The Centre Pompidou presents Beat Generation, a novel retrospective dedicated to the literary and artistic movement born in the late 1940s that would exert an ever-growing influence for the next two decades.
June 22nd – October 3rd
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
The theme will be reflected in all the Centre’s activities, with a rich programme of events devised in collaboration with the Bibliothèque Public d’Information and Ircam: readings, concerts, discussions, film screenings, a colloquium, a young people’s programme at Studio 13/16, etc.
Foreshadowing the youth culture and the cultural and sexual liberation of the 1960s, the emergence of the Beat Generation in the years following the Second World War, just as the Cold War was setting in, scandalised a puritan and MacCarthyite America. Then seen as subversive rebels, the Beats appear today as the representatives of one of the most important cultural movements of the 20th century — a movement the Centre Pompidou’s survey will examine in all its breadth and geographical amplitude, from New York to Los Angeles, from Paris to Tangier.
The Centre Pompidou’s exhibition maps both the shifting geographical focus of the movement and its ever-shifting contours. For the artistic practices of the Beat Generation — readings, performances, concerts and films — testify to a breaking down of artistic boundaries and a desire for interdisciplinary collaboration that puts the singularity of the artist into question. Alongside notable visual artists, mostly representative of the California scene (Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, George Herms, Jay DeFeo, Jess…), an important place is given to the literary dimension of the movement, to spoken poetry in its relationship to jazz, and more particularly to the Black American poetry (LeRoi Jones, Bob Kaufman…) that remains largely unknown in Europe, like the magazines in which it circulated (Beatitude, Umbra…). Photography was also an important medium, represented here by the productions of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs — mostly portraits — and a substantial body of photographs by Robert Frank (Les Américains, From the Bus…), Fred McDarrah, and John Cohen, all taken during the shooting of Pull my Daisy, as well as work by Harold Chapman, who chronicled the life of the Beat Hotel in Paris between 1958 and 1963.
The same was true of the film (Christopher MacLaine, Bruce Baillie, Stan Brakhage, Ron Rice…) that would both reflect and document the history and development of the movement.
Focused on a precise historical period and deliberately making use of “low tech” media and means of reproduction (vinyl discs on turntables, carousel slide projectors, 16mm film projectors) this exhibition illustrates how profoundly the Beat Generation — in its expressive freedom, its breaking down of boundaries between disciplines and cultures, its “poor”, ecstatic and contemplative aesthetic, and also its violence — influenced the development of today’s countercultures, revealing it as their origin and casting light on ongoing problematics.