Art collections are the face of museums; how a permanent collection is presented speaks to the vision of the museum in the most elementary way. My interest in museum collections and how they are displayed took me to Paris, a city I love, where I was able to explore this confluence of display and institutional vision.
On view at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris (MaM) since summer of 2013 is a collection display that is divided into two separate sections: modern art and contemporary art. Jean-Christophe Paolini, registrar at the museum for many years, gave me an overview of the trajectory of the collection through time, and explained the thinking behind the display. Modern art is presented in thematic rooms dedicated to art movements, with some rooms focusing on a specific artist—Rouault, for example. The contemporary art section gives the visitor the opportunity to discover new additions through acquisitions or donations. The museum’s Christian Boltanski room has also been rethought. This powerful collection is all the more affecting in the context of the unique, historical building.
The Fondation Cartier pour L’Art Contemporain, which has now been supporting contemporary art for 30 years, celebrates its anniversary with a major exhibition of many works from the collection, offering a very rich image of the contemporary art scene over these past decades. I met with Grazia Quaroni, a curator at the Foundation for 20 years, who explained that the foundation relies on its many long-term relationships with the artists it commissions and supports, and noted what a wonderful opportunity the exhibit is for the artists (and the public) to revisit their earlier works. The Cartier Foundation is always very future-forward in its approach without neglecting the past. I can’t wait to see what new projects they’ll present in the future.
The history of modern art can be told in so many different ways, which makes it even more intriguing to me. Initially, chronological installations were the norm, but in the late 1990s The Museum of Modern Art and Tate Modern broke this rule by focusing more on thematic concerns. Centre Pompidou largely maintained the historical approach, but with Multiple Modernities, 1905–1970—an exhibition-manifesto that traces and rereads the museum’s rich collection with its striking variety—they are shaking things up. While chronology is still more or less respected, the catalogue essay of Catherine Grenier, who lead much of the exhibition research, offers a very interesting vision of how this exhibition-experiment is a critical deconstruction of the rules that used to be the canon and a critical reconstruction of the history of 20th-century modern. This multidisciplinary approach transcends borders, encompassing a great diversity of artistic expressions from all over the world. The traditionally Western-centric approach is being questioned, and major figures of art history seem to coexist with hundreds of artists that many of us have never heard of before.
The display is also unconventional; the dense installation juxtaposes paintings, drawings, sculptures, journal covers, photographs, architectural models, and design objects. Some rooms reminded me of cabinets of curiosities—for example, a chair placed upside-down on a wall. It poses questions and offers a new perspective, shedding light on artistic expressions and figures that have been marginalized, disregarded, unexplored, or only partially celebrated in specific parts of the world. It’s a vision that has more to do with exchanges than influences. It’s a synthesis of a broad range of artistic expressions, geographic borders, and thematic unities. Though I wonder if it might be difficult for the visitor—experienced or inexperienced—to grasp the idea behind it. Centre Pompidou highlights the entirety of its collection with a rereading of modernity between 1905 and 1970, suggesting a way to see things differently with the same eyes.
Paris, à très bientôt…