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5 mai 2014 1 05 /05 /mai /2014 22:28



First of all, I would really like to thank Lucy Steeds and George Clark for their kind invitation to present and discuss the Magiciens de la terre at the Tate Modern. I was the curator for films at the Pompidou center between the inauguration of the institution in 1977 and 2003.

When the Pompidou Center was inaugurated in 1977, the spaces of the Museum received the equipment of a film theater, in the middle of the display of the permanent collections ; it was a tiny theater with 50 seats but it worked every day and offered two different  screenings per day : a first one at 3 pm, dedicated to documentary films on art,  and the evening screening at 7pm dedicated to experimental cinema and films made by artists. The theater was called « Anémic Cinéma », an homage paid to Marcel Duchamp’s film dated 1926 but the common name remained  Cinéma du Musée.  Mrs Gisèle Breteau curated the documentaries on art and I was the curator for experimental and artists’ films. These two filmic categories were exclusive since 80’s. Several years before the opening of the Pompidou, since the early 1970’s the National museum of modern art  had begun to purchase film prints, documentary footage on art and films made by artists. But this material was considered as pedagogic, a material for the visit. At this time, audiovisual media (cinema, video, slide shows) were integrating new museums and specially contemporary art museums, but nobody thought that they could be considered as art works, and that they needed care, like the others artworks. 

Experimental cinema came later, at the moment of the inauguration of the Center Pompidou. The director of the museum, the Swedish Pontus Hulten, who had been before the director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, friend of man independent filmmakers, asked his friend, Peter Kubelka, filmmaker and director of the Filmmuseum in Vienna, to conceive a large film program on Independent cinema, called Une Histoire du cinema. It contained no less than 300 films, from the very beginning of cinema until the 1970s, coming from different countries. Kubelka succeeded in convincing Hulten to purchase the films from this show for the museum permanent collections. It was the very beginning of the film collections. But I am not really sure if it was not already clear in Hulten’s mind to pursue the collections with new acquisitions, a conservation policy after Une histoire du cinema

The daily programming in the Cinéma du Musée released Une histoire du cinéma during several months. It was a great success, just as the opening of the Pompidou, which was hugely successful. This anthology of films was a discovery and formative for a generation of artists. After this opening season, the film program showed alternatively special events with invitations of filmmakers and the presentation of these permanent collections. At this time, many filmmakers were touring and it was easy to share travel expenses (specially when they came from the US, with other European institutions: Paul Sharits, Robert Breer, …).  But the screenings of the permanent collections progressively run out of steam. The law of events is implacable!  Rapidly, we felt the necessity to organize film programs related to exhibitions. This provided us with new perspectives for themes and we hoped to catch new audiences, specially the one coming for the exhibitions. For exhibitions such as Paris-Moscou (1979) or  Paris-Paris  (1981), important film programs were held. In 1987, the exhibition  Sur le passage de quelques personnes … dedicated to the Situationist International gave the opportunity to do a large presentation on different revolutionary movements of the 1950’s which had used cinema :  Cobra, lettrism, Internationale lettriste (Letterist International), Surréalistes révolutionnaires, International situationists. In such cases, the films were a second proposal of the exhibition

