The West Bund Museum × the Centre Pompidou

A powerful encounter between The West and the East, the Old and the New is taking place in Shanghai, where the West Bund Group has joined hands with the Centre Pompidou for a five-year project from 2019 and 2024.

This initiative consists of different cultural programs, including more than 20 exhibitions and events both in Shanghai and Paris and will feature Centre Pompidou's collection as well as Chinese contemporary artworks. Moreover, Centre Pompidou will collaborate curating exhibitions and supporting art conservation, public education and cultural exchanges between China and France.

The new West Bund Museum, designed by the British architect David Chipperfield and completed at the end of 2018, covers 25,000 square meters, and will be the main venue for the Centre Pompidou Shanghai project.

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Main entrance of West Bund Museum, Shanghai. All imagaes ©︎ Enza Migliore

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Main hall of West Bund Museum, Shanghai

Two thematic exhibitions are currently inaugurating the project, “The Shape of Time” and “Observations”, both made up of a selection of major works from the collection of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, which comprises more than 100,000 works of art dating from 1905 to the present.

The choice of these two topics makes the visual narrative very powerful and relevant for a critical and fascinating recognition about the evolution of Art from the first decades of the 20th century until nowadays.

“The Shape of Time” deals with the artistic approach to the concept of time during the Modern and Post-Modern age and, in turn, it is divided into two parts, Volume 1 and 2.

The first section shows artworks on the basis of the idea of modernity, in the decades following the 1930s. The time of modernity is based on the accelerated rhythms of the industrial age.

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The Shape of Time, Vol. 1, Room1_ Modern Times: Art and the Industrial City in the Early 20th Century, West Bund Museum, Shanghai 2020.

Artists started to explore novel concepts and experiences, and to imagine other relationships between art and society. Disruption and experiment characterize a period of creativity that brought radical transformations in traditional artistic languages between the early 20th century and the 1960s. We can see some of the masterpieces of artists such as, among others, Picasso, Duchamp, Klee, Mirò, Giacometti, Brancusi, Kazuo. The thematic path through which they are presented is illuminating: they talk about Modern Times, Rhythm and Resonance, Archaic Dreams, Gestural Abstraction, Passages, Balancing Acts, Optical and Kinetic Art.

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The Shape of Time, Vol. 1, Room6_Balancing Acts: Inhabiting Space and Time, West Bund Museum, Shanghai 2020.

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The Shape of Time, Vol. 1, Room7_Eye and Body in Motion: Optical and Kinetic Art, West Bund Museum, Shanghai 2020.

The second section of Shape of Time focus on the turn of the 1970s when the utopian vision of continuous progress long promoted by the West is called into question. The modern Great Acceleration, the economic boom and the phenomenon of Globalization reached their climax during the 1980s and generated a situation of radical geopolitical transformations.

The notion of linear time was incapable to represent the complexity of the present and the advanced technologies provided art with new possibilities of expressions and “revolutions”, such as exploiting photography or video. Artists no longer limited themselves to particular forms or techniques and their works started to include, more and more, a manipulation of materials and space. This second part of the exhibition features works from the collection of the Centre Pompidou that trigger us to rethink our relationship to history through the reappropriation and reinvention of time. The narrative path continues in this section through other fascinating topics: Matter and Memory, Topographies, Exposure in the Age of Photography, Transitions in the Global Sphere.    

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The Shape of Time, Vol. 2, Room8_Matter and Memory: The Present of the Archive, West Bund Museum, Shanghai 2020.

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The Shape of Time, Vol. 2, Room11_Shifting States: Transitions in the Global Sphere, West Bund Museum, Shanghai 2020.

The other thematic exhibition is “Observations” which features 15 artists from the New Media collection, with works from the early days of video, at the turn of the 1970s, to contemporary experiments with digital imagery. This topic and the relative visual narrative are very relevant in the contemporary art’s discourse.  In fact, it deals with the “lenses” with which we look at and perceive the society and the ways the reality is represented. Observation has always been at the heart of the development of arts and sciences. In either domain, it consists in focusing the gaze to achieve an attentive perception of things in order to question not only the changes they undergo but also the development of the tools we study them with. In this exhibition artworks are presented which exploit different kind of “machines of vision”, such as camera, telescopes, microscopes, digital screens to discuss, investigate and show how they can influence our representations of the reality and contribute to cultures of observations.

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Mona Hatoum, Corps étranger, 1994, Video installation with cylindrical wooden structure, video projector and player, exhibited at Observations, West Bund Museum, Shanghai 2020.

Big changes in the representation of the reality started with the analogue camera lens through which we can select specific images, points of view and perspectives and decide where to focus the viewer’s attention. When these lenses began to invade both our private and public space, such as through the television and the camera networks monitoring people in the streets, a strong debate turned on and Art has been one of the main protagonists.

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Bruce Nauman, Mapping the Studio II with color shift, flip, flop&flip/flop(Fat Chance John Cage), 2001, exhibited at Observations, West Bund Museum, Shanghai 2020.

Another relevant shift in the field of representation has happened with the digital technology. We assisted to the transformation of images into codes and data visualization has become the new mainstream way we look at the reality, that is observing and analyzing it through the cloud of strings of coded data.

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Ryoji Ikeda, data.tron, 2007, exhibited at Observations, West Bund Museum, Shanghai 2020.

The entire project of collaboration between the Centre Pompidou and the West Bund Museum has been inaugurated with very powerful narrative choices, which, starting from a mainly European perspective, aim to blend the West and the East, the past and the present: aren’t, in fact, the conception of time and the exploitation of visual machines two concerns of artists all around the world and from the last century until today?


pwa