Views from above

ExhibitionsViews from above

From 17 May to 7 October 2013

Locations : Galerie 1 , Grande Nef
Category : Exhibitions
Public : All ages

Views from above considers how an elevated perspective, from the first aerial photographs of the mid-nineteenth century to the satellite images, has transformed artists' perception of the world.

Covering more than two thousand square metres, the exhibition gives us the power of Icarus and in some five hundred works (paintings, photographs, drawings, films, architecture models, installations, books and journals) offers a singular and spectacular view of modern and contemporary art.

There has been a considerable regain in interest in the aerial view over recent years. From the success of Yann Arthus-Bertrand's Earth From Above to the popularity of Google Earth, we are fascinated by this bird'seye view as much for the beauty of the landscapes it reveals as for the feeling of omnipotence it inspires.

The exhibition draws on this popularity to return to the origins of aerial photography and explore its impact on the work of artists and, consequently, the history of art.

When Nadar took his first aerial photographs from a hot-air balloon in the 1860s, he freed the gaze. To contemplate the world not at eye-level but from a flying machine was to destroy the perspective thinking of the Renaissance, based on the human scale. The moving, floating body is no longer the fixed point that conditions our vision of space. This new, panoramic view blurs landmarks and relief, slowly transforming the land into a flat surface whose visual reference points are no longer distinguishable one from the other.

Right up to today, artists, photographers, architects and film-makers have continued to explore the aesthetic and semantic implications of this displaced perspective. Now this fascinating journey is the subject of an unprecedented multidisciplinary exhibition.

The exhibition unfolds in eight themed sections – displacement, planimetrics, extension, detachment, domination, topography, urbanisation, supervision – that travel through the modern era, marked by two world wars. Innovative scenography takes visitors through time as well as space: little by little, the "view from above" rises from balcony level to a satellite.

Head Curator
Angela Lampe, Curator, National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou

Associate Curator
Alexandra Müller, Research and Exhibition Manager, Centre Pompidou-Metz

Associate Curator for contemporary art
Alexandre Quoi, Research and Exhibition Manager, Centre Pompidou-Metz

Associate Curator for Film
Teresa Castro, Senior Lecturer, Université Paris III

Associate Curator for Photography
Thierry Gervais, assistant professor, Ryerson University, Toronto

Associate Curator for Architecture
Aurélien Lemonier, Curator, National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou

The exhibition, in two parts, begins in the Grande Nef of Centre Pompidou-Metz with works spanning the period 1850 to 1945. It then rises to Galerie 1 with works produced since 1945. In the "historic" sections, contemporary works are included to create a counterpoint with older works.


The first photographs taken from a hot-air balloon - by Nadar in 1858-1868 in Paris, and by James Wallace Black in 1860 in Boston - broke with the central perspective inherited from the Renaissance. No longer confined to eye-level, the panoramic view discovered a seemingly flattened world. "The earth unfolds into an enormous, unbounded carpet with neither beginning nor end," wrote Nadar. Spectacular plunging views, made popular by the burgeoning illustrated press and the early cinema, were echoed by the increasingly elevated vantage point which impressionist painters chose for their depictions of urban scenes. Fascinated by the fast-developing world of aviation, cubist artists such as Picasso, Braque, Léger and Delaunay looked for ways to match this technological revolution by fragmenting conventional three-dimensional space.

With its tens of thousands of trench photographs, taken from a vertical perspective, as well as films and military maps, the First World War provided a fascinating iconography for avant-garde artists seeking to go beyond mimetic illusion. These aerial shots, whose linear structure had neither horizon nor scale, emerged at the same time as abstract painting both in England, in the work of vorticist painter Edward Wadsworth in particular, and in Russia where Kazimir Malevich invented suprematism in 1915. Under the impetus of the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy, among others, the celebrated Bauhaus school in Germany progressively opened up to modern technology after relocating in 1925 to the town of Dessau, home to the aircraft manufacturer Junkers.

Grande Nef LayoutEXTENSION
Inside an airplane, the field of vision is extended as the viewer becomes immersed in a vast space with multiple perspectives. László Moholy-Nagy referred to "a more complete space experience." Like fellow Hungarian Andor Weininger, he looked for ways to transcribe the effects of simultaneity into innovative stage designs. In a similar vein, the artist Herbert Bayer revolutionised the conventions of display by occupying gallery space from floor to ceiling. Members of the De Stijl group, led by Theo van Doesburg, did away with the fixed vanishing point and developed an expanding architecture that was rooted in axonometric drawing.

