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Prehistory, a modern riddle

Centre Georges Pompidou - Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, France
8 May 2019 - 16 September 2019
  • Prehistory, a modern riddle
  • Prehistory, a modern riddle
  • Prehistory, a modern riddle
Prehistory is a modern idea: the word itself does not settle until the 1860s.
The "prehistoric" reality is gradually built during the nineteenth century, as an inseparable block of facts, reflections and fantasies. We can distinguish three main stages: the awareness of the long life time, through the analysis of fossils (turning of the seventeenth and nineteenth century); the apprehension of a "prehistory" of human cultures, closely linked to the idea of an artistic activity (1860s); the specific recognition of parietal art (turning of the nineteenth and twentieth century). In the twentieth century, the impact of this vast body of images, hypotheses and speculations is immense, as much on collective imagination as on individual creation. The idea of "prehistory" deepens our imagination, upsets and opens abysses. In particular, "prehistoric" art, or at least what is designated as such, is not only an object of fascination but also a concrete model for artistic experiments of all kinds.
The aim of the exhibition is therefore to make artists, and society as a whole, feel attracted to fantasized "origins" in this great moment of crisis called "modernity". It reveals that some of the greatest artists of the twentieth and early twenty-first century have been haunted by the question of "prehistory": Picasso, Miré but also Cézanne, Klee, Giacometti, Ernst, Beuys, Klein, Dubuffet, Smithson, Penone etc.
At the same time, by presenting numerous documents, the exhibition shows that, for us, "prehistory" functions as a machine to stir time. The forces exercising it derive their fruitfulness from their very contradictions: the need for deconstruction and the need for refoundation; the way out of history and the dive into history; the dream of apocalyptic fulfillment and melancholy disillusionment.
The course offers a chronological progression, with a preamble dating back to the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century (Redon, Cézanne), a central core from the 1930s (Picasso, Miro, Giacometti, Ernst, etc.) in the late 1960s (Beuys, Smithson, etc.), and a contemporary conclusion. Within this progression, the reflection and the spectators' gaze are oriented on different themes, at the same time historical, anthropological and artistic. The whole is punctuated by the presentation of iconic works of the Paleolithic and Neolithic.
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