World Beat

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2005, 12:00am

What's going on around the globe

There's something both pompous and endearing about an exhibition that tries to sum up all of last century's art in a single space, as does the Pompidou Centre's Big Bang: Destruction and Creation in the Twentieth Century.

Covering 45,000sqft, the show ranges from Sex and War to Archaism and Subversion. The notes for a room devoted to art in white reads: 'Both empty and full, both a fundamental starting point and a space for the sublime, white indicates a threshold, a limit, a beginning, or an end.'

Then comes a room devoted to marriage. 'Sublime, touching or subversive, the figure of the bride conveys sentimental, political and sometimes mythical connotations.'

There's a lot to be said for the Pompidou Centre's attempt to help us understand the cultural phenomena of the 20th century thematically rather than chronologically. Relying mainly on its permanent collection, it has put on a show as entertaining and breathtaking as it is ambitious.

The exhibition starts with Destruction. The first image is Duueh, Daniel Richter's painting of human forms in freefall. This is followed by representations of the disenchanted or disfigured body: a triptych from Francis Bacon, a Pablo Picasso of women on a beach and Willem de Kooning's The Clamdigger.

On entering Big Bang, the piercing sound of a bell is heard. It turns out to be caused by Dennis Oppenheim's Attempt to Raise Hell, a puppet that every so often bangs his metal head against a suspended bell - perhaps an apt metaphor not only for the last century, but also the human condition. The sound is sharp enough to carry to many parts of the exhibition.

Entire rooms are devoted to single concepts, such as the Grid (watch out for the Piet Mondrians) or the Monochrome (Yves Klein's large, blue canvas almost gives off electricity), Pleating (which features Issey Miyake's clothing) and the Wild Eye (works of art that represent a radical re-beginning through 'animality, spontaneity and brutality').

And there's the Compulsion room. On one wall is a collection ranging from skulls to Joan Miro and Vassily Kandinsky paintings that once filled the two-room Paris studio of Andre Breton, one of the founders of Surrealism. Breton had 'an irresistible need to possess'. Opposite is Christian Boltanski's Archives (1965-88), a wall of 646 rusty biscuit tins containing 1,200 of his photos and 800 documents.

And on we go, through Uncanniness, Melancholy, Disappearance, Nostalgia, the Geometric, the Horizontal. Some visitors, understandably, find the vast exhibition exhausting.

So much at Big Bang disturbs, but the exhibition ends on a note of hope. Shown for the fist time at the Pompidou, Bill Viola's Five Angels for the Millennium (2001) is a video and sound installation with five mural projections, each capturing surfaces of water that become more and more turbulent until a human figure suddenly explodes from within, then disappears after a few seconds. All this takes place to what sounds like rolls of thunder interspersed with the soothing chirp of crickets.

Watching and listening, one is filled with dread of what may come, but also of a hope that this millennium will, for all its inevitable suffering, bring rebirth, that propensity of mankind to work wonders of art seemingly touched by the hands of angels.