Emma Lavigne, vibrant and convinced, look at eastern!

Portrait d'Emma Lavigne © Manuel Braun

Claude Cahun, André Breton et Jacqueline Lamba with reflection, 1935

Nic Aluf, Sophie Taeuber-Arp avec tête Dada, Zurich, 1920

Lucia Moholy Double portrait of Theo and Nelly van Doesburg septembre 1921

Dorothea Tanning et Max Ernst avec sa sculpture, Capricorn, 1947

Frida Kahlo, "The Frame" ("Le cadre", Portrait de l'artiste, Autoretrato (Autoportrait), 1938

Marianne Von Werefkin Tragische Stimmung 1910

Centre Pompidou Metz

Portrait d'Emma Lavigne © Manuel Braun
Claude Cahun, André Breton et Jacqueline Lamba with reflection, 1935
Nic Aluf, Sophie Taeuber-Arp avec tête Dada, Zurich, 1920
Lucia Moholy Double portrait of Theo and Nelly van Doesburg septembre 1921
Dorothea Tanning et Max Ernst avec sa sculpture, Capricorn, 1947
Frida Kahlo, "The Frame" ("Le cadre", Portrait de l'artiste, Autoretrato (Autoportrait), 1938
Marianne Von Werefkin Tragische Stimmung 1910
Centre Pompidou Metz

A library that runs the walls, a suitcase, a table where Gutaï cohabits with the catalogue of Floating worlds his latest creation for Lyon, Emma Lavigne seen in the morning on the platform of the Eastern station has decided to play the Lorraine card by settling in Metz where her children are attending school. The clear gaze and the radiogenic voice, she is inhabited by what carries her. His agile and rigorous thinking takes you right away. She received us in the middle of her big project “Couples modernes” which opens on April 28th, while the exceptional attendance rate of the Centre Pompidou lorrain signs a real success.

“To work in an immediate anchorage and social reality and to make the Pompidou centre shine in the heart of Europe in this enlarged territory of the Great East”.

1. What was at stake when you arrived at the head of this elegant ship in December 2015 and how do you measure its impact?

I hoped that this place, which had aroused much desire and curiosity through the remarkable exhibitions organized by Laurent Le Bon and the team, would become a place of life, a place where people feel at home.

If the Pompidou Paris centre was envisaged by Pontus Hultén as a village (“an art centre where life was to explode”), I wanted to be able to express this desire here. I really think it’s coming true.

In terms of distribution 75% of our visitors come from France, 14% from Paris and 59% from Lorraine and the Grand Est region even if the Alsatians are still far away in terms of accessibility. We are still trying to raise awareness among young people, free up to the age of 26, which is worth highlighting.

We have managed to institute a program where “something always happens” to use John Cage’s words: opening of an exhibition, concert…, pluridisciplinarity being at the heart of my project. For example, on Saturday 24 March we organised a colour ceremony with Dorothée Selz and Antoni Miralda in the form of a great shared snack which was a real success throughout the weekend.

I wanted this anchoring on the territory transmitted in the programming through subjects imagined for the specificity of Metz and the region.

As soon as I arrived, we wanted to tell this shared story of a territory that was in turn French or German, Saarland having only been reincorporated into Germany in 1959, through the exhibition “Entre deux horizons”.

I met my counterpart from the Saarlandmuseum, and spontaneously proposed to him on the occasion of the work undertaken in his museum, to tell this story that is so important here, from the life of its collections, at a critical time when the National Front had made 32% in the 1st round of regional elections. “Between two horizons” was exciting in this dialogue activated with Germany through the artists.

We also worked with the specificity of the territory, as on the occasion of the Fernand Léger exhibition as part of the 40th anniversary of the Centre Pompidou, benefiting from exceptional loans, based on the artist’s phrase: “beauty is everywhere”. It was not simple, in the present period when the notion of beauty has almost become a pernicious term.

Together with the Commissioner, we wanted to promote Fernand Léger’s humanism and his ideas on the democratisation of culture. Values that drive me in the work I do here. We gave a particular resonance to the project deployed in the radiant city imagined by Le Corbusier in Briey 30 mns from Metz, intertwining the two artists around polychromy thought as a desire to transfigure reality, under the title “Le Corbusier et Léger.Visions polychromes”.

I also organized, as curator, the exhibition “Infinite Garden”, a subject on which I had been working for a long time through experimental projects with Céleste Boursier-Mougenot for example for the Biennale de Venise (French Pavilion, revolutions), around these questions of life that fascinate me, also present around the projects carried out with Pierre Huyghe (2014 Centre Pompidou Paris).

This project in Metz has taken its full place with this very avant-garde ecological awareness through the action of Jean-Marie Pelt, first deputy mayor, who has saved many green spaces in and around the city.

There are also remarkable gardens throughout Lorraine. We have initiated dialogues with these places, initiating a partnership with the Nancy Botanical Garden.

