Pompidou celebrates show that started the ‘global’ trend

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The Paris museum marks the 25th anniversary of “Magiciens de la Terre” with a series of events

By Gareth Harris. Web only
Published online: 27 March 2014

Neil Dawson’s Globe, 1989, floating over the Centre Pompidou

The Centre Pompidou in Paris is launching a series of events and initiatives to mark the 25th anniversary of the exhibition “Magiciens de la Terre”, the show that is often credited as the first “global” art display.

The exhibition curated by Jean-Hubert Martin, jointly held at the Pompidou Centre and Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris in May 1989, included works by more than 100 artists such as Daniel Buren, Tony Cragg, Marina Abramovic and Nancy Spero.

But crucially, the curatorial team, which also included André Magnin, Mark Francis and Aline Luque, “sought to affirm the existence of artistic activity beyond the Western world”, said Martin (The Art Newspaper, September 2000). Half of the participating artists came from outside Europe and North America, and were described as “non-Western”.

Asian, African and Aboriginal artists participated, including Yang Jiechang, Seni Awa Camara and Jimmy Wululu. And Chinese avant-garde artists were shown in a major international exhibition for the first time since the end of the Cultural Revolution.

A symposium will be held at the Pompidou Centre on 27 and 28 March. Key speakers such as Martin himself and the art critic Daniel Soutif will asses the impact of the exhibition, focusing on the “questions raised by the geographical and aesthetic broadening of contemporary art beyond Western borders and canons,” say the organisers. The French minister of foreign affairs, Laurent Fabius, is due to attend on the second day.

The Centre Pompidou has also announced plans to hold a “summer university” on site at its Bibliothèque Kandinsky (2-10 July). Participants will be able to pore over the curators’ mission statements for “Magiciens de la Terre” and discuss the content of the show with some of the artists who were involved.

In addition, the exhibition’s extensive archives—comprising photographic documents, travel diaries, drawings, catalogues and films—will be presented in an exhibition organised by Didier Schulmann, the head of the Bibliothèque Kandinsky (2 July-8 September).

Collectors and curators, meanwhile, have had conflicting feelings about the show. In his 2006 publication, “Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction”, the UK academic Julian Stallabrass says that, “‘Magiciens de la Terre’ was criticised for exoticising Third World artists, an attitude expressed in its very title.” He acknowledges, however, that it was the first major exhibition “in a metropolitan art-world centre to show contemporary First World and Third World art together on an equal footing”.

The Turin-born collector Jean Pigozzi said: “By pure chance, I went to the exhibition in Paris on its closing day in 1989 and it was a revelation. I discovered all the African art—I had no idea they were doing painting and sculpture. So the day after I called the Beaubourg and said, ‘Can I buy it all?’ And they said, ‘No, the sponsor, Canal Plus, gets to keep it all, but you can meet [the co-curator] André Magnin” (The Art Newspaper, December 2007).

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