Paris-Moscow 1900-1930: Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris 1979

  • Abstract:
    In 1979 the National Museum of Modern Art, located in the Centre Pompidou in Paris, displayed one of the major exhibitions in its history: the exhibition Paris-Moscow, 1900-1930. Curated by Pontus Hulten, this exhibition aimed at showing the ways in which the French and Russian avant-gardes influenced and reacted to one another during the rise of Modern art. The exact same exhibition was presented in Moscow in 1981 in Brezhnev’s USSR, during a significant rise in censorship, strictness, and political surveillance. Since the founding of the Soviet Union, no exhibition like this had ever been presented. Consequently, it raises the question: how did such a striking and innovative exhibition succeed during the Cold War? The answer is quite simple: it was a fight for freedom of artistic expression and international dialogue. The French team was eager to establish normal relationships with its Soviet colleagues and to favour exchanges between France and the USSR. Therefore, it stressed the function of art as cultural diplomacy. Was art a means to achieve peaceful relations and improved exchanges leading to more freedom when politics and economics failed? The exhibition Paris-Moscow, 1900-1930 seemed to be one striking positive example. Thanks to the discovery of new archives at the Centre Pompidou Paris, the recently published “mémoires” of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and my own personal interviews of French ambassadors and curators in charge of the exhibit in 1979, my essay is able to shed new light on the cultural diplomatic role of Paris-Moscow, 1900-1930, a unique artistic event during the Cold War.