Also, with Japan-ness, a real challenge, based on the architecture of Shigeru Ban and a great Japanese season including a large live show, it made sense very close to Nancy, where by the contribution of Japaneseism, Art Nouveau was born. Even if we evoked a very contemporary field we wanted to show that this land had welcomed very early as well the flowers imported from Japan as the textiles, the prints…

Without forgetting, of course, this European soil, designed here by Robert Schuman.

We have thus launched a programme that starts with Mudam and Luxembourg, “Est Express”. We also work with Switzerland through the loan of works, Belgium where our exhibition Fernand Léger travelled and the opening of Kanal Pompidou which opens new perspectives.

In terms of attendance figures, even if we must always be cautious, we have achieved a very good year with 14% more visitors, or 346 000 visitors for a city of 120 000 inhabitants, which is a good result.

While I am very happy with this large number of visitors, I am also happy with more invisible initiatives such as this programme launched in 2017 “The art of sharing” with 31 associations in the area in charge of a very precarious public (refugees, underprivileged environments, suffering adolescents, situations of disability.). It has developed a lot with local authorities and a patron who now supports us. We are in very qualitative proposals more invisible but just as important for us.

We also have a specificity in our institution. 30% of our visitors come from the social class of employee-workers, which is a lot compared to 12% of the national level. For example, 18% of the Louvre Lens population is in this area, where many have come to work in steel factories, in a region that has also suffered.

It is an immense satisfaction to think that the rather sharp, sometimes even radical and violent programming attracts people, whether with Jardin Infini and Dark Ecology, or very themed with Fernand Léger.

The gap between the public who attend more classical or more experimental exhibitions is narrowing.

This fundamental work undertaken with the people of the region, the partnerships woven with local structures and cultural institutions, sometimes simplified compared to Paris, is essential to my eyes and has led us to magnificent collaborations. For example with Petter Jacobson and Thomas Caley of the Centre Chorégraphique “Ballets de Lorraine” in Nancy from whom I commissioned a choreographic creation as part of the exhibition “Oskar Schlemmer, l’homme qui danse” in 2016.

This now allows us to be an associate artist, that is to say for 3 years to think about artist projects as with Saburo Teshigawara that we invited as part of the Japanese season in partnership with the Arsenal. “Les Ballets de Lorraine” offered him a 3-week workshop with the students to create a work that is now in the Ballets repertoire.

For me this is rooted in things that are perhaps less visible around great figures of architecture, contemporary art, performance and giving meaning to a first anchorage, even if there is still much to do and without any form of triumphalism.

Working with the social reality is a strong motivation that I impel with all the team, with Agathe Bataille in particular who comes from the Centquatre, and in the continuity of my experience at the Cité de la musique in the 19th.

We know what it means to go after people on the other side of the ring road!

  • The same as with Elles@Centre Pompidou Paris, which gave voice to women artists,”Modern couples” extends this reflection through the games of love and shared everyday life.

Let’s look back at the genesis of such a project in partnership with the Barbican, which this year celebrates the centenary of British women’s right to vote.

When I arrived at the Centre Pompidou Paris in 2008, I had already worked as associate curator with Camille Morineau on Elles with a surprise reaction at first being more in charge of contemporary art, even if the project proved to be a real critical tool for art history.

Generate awareness of our purchasing policy for the collection and the number of female artists exhibited in our galleries and also note that many contemporary female artists remained little purchased or exhibited even if they are numerous to leave art schools and have a real talent.

This project proved to be a kind of self-criticism of the institution in relation to questions that concern all museums with this statement by the guerilla girls: “Do you have to be naked to be a woman and be exhibited in a museum? ». And why only 8% are.

This exhibition has given rise to numerous debates around the issue of women’s confinement in feminism-related exhibitions, with these great figures linked to abstraction who do not want to be put in this box.

My research around the notion of the couple had already begun at the Cité de la musique and in Canada (Musée des Beaux Arts) around Yoko Ono and John Lennon, in this dialogue of extremes. An English artist who meets a Japanese artist and comes up against the notion of racism, amplified by the fact that two opposing fields suddenly interact. With on one side the popular pop world and on the other, the world of fluxus, conceptual art. This osmosis of opposites fascinated me and I also participated in the exhibition of the MAC de Lyon Yoko Ono, Lumière de l’aube.

It is fascinating to see how much in our cultural understanding we separate things, men and women, geographical origins and origins, Western and non-Western, high and low culture, scholarly and popular music, etc., and how much we separate them.

This couple was exciting in the way they made their shared intimacy a place of artistic and musical creation, a place of very strong political stand, like their marriage in Gibraltar which became a high-profile event for peace. Symbolically, it is also the place where Europe comes closer to Africa.

Before starting this famous Bed-In around which I organized an exhibition in Montreal on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the event. A true performance of extremely articulated conceptual art that took up the codes of pacifist resistance of all civil rights movements, a strong dialogue that nourishes their work together to break still very rigid borders.

What interests me in my research are these phenomena of porosity, in music and contemporary art, what can and cannot be heard, how two fields enter into porosity and create a new one. “Dancing her life” with Christine Macel was of this order, “Infinite Garden” also.

