himself in his work, using chefs d’oeuvres from the history of world art and works by foreign and Russian contemporaries but also and above all the artistic heritage preceding the arrival of the cinema, painting as well as sculpture, engraving, drawing, and architecture. The exhibition will also insist upon Eisenstein interest and yearning for popular cultures in an abolition of hierarchies which is representative of his associative logic.

Eisenstein, the theorist, reread the history of art by the light of the cinema. Indeed, the cinema does not so much represent for him a technical medium, but more the most elaborate response to primordial human needs. In this respect, the cinema enables him to rethink the whole of the history of art and world culture, which is translated in the exhibition by a gallery of paintings and of sculptures that he analyses in cinematographic terms and of which certain can also, later on, be interpreted through the prism of the cinema. The Eisensteinian history of art is therefore deliberately anachronistic and disorganised, open to non-western cultures.

With this exhibition, Centre Pompidou-Metz is proposing a rediscovery of the seventh art, through one of the most important figures of its history.
For the exhibition, the curators Ada Ackerman and Philippe-Alain Michaud and the set designer Jean- Julien Simonnot will explore specific exhibition conditions which will allow the organisation of and the confrontation of, fixed works and moving images and to present films in a form which is not reducible to a cinema theatre : monumental projections and analytical approaches with the help of slow-motion, loop extracts and frozen images.

In addition, whilst taking inspiration from the contemporary constructivist aesthetic of the artist, the layout and the hanging will follow fundamental principles of Eisenstein’s philosophy and practice, such as conflict-montage, collision-montage, ectasy, enabling the establishment of explosive and unexpected relationships between the images beyond hierarchies and classifications.

Ada Ackerman, Exhibition curator and Head of Research at the CNRS/THALIM, art historian, Eisenstein specialist
Philippe-Alain Michaud, Exhibition curator and curator at the Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Head of the Experimental cinema Department

Because of his constant dialogue with the arts, Eisenstein’s work lends itself admirably to the exhibition’s approach : firstly it allows the use of the sources which the film director himself used in each one of his films, borrowed from an extraordinarily vast historical and cultural range, stretching from antiquity to modern times and from the Orient to the West.

The exhibition then examines the effects of montage which Eisenstein developed in his cinema, based on the mode of collision. And finally, by moving the films within the space of the exhibition, to be in contact with other works and other mediums, we will explore a new regime of film visibility, notably with the assistance of analytical approaches enabling the exposition of iconographic circulations.

The layout of the exhibition, conceived according to a chronological and monographic plan, thus combines a didactic approach which will allow the visitor to discover the artistic sources of each one of the films, and an immersive approach which will invite him/her enter into a succession of spaces each one of which has its particularity, each work by the film director making use of a range of references and a specific style. Finally, the last section of the exhibition, reversing the approach, endeavours to show the manner in which Eisenstein, from the beginning of the 1930’s, uses the cinema, no longer just as an art, but also as a method and a theoretical instrument, which enabled him to analyse works from the past, architecture, drawing, painting or sculpture in cinematographical terms. He therefore renewed the means of analysis in use in art history.

Couverture du catalogue Sergueï EisensteinBy going back over the sources of artistic inspiration and the visionary character of Eisenstein’s work, it is a question of discovering or rediscovering a major figure of the seventh art and of world culture, a man considered las a Russian “Leonardo da Vinci”, who was the first to present himself as a film director in artist’s clothing. Eisenstein was at one and the same time a doer, an amateur, a collector, a commentator and an image editor. By making use of the vast range of references mobilised by Eisenstein in his work, the catalogue confronts fixed images and moving images, revealing in an exemplary manner the way in which a creator builds his images, at a time when the question of artistic genesis had become central.

320 pages
Language: French
Price: 49€
ISBN : 978-2-35983-059-0

Founding sponsor:

Logo Wendel


With the special sponsorship of

Logo Fondation Total


The exhibition benefits from an exceptional collaboration and loans from the Russian State Literary and Artistic archives (RGALI).


Exhibition created with the special collaboration of the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac
Logo Musée du Quai Branly