In the summer of 1977 before going up to Cambridge I hitch-hiked around Europe with a pal from school. A compulsory stop-off point was Paris and I remember doing all the things that arty students would do in those days: wandering through Pere Lachaise cemetery to look at Jim Morrison`s grave, eking out a rudimentary dinner in a seedy Montmartre bistro, admiring the mime artists performing in front of the Centre Pompidou. This seminal piece of modernist architecture had just been opened and whilst many derided its exposed skeleton of brightly coloured tubes we thought it was the quintessence of Cool.
During that visit I don`t think we actually visited the Musee National d`Art Moderne which had been moved there. So it was with a feeling of mingled anticipation and sentimentality for a distant youth that I visited The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum`s new exhibition "Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou: Timeline 1906-1977" www.tobikan.jp/en/exhibition/h28_pompidou.html
This innovative exhibition brilliantly combines works from the more established names of 20th Century Art - Picasso, Matisse, Bonnard, Braque, Chagall, Giacometti - with carefully curated works from lesser known figures in art, sculpture, photography and film, such as Jean Pougny, Maurice de Vlaminck, Robert Delaunay. This period included a veritable cascade of different `isms` in painting genres - fauvism, cubism, surrealism, expressionism, photorealism, etc but the power of this show is its diversity and inclusivity, with no one genre dominating.
The show spans a seventy-one year period encompassing two World Wars. Beginning in 1906, it follows a simple year by year chronology with each year featuring an artist (with accompanying picture and quotation) alongside one of their works from that year. There are of course some marvellous famous works such as Matisse`s `Red Room` and Picasso`s `La Muse`. But equally absorbing are pieces from artists you perhaps have never heard of before. By featuring them alongside their more famous cousins and embedding them in this sweeping historical overview they take on a resonance and power all of their own. And in case you are pining for the atmosphere of the streets of Paris, there is Edith Piaf (1946) singing `La Vie en Rose` and Henri Cartier-Bresson`s gelatin print of `Behind the Gare Saint Lazaire` (1958).
There are some enthralling works. Otto Freundlich`s `My Red Heaven` above - Freundlich was a German painter and political activist of Jewish origin. He spent time in Paris alongside Picasso and Braque and was featured in the infamous Nazi `Degenerate Art` exhibition after which most of the works were destroyed. In and out of captivity in occupied France he was eventually denounced and deported to Madjanek Concentration Camp where he was summarily murdered upon arrival.
Then there there are the vibrant colours of Seraphine Louis, a French worker of the humblest of origins who painted mostly in secret by candlelight and was only `discovered` late in life. `Tree of paradise` has the same emotional intensity and primitivism as aboriginal paintings.
This cemetery looks like a photograph, but it is in fact a huge painting, the oil paint applied with uncanny smoothness to achieve an otherworldly sense of place. The artist is someone I had not previously encountered, the hyperrealist Jean Olivier Hucleux. I am a big fan of the photorealist style and aspire to this in some of my own work. The rendering of the shroud-like cover over the grave is exquisitely done and had me spellbound for some time.
I will leave you with this landscape by Maurice de Vlaminck with its Cezanne-like brushwork and brooding intensity. Actually the reason I choose this was I like the quotation that accompanied the piece:
"I simply considered that by giving me the joy of work and freedom, painting let me live the way I intended to". Bravo!
NB This exhibition has only just opened and will be showing until September 22nd in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum which is based in Ueno Park in the centre of Tokyo.