Agnès Saal is the Director of Pompidou Center, a maverick architectural building which hosts the second biggest collection of contemporary art in the world. Serving its core mission to spread knowledge about all creative works from the 20th century and those heralding the third millennium, the Pompidou Center holds approximately thirty exhibitions and international events annually, including cinema screenings, concerts and conferences, drawing a wide range of audiences.
A graduate of the École Nationale d'Administration, a prestigious graduate school preparing French high civil servants, Agnès held previously other high responsibilities in the public administration, serving as Director of the French National Public Library (BNF).
How does the Pompidou Center distinguish itself in the world of modern art?
The Pompidou Center’s goal is to spread art and culture to the public at large in a non-intimidating setting, as can be seen from its unique “inside out” construction, its welcoming open-space architecture and easy-to-access interior spaces dedicated to different audiences, which contribute to breaking down the barriers surrounding modern art.
For instance, we’ve just launched Studio 13/16, an area of over 250 sq. m designed exclusively for teenagers and meant to bring them into direct contact with artists and trigger their curiosity at an age in life when they are keen to experiment and make discoveries on their own.
Another extraordinary concept born with the Pompidou Center is the Institute for Acoustic/Music Research and Coordination, one of the world’s largest public research centers dedicated to both musical expression and scientific research. It is a residence for international composers and artists who use cutting edge scientific and technological innovations to express themselves through music and where research on acoustics, musicology, computer science etc. is carried out in partnership with several universities and international companies.
What stands does the Center take in relation to societal issues?
Among the key features of our time are the new ways in which people tend to move across continents, inventing new geographies and blurring barriers between disciplines or careers. This is nowhere more evident than in the art world where limits fade away – with young artists moving through artistic disciplines more freely than ever before, giving birth to extremely original works of art. We believe it is our duty to open up our space to artists from all over the world. There are artists in emerging regions which provide the world with an extraordinary richness of forms of expressions such as contemporary Chinese, African or Latin American artists. Then, at a European level, throughout Eastern Europe, very diverse artistic movements are vibrating, a fact we acknowledged through one of our recent contemporary exhibitions, “Les promesses du passé” (Promises of the past).
How does the Pompidou Center collaborate with other modern art centers?
We have put in place very dynamic partnerships with other cultural centers in Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom etc. The recently opened exhibition of Piet Mondrian’s works is a perfect example. This ambitious retrospective is the first in France on such a scale in spite of the artist’s personal history in Paris. It was clearly made possible thanks to our very privileged partnership with the Gemeente Museum in the Hague.
How about the barriers of the digital world? What is the Center’s stance towards the digitization of art works?
In 2011, we will be launching our own digitization project, which will cover the entire cultural content of the Pompidou Center, classified and rendered accessible in a smart new way through user-friendly indexes and not simply provided in bulk. It will be an impressive online library, with an innovative semantic architecture, which will enable visitors to carry out exhaustive research and get access to the material they are interested in, as well as to all the related materials.
What is the message you wanted to send through the exhibition “Elles@Centre Pompidou”, presenting the Center’s collection of works by female artists?
The idea of giving over the space to women artists is unique in the art world and also corresponded to the expression of our commitment to making a place for women in arts. Through our acquisition policies, we are very careful to ensure that women artists receive the recognition they deserve.
The exhibited women artists have a specific vision of the world; their works of art are extremely original and profoundly rich in the messages they convey. The fact that over 2 million visitors so far have visited “Elles @ Centre Pompidou” since its opening in May 2009 shows that the public was eager to discover those artists.