The Fondation Louis Vuitton is currently host to the first ever comprehensive exhibition to present The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa)’s unparalleled collection in France. Including a diverse selection of 200 works drawn from all six of the Museum’s curatorial departments, Etre moderne: Le MoMA à Paris aims to celebrate both modern art and specifically the institution.
The exhibition, which fills the entire foundation, was specifically conceived in relation to the architecture and interior spaces of the Frank Gehry-designed building, allowing a compelling historical narrative across its four floors. Co-curated by the two institutions, the event successfully traces the evolution and the multifaceted scope of MoMa’s collection.
Arguably one of the most exciting aspects of the exhibition is that it allows for masterpieces to be shown in an entirely fresh and refreshing context. “From iconic works by artists such as Cézanne to contemporary works by designers such as Shigetaka Kurita, the exhibition exemplifies how MoMA’s collection has shaped the public’s definition of modern art and continues to challenge our interpretation of it.” Quentin Bajac (The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography at MoMA) tells us below. Plus, this event is made all the more special by the fact that it will include numerous pieces that have never before been exhibited in Paris such as Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, Diane Arbus’s Identical Twins and Romare Bearden’s Patchwork Quilt.
Here, we speak to curator Bajac about how the collaboration came together and the process behind the installations.
Thalia Chin: This exhibition is being held as a celebration of MoMa’s history, exhibiting never before seen archive work, can you tell me a bit about the decision to hold this exhibition in Paris as apposed to in New York?
Quentin Bajac: I think it’s good from time to time to be able to send MoMa’s pieces outside of New York. We have a lot of people coming to us but it’s sometimes good to be able to go to the people, not everyone has the opportunity to come to our New York space. This is the first time we have done it on such a large scale and not just a large scale in terms of building, because we have here probably 35,000 square feet of exhibition, but also in terms of diversity. In terms of paintings and culture of course, but also film, design, photography and it was really important for us to show that diversity. And why Paris? First there is a strong relationship between Paris and New York, two cities that are always fascinated by each other, and also between France and MoMa because at the beginning MoMa was very French. There’s that very French, European tropism in modern art and we receive a lot of French tourists. The French are probably the most represented amongst our visitors, so there’s that strong history.
Thalia: What do you think showing the art works here in Paris does contextually?
Quentin: Seeing the collection in this new context in a building which is so different from the MoMa building is also a kind of discovery because you see things that you did not notice before. You are able to present and display works in a very different context for example the Janet Cardiff piece which is the sound installation in gallery ten. That is something, because of the ceiling heights, we would not be able to do at MoMa so I think it has never been presented that well with such a great a crisp sound.
Thalia: During the selection of the art works displayed here, how much did the architecture of this building effect that process?
Quentin: Well it effected a few galleries and that’s where gallery ten is such a good example because it’s so specific. One of the rules that we wanted to stick to was not to add too many walls to this Frank Gehry architecture. We wanted the exhibition to take into account this architecture and to say we are not at MoMa. So we did not want to add too many walls, we didn’t want to build squarer rooms within the high ceilings of the gallery. Again gallery ten is a very good example, we thought a lot about it, we thought about having a really sculptural thing, something that would really take up the space but then slowly we came to the decision to instead have a sound piece in there and to leave the architecture highlighting the piece. Same for gallery eight which is a strange open space because the ceiling is open, so this is why we decided to have the Roman Ondak participative piece Measuring the Universe because we thought that that was the perfect piece. So yeah the building had influence on the way we organised some galleries.
Thalia: And the exhibition runs chronologically throughout the entire building. Was it always a clear aim for you to have the exhibition run chronologically?
Quentin: Yes, right from the start we knew that we wanted to follow the chronology and to follow the whole chronology, we did not want to have an exhibition only about the modern part of the of the collection. It was very important for us to go from post-impressionism to very recent and contemporary works. In fact when you go to level two you will see that you have very recent works that were done in 2015 and 2016 by younger artists and by a younger generation. So it was very important for us to show that the MoMa still has that very dynamic acquisition program and policy and that it is still a living organism that keeps changing and is in constant evolution.
Thalia: A lot of pieces that will be exhibited are incredibly iconic pieces of their time, for example the images of Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie and Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup. When placed together, what sort of picture are you trying to portray or what dialogue do you hope to encourage?
Quentin: For example at the beginning you have the two masterpieces, one of which is Cézanne’s The Bather which is the first thing you see when you arrive, which is in fact the first thing you see when you walk into the MoMa. Here I wanted it to dialogue with Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse because Picasso knew Cézanne and Boy Leading a Horse is a sort of echo of Cézanne’s Bather. I wanted to create a dialogue between very iconic works and some lesser known materials, for example, in that first gallery it was very important for me to have all different departments and techniques represented. We wanted to have iconic works but we also wanted visitors who would know the collection quite well to have some surprises, the vernacular photos, the emojis, the video games.
“We wanted to have iconic works but we also wanted visitors who would know the collection quite well to have some surprises, the vernacular photos, the emojis, the video games.”
Thalia: As the Curator of Photography at MoMa, have you enjoyed working across alternative mediums or is your work heavily integrated already?
Quentin: Yes it has been great but it is also true that it is an evolution. In fact we are more and more – and when I saw we I mean MoMa curators – moving towards an interdisciplinary direction. I mean we are not completely getting rid of the departments but it is true that we have more and more curators from different departments working together on shows that are truly cross-disciplinary. In the future, when we re-open in 2019, we will move in that direction, still having some medium specific galleries but having much more dialogue between the departments.
Thalia: This must be a great opportunity to try out seeing things in different contexts.
Quentin: Yes! And it opens so many new perspectives and so many new directions and so many new possibilities which is really exciting.
Thalia: Is there a section or period in time in the exhibition that you are most excited about?
Quentin: In terms of installation, I love the Art into Action section. I think there is a great mix there, Bruce Nauman next to the Line of Kazinski and Yvonne Rainer. I also love the ground level very much, I like the indirect dialogue between Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin and Walt Disney, which were actually collected at the very same time at the museum. I also love the analogue versus digital room with The News Stand and the video games and the emojis and all the flickering screens. I think you feel like you’re entering a new century and a new modern.
Etre moderne: Le MoMA à Paris runs at Foundation Luis Vuitton until 5th March 2018.