Preview: Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou

Works from some of the biggest names in modern art history are in Shanghai

Art exhibitions in Shanghai are on a roll. Fresh from the excitement of September’s (most successful ever) Photofairs, and a flurry of huge new openings, October sees the arrival of the world-renowned Centre Pompidou in Shanghai. The celebrated Parisian contemporary art museum will be showcasing a panorama of French modern art history to the Chinese public for the first time, in a spectacular display of some of the greatest names in art – from Picasso to Matisse.

If the mention of Picasso has you excited but you’re already starting to think of how to avoid the myriad questions that surround Matisse’s works, don’t panic. Marion Bertagna, the founder and director of MB Projects and the person in charge of introducing this exhibition to Shanghai, is passionate about bringing art to the masses, with as little pretense as possible.

‘The public in China are eager to learn, and this exhibition gives them a great opportunity to learn a lot about modern art,’ says Bertagna. ‘We want everybody to have the chance to benefit from it, and I truly believe everybody can get something from it. All of the pieces are masterpieces, but it’s like a great banquet. They are varied, joyful and rich, ranging from paintings to sculptures and installations – you might like some parts and not others, but that’s okay! This is not about showing people great art and saying “you must like this because it’s a Picasso” – it’s about giving people the platform to nurture their own artistic opinions.’

The showing of Centre Pompidou in Shanghai takes the form of 71 works of art in France spanning from 1906-1977, with 1906 marking the advent of Fauvism – the first modern art movement of the twentieth-century – and 1977 as the year the Centre Pompidou in Paris opened to the public. Describing the curatorial concept as a ‘playful game’, Bertagna explains that the open scenography of the exhibition enables the viewer to always see several works at once: ‘Creating the visual idea of time and the interconnection and evolution of the art works is very important. We want the visitors to be able to keep making links between the works, whether they are personal, visual or historical.’

If so much iconic art in one room still feels a bit overwhelming, each work comes complete with an explanation of varying length. ‘We want to show that an artist is not an individual unit working by his or herself, but part of a network of art history. It isn’t only artists – the exhibition shows the influence of a host of creative people from writers and architects to musicians and dancers. In China, we often hear people refer to artists as “da shi” [master] – we always hear visitors at museums looking at art and saying “da shi da shi!” The public idolises the works of these masters of their crafts, but we want to demonstrate that when they created these artworks, they were not “da shis”. Many of them had very tough lives. We want to make the artists feel accessible to visitors, connecting with the general public, and not just people who think they already know art.'

Having worked at the Centre Pompidou in Paris over 10 years ago, Bertagna is familiar with big, innovative shows, and previously co-curated the exhibition Alors, la Chine?, one of the first major displays of Chinese contemporary art in Europe. ‘Alors, la Chine? was in 2003 and no one in Paris at the time knew anything about Chinese contemporary art; we were introducing something completely new. In this way, it is comparable to showing Masterpieces of the Centre Pompidou in Shanghai, because a lot of artists will be very new to the Chinese public. There’s the same type of “never-seen-before” excitement.’

When asked what Bertagna ultimately hopes to achieve by bringing Centre Pompidou to Shanghai, her idealistic answer comes across in a determined tone. ‘I hope people are moved by this. I want to make more people feel excited about looking at art. Everybody has access and can experience something – I want everyone to feel something.’

Bertagna’s must-sees

art picasso

Picasso Although Spanish-born, Picasso spent most of his adult life in France, and was kind of a big deal. In his own words: ‘My mother said to me, “If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.” Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.’

Matisse Responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture, Matisse is regarded as one of the founding fathers of French contemporary art.

Duchamp Perhaps one of the most unique pieces of the exhibition, Duchamp’s Roue de bicyclette is essential art history viewing.

Piano & Rogers Architects Piano & Rogers designed the Centre Pompidou as relative unknowns, and the winners of an open call competition. Often dubbed ‘the ugliest building in Paris’, you can decide for yourself by checking out the model of the building at the end of the exhibition (pictured top).

Fernand Léger Fernand Léger’s illustration of Paul Eluard’s wartime poem ‘Liberté, J’écris Ton Nom’ (‘Liberty, I Write Your Name’) was hung on the façade of the Centre Pompidou after the Paris attacks of November 2015, serving as a wonderful example of strength in the face of great adversity.


Masterpieces From the Centre Pompidou is at Shanghai Exhibition Center until Sunday 15 January. Tickets are 150RMB.