In the mid-1920s, László Moholy-Nagy laid the groundwork for a new aesthetic that would influence modernist photography throughout Europe. At the heart of this New Vision, which champions unexpected vantage points such as the high-angle view, lies a complex perception of the world. Sense of scale disappears, blurring the distinction between near and far; the world seen from above appears to recede from view. The act of seeing becomes a constructive process. As in Brecht's theory of distanciation, the spectator becomes aware of his power to determine perspective. Inspired by the energy and weightlessness of the modern age, photographers captured urban scenes - bridges, squares, railway lines - from high up, while introducing a dreamlike, even fantasy quality to their images.

The thrill and excitement of seeing the world from above procures a sense of power. Such an elevated view is ideally suited to the synchronised choreographies for which, in 1927, the German intellectual Siegfried Kracauer coined the notion of "mass ornament" with explicit reference to the aerial view. Set parallel to the rise of totalitarian ideologies, this domineering vision was adopted both by futurism's Aeropittura (aeropainting) and by Nazi propaganda films. At the same time, aerial views inspired Le Corbusier for his city plans for Rio de Janeiro and Algiers, both radical transformations of the existing landscape. In the United States, airborne photography and in particular that of Margaret Bourke- White became an effective tool for promoting an image of American supremacy in the pages of newly-launched magazines such as LIFE, which debuted in 1936.


Galerie 1 LayoutTOPOGRAPHY
As civil aviation developed after the war, airborne views of the landscape below became a rich source of inspiration for artists, particularly in the United States. Jackson Pollock's drippings were a first tipping point, following which maps provided a new model for abstract painting of the 1950s and 1960s. Since the 1920s, aerial archaeology had revealed sites which at ground-level remained hidden from view. It later provided a reference for land artists who, from the late 1960s, took art out into the open. They too made use of elevated perspectives when documenting their often fleeting interventions on the vast scale of nature. The same overhead view enabled architects and urban planners, such as Michel Desvigne or Frei Otto, to place their constructions within the perspective of their surroundings.

While the dynamic of the vertical city dominated the pre-war urban vision, come the 1960s the sprawling yet fragmented urban fabric which, like Los Angeles, was dissolving into a disembodied means of travelling from point A to point B had begun to intrigue artists such as Ed Ruscha. Their work sidestepped the visual codes of the - sublime yet fictional – synthesist representation of the modern city, instead inviting a more critical reading of the aerial approach. German photographer Wolfgang Tilmans leaves us to contemplate the now commonplace view from an airplane window. The view from above was also a means of revealing the inadequacies of urban modernisation and showing where the collective utopia had gone wrong, from high-density city centres to row upon row of identical housing.

Building on advances in space technology, surveillance is now the main application for aerial imagery. Modern military operations rely heavily on an automated, deindividualised power, illustrated by the recurrent use of drones. This panoptic supervision extends to the civilian world too, in the proliferation of city-centre CCTV but also through the launch, in 2005, of a readily available resource such as Google Earth which has inspired contemporary artists. On another level, aerial photography is a means of monitoring the planet's health and, for many contemporary photographers, a way to alert the population to environmental threats. Some, such as France's Yann Arthus-Bertrand, exploit the visual impact of these images; others such as the American Alex MacLean explore their capacity to reveal the landscape's underlying mechanisms.

The monumental work by Daniel Buren Écho d'échos: From Above, work in situ, 2011 is shown until the end of the exhibition Views from above.

Daniel Buren has created Écho d'échos: From Above, work in situ, 2011 for the terrace of Galery 1 as an extension of his exhibition Echos, work in situ, 2011, which was presented from May to September, 2011 in Galerie 3.

In Écho d'échos: From Above, work in situ, 2011, the mirror highlights and magnifies the architecture imagined by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines.

On the occasion of the exhibition, an exceptional order was commissioned to Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who has shot aerial views of the city of Metz and the metropolitan area of Metz Métropole. This project is funded by the Communauté d'Agglomération de Metz Métropole.

Logo Wendel Mécène fondateur


Logo CELCA    Logo Les Amis du Centre Pompidou-Metz

With the participation of Air France

Logo Air France

Supported by Gares & Connexions

Logo Gares & connexions

In media partnership with

Logo BFM TV  Logo Le Républicain Lorrain  Logo Radio France Culture

The exhibition Views from above is aided by the Metz support area (Zone de Soutien de Metz).

It is also supported by the National Institute of Geographic and Forest Information (Institut national de l’information géographique et forestière - IGN).

The exhibition Views from above has been realised in partnership with Établissement de communication et de production audiovisuelle de la défense (ECPAD).