DREAMLANDS at the Pompidou

One of the most engaging shows this summer, Dreamlands recently opened at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The show considers, for the first time, the question of how World’s Fairs, international exhibitions and theme parks have influenced ideas and notions of the city. Duplicating and reduplicating reality through the creation of replicas, embracing an aesthetic of accumulation and collage that is often close to kitsch, these self-enclosed parallel worlds have frequently afforded inspiration to the artistic, architectural and urbanistic practices of the 20th century, and may even be said to have served as models for certain contemporary constructions.

This multidisciplinary exhibition brings together more than 300 works: modern and contemporary art, architecture, films and documents drawn from numerous public and private collections. Designed as an experience both playful and educational, it will offer the first comprehensive exploration of its theme, inviting visitors to think about how the city is imagined and how this imagination finds expression in concrete projects.

World’s Fairs, contemporary theme parks, the Las Vegas of the 1950s and 1960s, 21st century Dubai: all these have helped bring about a profound transformation in our relation to the world, our conceptions of geography, time and history, our ideas about the original and the reproduction, about art and non-art.

The dreamlands of the leisure society have shaped the imagination, nourishing both utopian dreams and artistic productions. But they have also become realities: the pastiche, the copy, the artificial and the fictive have become facts of the environment in which real life is led, and they serve as models for understanding and planning the urban fabric and its social life, blurring the boundaries between imagination and reality.

From Salvador Dali’s Dream of Venus pavilion for the New York World’s Fair of 1939 to such manifestoes as Venturi and Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas and Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York (which reads Manhattan through Coney Island’s Dreamland), the 16 sections of the exhibition will trace the history of a complex and problematic relationship.

Dreamlands continues until 9 August. www.centrepompidou.fr

Q&A with curators Quentin Bajac Curator at Musée National d’Art Moderne, Chief of Photograph Cabinet and Didier Ottinger Deputy Director of the Musée National d’Art Modern

How did you undertake the process of curating art with architecture and film?
As you know we have at the Pompidou a long tradition of ambitious multidisciplinary exhibitions, which mix all the different techniques, from architecture to painting, from photography to sculpture or installation works. Dreamlands definitely belongs to that tradition even if it is probably one of the exhibitions organized at the Pompidou in which the animated image (slideshows, film extracts, videos, digital imagery) is the more central.

How did this exhibition come about and why did you select the space of the Grande Gallerie? What are the highlights of the exhibition?
The fact that many contemporary artists (from Gursky to Pierre Huyghe, from Martin Parr to Mike Kelley), worked on subjects which were related to that topic (the influence of Pop culture and entertainment architecture on the urbanistic changes of the 20th and 21st centuries) was definitely important for us. We realised that these changes and these questions were central to works of artists from very different origins (Western, African, Asian) and of very different generations (from historical Pop artists (Ruscha, Leirneir) to very young ones (Liu Wei, Cao fei). The idea was to organize a show that would very closely (and we hope subtly) mix aesthetic and social issues. Some of the pieces included in the show (Malacchi Farrell, Mike Kelley, Pierre Huyghe, Kader Attia) are pieces that need space.The big gallery of the Pompidou, in which we usually organize these major thematical shows was therefore the obvious exhibition space.

What was your criterion for selecting which artists to include?
It is always, as in all exhibitions, a balance to find between of course the interest of the piece(s) we are showing and the way such piece(s) can interact with others. The exhibition is not only about showing interesting or thrilling or exciting isolated pieces but also about establishing links and relations between these pieces. In that respect we wanted to have as many different techniques and media as possible, in order to enhance the diversity and we hope the interest of the show.

Dreamlands explores ideas of escapism in theme parks, and in the 21st century we are now seeing unprecedented levels of escapism in the digital realm through programmes such as second life. How do you see the effects of these new developments evolving our notions of reality?
It is true that these new developments have had a big influence on our perception of reality and have tended to confuse the viewer. The exhibition, and I am especially thinking about one of the last room of the exhibition –the one devoted to Dubai- is also about that phenomenon; Dubai in recent years has based a lot of its communication campaigns on that impossibility of exactly knowing if the images they are proposing are real or fictitious. The use at the same time of real documentary images and digitally manipulated ones has been one of their key techniques of communication in recent years.

The city is often romanticised, on the other hand it often becomes grotesque – have you ever had your view of a certain place profoundly affected by an artwork pastiching it?
One of the things you can grasp by going round the exhibition is that you find, from one beginning of the century to another, from 1900 to 2000, always the same models which are copied over and over again. In that respect, there is a great stability of mythologies: Venice, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, Statue of Liberty etc. Does this phenomenon of reproduction affect in a positive or negative way the original – in other terms does it reinforces or exhausts the “aura” of the original to quote the expression used by Walter Benjamin in his texts from the thirties is a true question? The answer depends a lot on a personal experience and will probably differ from one individual to another just as the exhibition will probably affects in different ways the viewer: some will focus on the entertainment dimensions of these changes some will be probably be more conspicuous or even anxious about this phenomenon.

Manit Sriwanichpoom
Pink man in paradise : Sacré-cœur, 2002-2003
80cm x 120 cm
Galerie VU’, Paris
© Manit Sriwanichpoom / Galerie VU’ // © Manit Sriwanichpoom

Yiu Xiuzhen
Portable City, New York, 2003
Valise, vêtements usagés
90cm x 140 cm x 30cm
Courtesy Alexander Ochs galleries Berlin/Beijing
© Yin Xiuzhen

Olivio Barbieri
Site specific, Las Vegas, 2005
Film 35 mm sur DVD, sonore
12 min 30sec
Courtesy Olivo Barbieri, Brancolini Grimaldi Arte Contemporanea, Roma
© Olivo Barbieri