 In 1979, the Dali show recreated a screening room inside the show, to present Un chien andalou, by Bunuel and Dali. It was a première. And, simultaneously, the Cinema du Musée showed a film program with many others titles.  In 1981, we repeated the experience with Jackson Pollock’s show.  Hans Namuth’s film was screened inside the show and besides, there was a film program. But different new steps were passed over. As cinema was never discussed in the catalogue of the exhibitions, we did a specific publication for cinema (see « Cinema in the age of Pollock »). P. Adams Sitney, s famous American film theorist wrote the text and a delicate layout gave the shape of a “tire à part”.  The second step was to mix different genres for a contextual cycle : Hollywood feature films of the 1950’s as Howard Hawks’ films for example  with American  avant-garde artists as Peterson or Harry Smith.  We repeated the editorial experience did for Pollock, later with tributes to independent filmmakers such as Ernie Gehr, Warren Sonbert or Arthur and Corinne Cantrills, as it was still impossible to publish books or catalogues.  The film program for Magiciens was conceived at this stage.  One year after Magiciens, for the Andy Warhol show, we organized a major films retrospective with the new restorations of the MoMA of Andy Warhol’s films and we got the possibilityfor the first time  to publish a book dedicated to Warhol’s cinema. But it was a conjonctural success. We had to wait until the mid 1990’s to be able to publish regularly books on cinema accompanying the program.  I collaborated three times with Mark Francis : for Sur le passage de quelques personnes (I.S)  on 1987, for Magiciens de la terre in 1989 and for Les années Pop in 2002. 13 years between both dates.  If we compare the situation in terms of cinema, it was radically different. In the case of Magiciens, this program was the sole document. There was no film inside the exhibition. In the case of Les années Pop, cinema played an important role inside the publication. Meanwhile, the film department had its own autonomy inside the museum organization and the films got the status of works of art (1992).

Films got a status of artworks and only since 1992, they got right to conservative care. Concerning specific exhibitions on cinema, I had unfortunately too rare experiences : Maurice Lemaitre in 1996, Len Lye in 2000, Michael Snow in 2002.

In 1989 the period was not really good for films, with little economic resources. So, I must say, I was really surprised when I received a mail from Lucy in August 2013, paying attention to the programme. Even though it is evident that the exhibition will remain in the history of globalization of art despite all the debates and contradictory comments about it (picture 7) , I could not imagine that this film programme could be a matter of study 25 years later! 

The exhibition introduced a new typology of events proposed by the Pompidou.  Its purpose was to confront occidental art and non occidental art (picture 8), introducing sometimes votive art, religious practices, or voodoo rites .  This exhibition wanted to push forth the frontiers of contemporary art. The Death of art did not imply the end of art  in the mind of those who conceived the exhibition but a reconsideration of what  is art to-day.  The project wanted to overcome an ethnocentric view based on the notion of progress.  Interpretations about the evolution of humanity placed the occidental civilization at the topmost point of progress. Theories about evolutionism excluded anything that was impossible to classify  in termes of progress. (This was the subject of a lecture entitled “Critiques, critères, comparaisons” during the Magiciens colloquium held in 1989).  From the historical point of view, we were in a key moment, with the communist block falling down (the Berlin wall) and the Chinese students demonstrating in Tien an Men Square, in Beijing. The old world, a heritage of the Second World War, was stumbling. This exhibition presented the situation of a new world. The end of the cold war was revealing what we called until then the “third world”“ as the new leading area: what we refer to today as “ merging countries” (picture 10). This exhibition was not an exhibition on a theoretical level, but it wanted to put face to face a wide range of arts coming from different parts of the world. Martin bet on the “irreductibility of the works against dogmatisms. His statement was to confront, to let the works do their job. There was no comparatism in the purpose of Magiciens de la terre ; there is a great difference if compared with the New York Museum of Modern art In New York Primitivism and XX century which took place in 1982. Magiciens de la terrewas not drawn in an historical perspective, with the history of cubism and its relations to primitivism, as it is generally done. The exhibition vindicated contemporary creation.  In his statements, Martin took away any art terminology (opting for Magicians) but this notion of magic can be discussed and refused; for example Marcel Mauss in his Traité général de magie, explained that when two civilizations are in contact, magic is attributed to the weakest one; this means that the term results from a colonialist situation of domination.  The artist Hans Haacke also criticized the name of magic. The curators refuted also notions such as “quality”, preferring the “aura”, or the metaphysical content, for example. Many works were made in-situ, and had a temporary life. The notion of the perennisation of art is a western concept ignored by many other cultures.

