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                                                                                                                                              14 July 2005 , 480478  visitors        

Big Bang - Destruction and Creation in 20th Century Art

I HAVE just returned from Paris, where, at the Centre Pompidou, I saw this large exhibition.

Here is an earlier quote on "Destruction" from the Dada Manifesto, which Commissaire General Catherine Grenier uses in the catalogue to the exhibition.

" ' Let each man proclaim there is a great negative work on destruction to be accomplished.'

"This exhortation, made in the 'Dada Manifesto 1918' read by Tristan Tzara, on March 23, 1918 in Zurich, gives a good idea of the atmosphere presiding over modernity's beginnings.

"Destroy the old world in order to reconstruct a new, modern world!

"Depose old mankind in order to move towards a new one!

"Dismantle the academy in order to institute a new state of mind!

"Such was the programme proposed by modern art, a programme that placed the ideas of destruction at the very heart of the redefinition of art.

"And this redefinition has continued to be effective throughout the century, and through into the present."

In the forward to the catalogue, Brune Racine, president of the Pompidou Centre, writes:

"For the first time, the Centre Pompidou is presenting its collections based on a thematic, interdisciplinary approach, rather than in chronological order.

"The 'Big Bang' exhibition has been built around modern and contemporary art works and freely combines fine arts, photography, cinema, video, architecture, design and literature, juxtaposing works and trends from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day.

" 'Big Bang' is an entirely novel experiment, setting aside for a time the principle of presenting art works in terms of artistic movements or focussing on a single artist, while at the same time confining the works to a single floor of the Museum.

"This change of approach is based on a theme which is critical to understanding art since the beginning of the 20th century: the modern 'Big Bang'. By demanding radical liberation and shattering established values, modern art produced a kind of creative destructiveness.

"It wiped the slate completely clean, initially in the form of a profound crises in representation, manifested by the deconstruction of forms by the Cubists, distortion by the Dadaists.

"The art scene became a testing ground where all kinds of theories and all kinds of demands were expressed. Released from the weighty burden of History and the constraints of the academic approach to art, the artists of the 20th century introduced a rich and entirely new way of perceiving the world around them which has had a profound and irreversible influence on our contemporary consciousness.

"This new approach to structuring the collection has been based on the idea of a continuous expansion of forms and creative forces emanating from the destruction of an original centre. It is structured around eight sections, attitudes or areas of investigation which take us to the very heart of the artists' experiments: Destruction, Construction/Deconstruction, Archaism, Sex, War, Subversion, Meloncholy and Re-enchantment. This exhibition highlights the close link between DESTRUCTION and CREATION, shining an entirely new light on the cultural and artistic phenomena of the 20th century and providing a means to understanding the impulses and processes which lie behind the works."

The Visit

No sooner than V.P. Vasuhan and I entered the "Disillusioned Body" section than there was a chap wiping up all the be-splattered blood on the floor. Was this an artwork, jokes, a nosebleed victim, a murder? We never found out.

It was soon forgotten, however, on confronting Willem De Kooning's sculpture, The Clamdigger (1972), a most powerful work. Nearby, there was a Francis Bacon triptych, on the right of which a reclining body had the tortured face and body of an automobile pulling itself together by all its spare parts. Also, in Destruction-Creativity the Jackson Pollock looked quite sweet.

And, the Georg Baselitz (1965), which had huge ears, looked quite normal to me because I was so busy looking at the quality of the paintwork.

"In another room I could relish Anthropometric de L'epoque Bleue, of Yves Klein with fond memories not perhaps of the original Paris show which was rolled in paint to music in 1960 but the Ekate (Cyprus Chamber of Fine Arts) celebration of French art at our own Melina Mercouri Hall (1997) in which V. Poobalasingham Vasuhan participated by painting a tribute to this work plus one to Braque and Kandinsky. However, Andy Warhol's ten silk screens of Liz Taylor said nothing in comparison to how the actress looks now.

In the Construction/Deconstruction section a giggling group of women watched Marie Ange Guilleminot's "Mes Poupes" (1993) video (slackness) of someone fiddling with her plasticine what-not and, regrettably, ignoring Claus Oldenburg's wonderful Ghost Drum Set (1972), which was nearby Arman's initriguing "Chopin's Waterloo" (1961)

In Primitivisms /Archaismes (Regression Section) the 1979 Philip Guston 'Ravine' whose soldiers' boots were wedged in mountain clinker, somehow connected with our own 1974.

For those waiting for next year's Nicosia Manifest, it's worth taking a look at Hans Hollein's Formation urbaine au-dessus de Vienne, (1960).

We left almost being engulfed by Cesar's Espansion 14 (1970), surging towards us like a melted Tsunami which suggested ominously and convincingly that destruction and creation are one and the same thing.

Africa Remix - Contemporary Art of a Continent

THE head curator of this brilliant exhibition, also at the Centre Pompidou, Simon Njam, comments that Africa Remix has two aims: to highlight the issues of African creativity and to sweep away a series of preconceived ideas and myths about Africa, and, it is the first time that an event on this scale has been devoted to Africa as a whole, not only to the darkest aspects of its history, but also to its geographic and historical context.

More than 200 works by around one hundred artists who use a wide variety of means of expression: painting, drawing, sculpture, assembly, installation art, photography, video, design, fashion, music, literature. A manificent revelation, indeed.

It continues at Centre Pompidou until August 8, 2005, then moves to the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, April -June 2006.

Here are some of the perceptive comments made by some of the artists.

Willie Bester

The sculptures are created from the detritus of the apartheid years, culled from scrapyards, police armouries, hospitals and hardware stores. He believes that democracy and peace in any country can only be achieved if everybody is included in the negotiations. His work stands as a memorial to all those who were and are left behind and whose voices will never be heard.

Abdoulaye Konate

These seven figures embroidered on fabric illustrate the seven forms of modern initiation. At the bottom of each picture we find symbols relating to Dogan cosmogeny. The last one illustrates an initiation that is still being practised, linked with death.

Antonio Ole

One of the long-term projects of Antonio Ole is a series of 'photo walls", featuring facades of huts and dwellings in Angolian townships, images of decay, destruction and war, but also of the will to survive, they speak of the past, present and future of Angola. The theme is continued in his installations of township walls, assembled from locally found objects. The materials for Townshipwall No 10, made especially for this exhibition, were collected in Dusseldorf.

Romuald Hazoume

I made my first masques bidon ('jerry-can masks') from plastic canisters in 1987/88. Traditionally such masks are made of wood. I wondered whether these masks would be acceptable to the secret societies. I was afraid. So i visited two voodoo priests. They said: 'Nothing will happen if you explain why you did this thing.' Then I said, 'The Europeans have taken away all our masks, and they still want more. In return they have left us waste. I saw the opportunity to recycle the rubbish as mask, and so send it back, so that our old masks may stay with.

Samuel Fosso

I tell stories. A little bit of history. The village chiefs, not to mention African kings - many of them have centuries on their conscience. They sold the lives of their people for a handful of pearls or a few small conch shells. To other Africans, to Westerners, to Arabs.

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