What's on in Paris in Spring 2001
Les Années POP
Until 18th June 2001

Centre Pompidou Paris
19, rue Beaubourg, Place Georges Pompidou, Paris 4th
Level 6, gallery 1

RER: Châtelet/Les Halles
Metro: Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville
Phone 01 44 78 12 33

Open: every day 11:00 to 21:00 (tickets until 20:00)
Thursdays until 23:00

Closed Tuesdays & 1st May

Price: 50 Francs, 7.63 Euros (museum + exhibitions)


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The extraordinary vitality of the sixties, it's imprint on the modern way of life in many areas – visual arts, architecture, design, music and cinema – is put together in the exhibition of 500 Pop art creations of the swinging early sixties in the Pompidou Center. The exhibition spans the period between 1956 to 1968 from the first pop art exhibition in London called "This is Tomorrow" until the years of social protests in Europe and the USA. Visual artists from three countries are the most creative of the epoch: France (with Arman, Christo, Tinguel, César, Niki St. Phalle, Yves Klein, Jacques Monory, Gérard Deschamps), USA (with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Dick Tracy, Tom Wesselmann, James Rosenquist, and others who were more of a neo-dada inspiration such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Robert Indiana and Larry Rivers), and Britain (such as David Hockney, Peter Blake, Allen Jones and Archigram). In addition, architects are represented (e.g. Smithson, who designed the "The House of the Future", Cedric Price, Walter Jonas and Joan Littlewood), as well as fashion designers who were part of this art movement (Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, Yves Saint Laurent and Mary Quant). There are also allusions to two famous Pop Art venues: Warhol's "Factory" and Claus Oldenberg's "The Store", as well as films of the epoch such as the "Vinyl" of Warhol. And music is everywhere (by John Cage, La Monte Young or Pierre Henry, and rock/pop with Jefferson Airplane, the Mamas and Papas, Beach Boys, Lou Reed, and of course the most popular of all, the Beatles).
Allow yourself extra time to also see the wonderful museum of Modern Art on the fourth floor.

POP Art and the Swinging 60's

Whether you are a sixties teenager or a youngster today, this exhibition takes you back to the days when the youth became the kings of the western hemisphere, whose favor many an industrial giant coveted and whose creativity fascinated and may I say changed the world, or at least the western world.

But if you come from another planet and happen to land on Earth finding John Chamberlain's "Hillbilly Galoot", a 1960's sculpture that looks like the carcass of a wrecked car, or Arman's 1961 "Chopin's Waterloo", you may think that you are in front of the wreckage of a spaceship belonging to an advanced civilization that made an emergency landing on Earth.

You could also be forgiven for thinking that this is what's remained of a huge party after the teenagers had left the scene to the cleaners, especially when you hold your breath in front of Arman's 1962 "Les Halles garbage" fearing to catch one of those Egyptian Pyramid viruses. But since you have a sense of humor and an open mind, you'll survive.

You need to try going back to the days when man was preparing to walk on the moon and the whole planet was plunged in science-fiction, then you'll see what inspired the aerodynamic designs made out of hard plastic, painted in primary colors perhaps to hide the unseemly man-made materials. Or what inspired the fashion designers of the epoch, with dresses inlaid with mirrors to reflect the sun rays of outer space, or the large astronaut sunglasses worn by the film stars of the epoch.

This space-age atmosphere was accompanied by another phenomenon: the capablity to reproduce and mass-produce everything, e.g. music on hard plastic records that propelled young musicians to stardom thanks to young fans who had just managed to free themselves from parental dictatorship through a job market that employed even the 16-year-olds. Combine the emancipation of the youth and their awakening to life that is conveyed by music or films and you get the powerful impact of a joyful revolution – a "joie de vivre" that was also expressed in the vivid colors that were associated with this age. Yet this "beat" generation was also characterized by a shallowness, a craving for material possessions, an absence of any spiritual dimension, a provocative and insolent pride that accompanied this youthful movement and that at the end of the sixties reverted into a questioning introspection of the hippies, transcendental meditation, the "peace and love" motto, the psychedelic mood and color, that is in almost exact opposition to the "mass-everything" civilization.

History seems to be punctuated by a series of "serendipitous events", where unbelievably remote phenomena seem to come together and form a harmonious, easily indentifiable whole; the diverse parts of the puzzle fit so well together as if intentionally thought out. The major event holds within its moving machinery even contradictory trends – an example of this is the opposite interpretation of Pop Art by American artists who are more a witness to their age as opposed to the Europeans who are critical of what they call the "consumer society".

It may be fashionable to say that "content is king", but I prefer what the late François Miterrand said: "event is king" (don't see any political message in this; ALP is neither right, left, north or south). What makes human beings swim in the same direction like a shoal of fish is what is so impacting about an event. And the sixties was a gigantic event that shaped our lives and influenced our thinking and way of life; it introduced a whole new mind set, even if in a naive way.

The Pop art movement was a part of this event with visionaries such as Warhol who grasped before others its diverse facets and expressed it with great charismatic power. Some followed the ideas expressed in a book by Walter Benjamin (The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction), where the uniqueness of an original work of art – what he termed its "aura" – disappears in a consumer age. There are those who followed the intellectual manifesto so well summarized in Richard Hamilton's description of Pop art: "Pop art is popular (for the masses), temporary (a short-term solution), replaceable (easily forgotten), cheap, produced in series, young, funny, sexy, clever, spectacular and very lucrative." In other words it is the antithesis of "fine art". A friend at the time explained that "fine art is for the rich and pop art is for everybody else." I hope that by this she didn't mean that what we mere mortals deserve is the "super-realistic garbage creations" to which I am personally allergic.

I prefer the phrase written on the wall in the beginning of the exhibition cited from Fernand Leger: "Our eyes, closed for centuries to real, realistic beauty, to the objective phenomena that surround us, start opening; something is finishing and something else is beginning."

Art Lovers' Paris

May/June, 2001