Enfin le cinéma

Enfin le cinéma! (Musée d Orsay)

Over the past few years, together with Camille Blot-Wellens and Benoit Turquety, I have been member of the advisory board of the exhibition Enfin le cinéma! at Musée d Orsay in Paris, still on show until 16 January 2022. Our close collaboration with the curatorial team, composed of Dominique Païni, main curator, and Paul Perrin and Marie Robert on behalf of the museum, has resulted in an innovative, multilayered exhibition. When in 2009, I co-organised the exploratory workshop Intermedialities: Theory, History, Practice of the European Science Foundation, we asked ourselves: how does intermediality operate in practice? Antonio Somaini already then proposed to look at exhibitions, such as the exhibition The Gift which he had co-curated in 2001. I was captured and introduced a course Crossmedial Exhibitions in our master Comparative Arts & Media Studies, which after years is still a draw. Somaini, by the way, curated in 2020 an intriguing exhibition, The Time Machine – Cinematic Temporalities, which I missed because of Covid and work (it closed halfway its run, and before that I had teaching obligations). I do have the wonderful catalogue, though, which by the way Somaini immediately and generously made open access when the plague started early 2020. And within my exhibition course, Païni’s exhibition Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences, which I saw at the Centre Pompidou in 2001, remains a point of reference, but so does it for me personally. It is possible to combine cinema and art in intelligent but also appealing ways, which challenge both the museum and the audience to open up, draw new inter-relations between space and object and between objects & other objects, discover unknown art works and re-discover objects we thought we knew.

Exactly this was my sensation when viewing the exhibition Enfin le cinéma!. Of course we had several brainstorms, for which the insights, knowledge and suggestions by the advisors were taken at heart, partly similar to an experience I previously had with the making of the 2016 Alma-Tadema exhibition at the Fries Museum Leeuwarden (even if there I was co-curator, after having being in the advisory board). We departed from a vast territory, gradually the focus became sharper, the framework smaller: France and in particular Paris as the city of spectacle, movement in time & space, light & darkness (including the figural dark sides of the city), the expression of the immaterial in motion (wind, smoke, etc.), a time span between the start of photography and the earliest films, and a certain Lumière-like perspective. And then, at a given moment the curatorial team goes its own way, makes its selection from the bigger picture and the suggestions of the advisors. Sure, even if the space is big and we are at the museum of the 19th century, you cannot do a Salon-style exhibition, filling it up to rim. And lo and behold, when I saw the finished exhibition for the first time, just before the official opening, I did recognize themes and objects we had talked about but I was equally surprised and enchanted by the richness, the colourfulness, the variation and alternation of means (call it multimodality), the sizes, and the interrelations between objects, between objects and spaces, and between motion and stillness. Many of the suggestions Valentine Robert and I had given for the history section were taken up, with the film clips resonating with the paintings, but also with each other, confirming the recycling of sets at Lumière, but also enabling to compare four different versions of Les dernières cartouches. The basis for them, De Neuville’s painting, was prominently displayed left of them, and in-between several examples of the second lives of the painting were also expressed in postcards, a lantern slide, cigarette paper, and a huge poster for a play based on it (see also my blogpost from the time of the opening on these parafernalia). I also wrote a small text for the catalogue on Les dernières cartouches.

At the opening, the richness and novelty of the exhibition was confirmed by many present, and afterward by several others too. Early this month I visited the exhibition a third time, with Dominique Païni kindly touring us around and pointing at details I may have overlooked in my first visits, such as the introduction of lamps in the public space in order to light the workers, but for the onlookers thus turning the city into a spectacle. Also, Monet‘s series of the cathedral of Rouen makes no sense if seen as individual works. Only in succession, they make clear Monet was only interested in the passing of time and the changes it causes in light and color. It therefore perfectly matches with Daguerre’s diorama changing from day to night and back, just left of the four Monets. Outside the exhibition, in the big hall of the museum, a giant screen shows clips from many early films (beyond the time span of the exhibition, so rather 1907-1913), split up in a Pathé and a Gaumont compilation – once a month accompanied live.

After the exhibition closes, it will travel to the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), where on February 20, 2022, it will open as City of Cinema: Paris 1850–1907. You will have until July 10th, 2022 to see it there. For an impression of the French exhibition and statements by Dominique Païni (in French), see this film on Vimeo. For a presentation of the big screen presentations by Païni, look here.

~ by Ivo Blom on December 23, 2021.

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