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Paris: Robakowski

March 4, 2015 - June 1, 2015


Centre Pompidou, Paris

What remains when everything has already been photographed? When decades of photographic recordings seem to have exhausted all subjects, all imaginable set-ups and all possible angles? What remains when reality itself seems extenuated by dint of being duplicated? Photography itself is what remains. The Centre Pompidou has decided to exhibit the results of these questionings through nearly eighty works and documents, covering the entire history of photography and the work of key figures in modern and contemporary art. Ever since the avant-gardes, artists have been exploring the medium of photography, trying to understand its specific character. “The essence of the modern spirit”, wrote the American critic Clement Greenberg, “is defined by the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticise the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence”. The artists of Pop art, conceptual art and postmodernism took photography’s exploration of itself further still. It did not involve defining the medium’s area of competence in order to give it a legitimacy in the entente of the arts so much as questioning the idea people now had of it. In the contemporary period, the arrival of digital technologies has now spawned new forms of experimentation designed to test and bring to light the function of the new tool. From the 1920s until the early 21st century, from Man Ray to Jeff Wall by way of Ugo Mulas, this exhibition brings together works united by the same question: “What is a photography?” We see how photographers themselves feel the need to question what they do and propose a form of synthesis of their art, and how historians, theorists and even viewers perceive evident value in photography produced by chance. The responses may be technical, essentialist or metaphorical. For some people, photography is a point of view, a framework or a material. For others, it is defined by the eye, and a certain sensitivity to light or shade. For still others, it means distance, a freezing of time, a reduction of the world… For nearly a century, artists and theorists have tried to define the ontology of the photographic medium – in other words, its very essence. The formal and conceptual diversity of the works in the exhibition show that there is no single answer to the question “What is photography?” Each person has their own idea of the medium. And so, behind a title that seems to follow the tradition of attempted definitive definitions of photography, the exhibition proposes exactly the opposite: an anti-ontology.

Curator: Mnam/Cci, C.Cheroux. K. Ziebinska-Lewandowska


March 4, 2015
June 1, 2015
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Centre Pompidou
Place Georges-Pompidou
Paris, 75004 France
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