Playing Truant

by Amanda Harding


Astonishing visit to the Centre Pompidou today. On lots of levels. First, the novelty of taking in an exhibit on a Wednesday morning mid-winter. I’m playing truant. There’s no one here.

These initial thoughts are quickly displaced by the pleasures, amazement and wonder at such extraordinary creation – more so when taken in side-by-side, jostling the senses for space, and then as I adjust, calmly welcoming me. I'm starting to get a better idea of what juxtaposition really means.

  Skunder Boghassian, 2010

Skunder Boghassian, 2010

Multiple Modernities – the Centre Pompidou’s relatively new hanging of its permanent collection up on the 5th floor – takes in a global perspective of 20th century art, giving a special place to women artists.  Lots of Russian and East European, lots of Latino artists, some Asian and an "modern" African room that left me speechless. Surprisingly little from the French – which must be a disappointment to the tourists. They need signposting to the Musée d’Orsay.

In every room artists are quoted on the clean white walls and occasional soundtracks accompany specific pieces. Mesmerizing.

As fascinating as ever is the people watching.

A young guide, of course pretty, blond, fluid and precise. Her public, none younger than 50 years and many a good few years older, are mostly women, grey-haired, ardent. They nod, take notes, remain highly focused. Her male admirers, less numerous but attentive to every gesture of our guide’s elegant hands pointing out the sensual bodies of the Blau Reiter, aglow when she makes a small grimace finding her words to describe this pre-war legacy.

And this is just the first room. We’re warming up!

Sonia Delaunay seen against Wassily Kandinsky. Colours startling. Lines defined. Semi-defined. Sparkling.

I'm surprised by a Man Ray in tapestry form only to be reassured by Chagall and Picasso familiar in their nudes, wedding finery, their fantasies, their dreams and their threats of horror.

  Section from triptych Red with Red, Bridget Riley, 2010

Section from triptych Red with Red, Bridget Riley, 2010

A floor down and it’s the contemporary pieces. These leave me baffled, looking at my watch eager to leave and breathe the cranky Parisien morning. Bridget Riley saves the day with a glorious piece bathed in sunlight far from her formal black, white and greys arranged in migraine enhancing perspective. Here she dances in exotic light pulling you in through her laughter and warmth. As Picasso and Matisse stand so brilliantly tall on the floor above, Riley and Rothko lead the way for younger generations who, despite their noise, remain timid, testing their voices, apparently impervious to their collective heritage.

I leave this now ageless wacky building heading for a café thoroughly energized and more committed than ever to enable the meeting of the playful and creative, the aesthetic and sensorially shocking with the genuine transformation of our global communities.