Centre d’Histoire de Sciences Po


        Contrary to what Barnett Newman declared, one never “starts from scratch,” even if it is true that “the old stuff was out” in the all-out crisis brought on by World War II and everything that preceded it. Two exhibitions have just offered fresh reexaminations of the postwar period. The most recent one took place at Lyon’s Museum of Fine Arts, where the curator, Sylvie Ramond, along with Eric de Chassey composed an intelligent picture through their presentation of works and artists who for the most part had previously been neglected: Americans from the West Coast, anti-Nazi Poles and Germans who had escaped censorship, and so on.
        Right beforehand, at Barcelona’s MACBA, our guest speaker Serge Guilbaut dreamt up Be-Bomb. Guilbaut’s writings are key to understanding the upheavals that have take place on the artistic stage. Relying on a number of texts--including his own caustic and much-talked-about book How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, which was first published in the United States in 1983--Guilbaut reopens the file on this period by shedding light on his own enlightening exhibition. In Be-Bomb, works of art as well as debates around the issues of the day were brought back to life through a rather vivid and well-documented presentation of numerous films, archival material, magazines, and manifestos. He shows how art is in no way a neutral form of activity and how it constitutes, rather, a territory of relentless struggles upon which opposing world views clash. For the author, it does not suffice to note that one set of views won out over the other, for what he wants to show is why and how that was so. He accomplishes this by bringing works of art and documentary evidence into mutual confrontation while exhibiting the sensitivity that is due to the art itself but also to a history that has largely been forgotten in the ultimate hit parade of our judgments of taste.

Laurence Bertrand Dorléac

Letter published with the support of the Foundation of France