In his refusal of categories, Martin opted for a blend between art and anthropology; (picture 11) this idea, together with certain areas of non western art was paradigmatic to devise a film program. All the filmic categories were represented: from conventional feature films (Teshigahara Femme de sable or Pasolini’s Medea) to experimental cinema, ethnographic cinema, or documentary films.  In a sense, our own experience for promoting marginal cinema (experimental cinema, artists’ films, documentaries on art) and giving those works “on the fringes” a place in the museum institution (against mainstream cinema) could be related to the purpose of Cultural studies developments ; i. e Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall (Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies) focused on studying working class culture. Stuart considered  the global and the local as two contradictory movements of the CapitalWe shared a similar purpose in a sense : the ethnicity could deal with the Beat movement for example, or underground movies as manifestations of dominated cultures. So for us, Magiciens offered an opportunity to open up frontiers and to expand our own research activity.

The Visual anthropology initiated by Marcel Griaule or Gregory Bateson crossed art and anthropology. Two major figures were represented : Maya Deren, an American experimental artist who went to Haiti to shoot Voodoo rites and Jean Rouch with the Dogons Culture in Africa. The famous film made by Marc Allégret and André Gide: Voyage au Congo, dated 1927, is related to a trip in Africa. Allegret was really sensitive to the men and women he met; and he shot them in their daily life, in their houses… which showed a real fascination for their habits, dances and rites... The Dziga Vertov’s  La Sixième partie du monde is a manifest against capitalism and its effects on colonized countries. It explores the ethnic diversity of the Soviet Union, with the purpose of constructing a Socialist country. An accurate analysis of colonialism but history will demonstrate us that Stalin will re consider that !. Jean Rouch, fellow of anthropologists Marcel Griaule and Marcel Mauss, made his first films on the Dogons’ Culture in Mali : Le cimetière dans la falaise dated 1951 and Les Maitres fous dated  1954. Rouch was a very interesting figure as he did very early a cinematic hybridisation between anthropology and fiction. The David Byrne’s Ile Ayé was another type of hybridisation between music and religious rites from Brazil (Candomble). We presented also films made by artists (of the exhibition), as Abramovic, Wodiszko, Kirkeby, Boltanski or Claes Oldenburg; for these last two ones, we had considered their performances as “proto shamanic” evens. Hiroshi Teshigahara created for the exhibition, in the Top floor of the Pompidou building, a Bamboo Corridor, an immersive piece which evoked the practice of Ikebana, flower arrangements, at which he was a master. Teshigahara was a complete artist, using different media, and a filmmaker too. His La Femme des sables won the Jury prize in Cannes Festival in 1964. 

Lucy Steeds in her book noted that the film programming privileged the western point on view over other cultures and ignored “important examples of non-western filmmaking”. Her analysis is absolutely right. I will add that we were in a historical perspective about crossing cultures and not presenting as for the exhibition, a contemporary situation. The reason is simple. We did not have the opportunity to travel and visit filmmakers or videographers throughout the world to be able to offer a real panorama of contemporary film works equivalent to the works inside the exhibition. It would have been a second project with important costs. Secondly, in 1989, access to films and archives was difficult; it required going where they were. Today with the Internet the situation would be very different.


Last, some words about the film you are waiting for: Les statues meurent aussi by Alain Resnais , Chris Marker and Ghislain Cloquet. It was made in 1952-53. One of the first short films by Resnais before Nuit et brouillard. The artistic advisor is Charles Ratton. Charles Ratton was a collector and a seller of tribal art in Paris. He organized in 1935 the first African art exhibition in the MoMA in NY, African Negro Art. Next year, he organized a very famous exhibition of surrealist objects, after having met André Breton, Paul Eluard and other surrealist fellows. After the WWII, he met Jean Dubuffet and was involved in the adventure of the Compagnie de l’art brut, for the defense of outsider art, with Breton, Dubuffet, and the critic Michel Tapié.  Many of the works that we see in the film are coming from Ratton’s collection.  The film is really engaged ideologically, against our interpretation about African art, against the esthetization of objects which belong to other civilizations. The text opposed the vitality, the signification of these objects and  the vacuum of objects produced by capitalism. The film adopts a political  anti-colonialist statement and refused our aesthetic interpretation which kills these  statues.  In conclusion, I am not absolutely sure the film is a “Defense and illustration” of Magiciens de la terre.

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