When Marcel Duchamp first encountered the simple shape of an airplane propeller in 1912, he famously declared, “painting is dead. Who could better this propeller?” Artists through the ages have deliberately stripped away colour and personal statement, down to the elementary form. Shapes are an illusion of permanence, a temporary stabilisation of energy and tension. If you’ve ever been mesmerised by the pattern of ripples on a pond or the perfection of a rainbow in a soap bubble, this exhibition at the Centre Pompidou-Metz extends an invitation to meditate on elemental shapes and the way we perceive the world around us.
Room after room they appear – the line that graduates into a circle, then a sphere, then a womb. The discerning curators of this exhibition have imaginatively pulled together references from every source into a gripping and elegant narrative. A sharp spearhead from 22,000BC stands in forensic dialogue with one of Lucio Fontana’s ‘cut’ canvases, looking as if it might have been used to make the incision.
Elsewhere, an industrial design, the impossibly elegant GE90 jet engine blade, shares pride of place with Constantin Brâncusi’s sculpted search for the “form that contains all forms”. One has a function, the other exists just for the sake of form.
Standing before Fabienne Verdier’s single weighted stroke of her giant brush, a homage to Rostropovich, the Russian cellist and conductor, on the day of his death, you can’t fail to wonder if there’s any other shape which could better express the first, slashing pang of loss.
The title of this exhibition is deceptive – there’s nothing simple about these forms.
Tip: Start on Level 2 and work your way down, to visit the Beacons exhibition of “masterpieces rarely shown… due to their monumental size” – a rare treat.
Simple Shapes, until November 5 at Centre Pompidou-Metz . Galerie 2, 1 parvis des Droits de l’Homme, 5700 Metz. Open daily 11am-6pm. Fridays until 8pm. Closed Tuesdays. Entry fee is €12. Tel: +33 3 87 15 39 39
From France Today magazine