The Shape of Time opens this week at the new Centre Pompidou x West Bund Museum Project in Shanghai (until May 2021), organised by Marcella Lista, chief curator of the new media collection at the National Museum of Modern Art-Centre Pompidou. François Morellet, 4 double trames (1958) © Adagp, Paris Photo © G. Meguerditchian Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP
This deceptively simple arrangement of rigorous straight lines echoes the visual vocabulary of ancient Islamic architecture. “The various layers, and the different juxtapositions, create various optical effects from circles to stars,” Lista explains, outlining how the geometric structures within the work causes optical phenomena to pop up in the viewers field of vision. In 2009, Morellet wrote in the Tate magazine that a major shock “came from the abstract Islamic networks of lines and repetitive pattern all over the walls of the Alhambra Palace in Granada on my fist visit in 1952”.
Zhang Huan, Family Tree (2000). © D.R., Centre Pompidou
Shanghai-based Zhang Huan made a number of radical, significant body performances in the 1990s in Beijing; Lista stresses that this turn-of-the-century piece documented in nine photographs was a turning point. Zhang asked three calligraphers to write his biography on his face, gradually subsuming his facial features, making him morph into an unsettling, rather ghostly figure. “These different layers of his history make it [the face] completely unreadable,” Lista says. In 1998, the artist declared that: “I cannot say what I am. My identity has vanished.”
Etel Adnan, Untitled (1960)
“Adnan started to work on painting in 1960s, creating leporellos [book-format works with folded pages]. It is an extraordinary composition that is not just painting but writing. It is a very intimate language that you can unfold; it occupies the space,” Lista says. Adnan, who was born in Beirut in 1925, was until a few years ago primarily known for her writing (her 1977 novel Sitt Marie-Rosewon the France-Pays Arabes award). Her contribution to Documenta13 in Kassel in 2012 made her an art world star, bringing her small, abstract canvases to new, appreciative audiences. Adnan creates works in a sma
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