West Bund Museum


The Shape of Time

Highlights of the Centre Pompidou Collection, Vol.1

Time:  08/11/2019-09/05/2021

 Gallery 2&3, West Bund Museum 

Curator: Marcella Lista

The collection of the musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, comprises more than 100,000 works of art dating from 1905 to the present.


“The Shape of Time” is the first of three thematic selections of major works from that collection that are to be shown at the West Bund Museum over a period of five years.


In The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, George Kubler suggests that “the aim of the historian, regardless of his specialty in erudition, is to portray time”. Yet there is more than one way of representing time. The forms time takes are cultural, differing from one region of the globe to another and from one moment and circumstance to the next. The late 19th century saw the emergence in the West of the concept of modernity. The word itself derives from the Latin “modus”, meaning measure, mode or fashion, and designates, according to the poet Charles Baudelaire, “the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, which make up one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable”. 

Directly or indirectly, the time of modernity echoes the accelerated rhythms of the industrial age. It responds to fast shifts in social structures, by aspiring to explore novel concepts and experiences, and to imagine other relationships between art and society. It seeks to detach itself from history, to open up and inhabit a new space. Rupture, change and experiment thus characterize a period of creativity that brought about radical transformations in traditional artistic languages between the early 20th century and the 1960s.


The first section of the exhibition assembles artworks that built the core of the musée national d’art moderne's collection, on the basis of this idea of modernity, in the decades following its foundation in the 1930s. The focus is on the French scene, as cross-roads for many diasporas in the first half of the 20th century. 

The turn of the 1970s saw the utopian vision of continuous progress long promoted by the West called into question. The simplistic notion of linear time it presupposed seemed incapable of accounting for the complexities of the present. The accelerating geopolitical transformations of the 1980s, and the globalization that resulted from this, led to multiple conflicting historical narratives. The notion of postmodernity, which elicited much historiographical and philosophical debate, suggested that the illusion of a universal history was dead. Conceptual and post-Conceptual Art also reflected a critical response to the growing impact of the international art market. Text, photography, video, object and installation redefined artistic forms and their modes of response to the state of society. Artists no longer limited themselves to particular forms or techniques.


The second section of the exhibition features works from the collection of the musée national d’art moderne that prompt us to rethink our relationship to history through the reappropriation and reinvention of time. Artists turned to the archive, and to the time of nature, questioning the traditional medium of painting when confronted with photography’s chronicling of the present, and art’s capacity to give an account of an age of rapid, worldwide changes. 


Etel ADNAN, Bernd BECHTER, Hilla BECHTER, Elisabetta BENASSI, Joseph BEUYS, Christian BOLTANSKI, Constantin BRANCUSI, BRASSAÏ, Robert BREER, Daniel BUREN, CAI Guo-Qiang, Alexander CALDER, Marc CHAGALL, CHEN Zhen, DADAMAINO, Willem DE KOONING, Robert DELAUNAY, Sonia DELAUNAY, DING Yi, Marcel DUCHAMP, Raymond DUCHAMP-VILLON, Ayşe ERKMEN, Lucio FONTANA, Sam FRANCIS, Isa GENZKEN, Alberto GIACOMETTI, Natalia GONTCHAROVA, Hans HARTUNG, Susan HILLER, Roni HORN, Fabrice Hyber, Cristina IGLESIAS, Vasily KANDINSKY, Ellsworth KELLY, Paul KLEE, František KUPKA, Julio LE PARC, LEE Ufan, LEE Ungno, Fernand LEGER, LI Yongbin, Len LYE, Georges MATHIEU, MATTA, Norman MCLAREN, Annette MESSAGER, Henri MICHAUX, Joan MIRó, Joan MITCHELL, Vera MOLNAR, Piet MONDRIAN, François MORELLET, Malcolm MORLEY, Dudley MURPHY, Aurelie NEMOURS, Barnett NEWMAN, On KAWARA, Roman OPALKA, Jean PAINLEVÉ, Christodoulos PANAYIOTOU, Giuseppe PENONE, Pablo PICASSO, Sigmar POLKE, Jackson POLLOCK, Tobias REHBERGER, Gerhard RICHTER, Luigi RUSSOLO, Zineb SEDIRA, SHIRAGA Kazuo, Robert SMITHSON, Jesús Rafael SOTO, Pierre SOULAGES, TAKIS, Cy TWOMBLY, Victor VASARELY, ZAO Wou-Ki, ZHANG Huan