” Modern couples” also stems from this idea, even if it is not a question of limiting and restricting what the intrinsically individual creation of the artist can represent but of seeing how a porosity can invite itself within the framework of a loving creation.

How this idea of sharing something essential to his intimate life can generate an incredible energy like the movement of radionism with Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Gonchavora behind this manifesto: “Why we paint ourselves” and both go down the street with our faces painted. Would they have done it alone?

As if creativity could be intensified by a strong trigger, this meeting of a soul mate, without romantic drift, which does not exclude tensions.

Given the situation of women still imprisoned in the shackles of the legislation of the time and victims of the war, the couple also paradoxically becomes an opportunity to create, to try to have a room of their own as Virginia Wolf said.

What is shocking are those great figures like Josef Albers, who recognizes how Anni his wife inspired them when they fled Germany to arrive at Black Mountain College. Anni practiced weaving in the workshop of the Bahaus, weaving then becoming as with the Arps, a way to go beyond the bourgeois dimension of the easel painting, and even if Josef appreciates this medium, in our collections Anni is totally absent, unlike her husband.

We are fortunate to have a work by Washington in the exhibition and soon an exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

If we take another case, even if it is difficult to circumscribe, with 40 couples presented and 200 listed in the catalogue designed as a dictionary of the state of research yet to be conducted, the Blaue Reiter is a movement from which women are totally excluded.

We have planned a room around Murnau with Von Jawlensky and his wife Marianne von Werefkin, a great Russian artist close to Kandinsky, around the Spiritual in art, a sort of tutelary figure who conceives of love as the order of sacrifice, totally unknown.

The sacrifice as with Alma and Gustave Mahler or Kandinski and Gabriele Munter. These stories form a kind of continuity of Elles insofar as the couple was a form of matrix but a complex matrix where the contribution of women is often passed over in silence notably by their spouses, which is a terrible form of violence.

We know, for example, that Raoul Haussman encouraged Hannah Höch, the only woman from Dada Berlin, to exhibit at the Dada Mass, even though at the same time he made her a new woman who would embody total freedom of morals, outside the norms of society, while he was married and father of a child. It became the spearhead of avant-garde concerns.

It is all these ambivalences that we wanted to put forward. It was not only the question of gender that interested us as with the exhibition “Female-male, the sex of art” that opened the way in 1995 but these processes of creation and this moment specific to each couple.

We also have a room around Max Ernst and Leonora Carrington who take refuge in Saint Martin d’Ardèche, just before the internment at Camp des Milles, with all the Leonora library nourished by this imagination that she brings to Ernst.

To take the artist out of this solitude is to re-read the history of modernity from a more intimate angle, sometimes just through a more modest trace, like this little sculpture that links Marcel Duchamp to Maria Martins, a woman married to a Brazilian diplomat ambassador, his great love when he declared that he did not want to embarrass himself with the servitudes of life as a couple. More secret stories, sometimes in poliamour with couples, trouples.

The Barbican will resume the exhibition that they will develop and it interested me to have a number of English artists in the course as Eileen Gray, Eileen Agar, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, the Blomsburry Group, the Temple of Friendship with Romaine Brook, Natalie Clifford Barney, these eccentrics settled in France who also broadened the notion of couple to a great freedom of thought.

In this straitjacket context the couple can be a creative, malleable, transformable cell, a chimera at times that can lead to destruction.

3. If you had a dream… for the Centre Pompidou Metz or elsewhere?

I think I am lucky enough to be able to give reality to subjects that have sometimes been with me for a very long time, which is quite fantastic with this profession.

When I arrived here I also launched a project that I would like to be able to pursue despite all the political context of populist tension in some countries, around this idea of the Mitteleuropa as a model of pre-war Central Europe. A place where a relative rise of regionalism and multiculturalism coexisted in good understanding. This reflexion project seems to me urgent, as recent events have shown, to reinvent this European idea, to go even further than these two horizons, to envisage the other also as a space of possible porosity.

This is a major project that we hope to achieve by 2020-21.

Concretely with the Brexit deadline we measure what will change in our way of working with English institutions or certain tensions in museums in Poland or Hungary.

For the Centre Pompidou Metz my dream would be that this process of cultural democratisation would continue and go even further to reach more people for whom art is synonymous with moments of escape, contemplation and dream.

And even if these themes can be taboo forms in art criticism, I work for people first and not for a few happy fews!


The Adventure of Colour. Key works of the Centre Pompidou,

until 27 July 2018

Coming soon: Modern couples

from 28 April to 20 August 2018

In London, Modern couples, from 10 October 2018 to 27 January 2019, will coincide with the centenary of the right to vote
British women and will be one of the major components of the Barbican Centre season, London, The Art
of Change.


Marie-Elisabeth de La Fresnaye

After training in literature and art history, Marie de la Fresnaye entered the art market in Drouot and embarked on events. In parallel to several years in business in the field of editorial commun...

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