Samuel Beckett, Film, 1966, Film cinématographique 35 mm, NB, silencieux (un son), 30’, Scénario, Samuel Beckett, Avec Buster Keaton, Réalisation, Alan Schneider, © Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2007, © The Estate of Samuel Beckett.

The Work of Samuel Beckett in Dialogue with Contemporary Art

Samuel Beckett, Quad, 1981, Pi¸ce pour la télévison, vidéo, couleur, sonore, 15', Achat 2001, AM 2001-56, © Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2007, © The Estate of Samuel Beckett.

Samuel Beckett pendant le tournage de Film, New York, 1964, © I.C Rapoport.

Samuel Beckett, vers 1920, © Droits réservés - The Estate of Samuel Beckett.

Bruce Nauman, Boucing in the Corner 1 and 2 (Upside Down), 1968-1969, Oeuvre vidéo, U-matic, NTSC, noir et blanc, son. Durée: 20', Achat 1985, AM 1985-449(Bis), © Adagp, Paris 2007.

Centre Pompidou
Place Georges Pompidou
+ 33 (0)1 44 78 12 33
Galerie 2, Level 6
Samuel Beckett
March 14-June 25, 2007

By establishing a dialogue between major themes in Beckett's work and in that of contemporary artists, this exhibition offers a new look at the author of Waiting for Godot.

"What visions in the shadeless dark of light and shade!"

— Samuel Beckett, Company

Bringing together a wealth of documentation, including manuscripts and audiovisual recordings previously unseen in France, this exhibition at the Centre Pompidou will introduce the public to the many facets of Beckett's work, more especially as a theatre director and filmmaker. It also highlights Beckett's bilingualism, presenting English and French versions of his texts alongside each other. The essential goal of the exhibition is to reveal what of Beckett's work has been overshadowed by the fame of Waiting for Godot (1952), Endgame (1957), The Lost Ones (1970) and Company (1980), published in French by Editions de Minuit after the author had decided to settle in France and to write in that language, in 1938.

At each stage, Beckett's work is juxtaposed with works by the greatest of contemporary artists. The first part, presenting his prose fiction in manuscript, thus relates it to pieces by such artists as Mona Hatoum, Bruce Nauman and Andrew Kötting, pieces that in some sense echo Beckett's world and its characters. An installation by Alain Fleischer, made for this exhibition, offers an interpretation of Beckett's novelistic universe embodied in a big, open book.

Considerable space is devoted to the theatre, with audiovisual recordings of rarely seen major productions, as well as unpublished writings and photographs of performances and rehearsals. A musical installation created for this exhibition by the young composer Jérôme Combier combines a reading from Ohio Impromptu with a composition for string trio. The focus then shifts to Film, Beckett's only cinematic work, made with Buster Keaton in 1964, a key work for the avant-garde cinema tradition, here matched with Stan Douglas's Video, a variation on it.

Organised around a screening of Quad, one of the more important of the works that Beckett made for television in the 1980s, the succeeding space looks at Beckett's formal investigations, presenting these alongside the works of such major Minimalist artists as Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra and Robert Ryman.

A biographical section presents a rich array of letters, manuscripts and unpublished photographs, together with audiovisual recordings evoking the writer's life, from his childhood in Ireland to the presentation of the Nobel Prize, taking in his meeting with Joyce, his involvement in the French Resistance and his relationship with his publishers, the Éditions de Minuit. A film, How Far is the Sky?, commissioned from director Pascale Bouhénic by the Centre Pompidou and the IMEC, closes this section with a series of interviews with writers, readers and friends, among them Jean Echenoz, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Jude Stefan, Geneviève Asse, Werner Spies and Raymond Federman.

The last part of the exhibition is sunk in shadow for screenings of four works that Beckett made for English and German television: Night and Dream, But the Clouds, Ghost Trio, What Where. Here one can also hear Beckett's short prose pieces read by Michael Lonsdale, works which, like those by Robert Ryman and Geneviève Asse exhibited in the same space, are characterized by rigor, purity and formal economy. The exhibition concludes with Silenzio, a pencil work by Claudio Parmiggiani, and an unreleased sound recording of Beckett reading Lessness.

Voice An introduction to the subject, and the subject, for Beckett, is language: the visitor hears a selection of short texts and poems by Beckett in English and French. At the end of the corridor is projected the mouth of Not I; it greets the visitor at the threshold to the exhibition. At first only an image, the film (screened in its entirety) becomes audible as one approaches the screen.

Remains Within are a number of works by contemporary artists (Mona Hatoum, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman, etc.) that echo the Beckettian effects of Not I. The subject of writing is then broached with a display of Beckett's manuscripts, exhibited here for the first time in France, and the installation inspired by Beckett's work commissioned from Alain Fleischer: a double screen opens up like a big book, showing landscapes and silhouettes drawn from Beckett's fictional universe.

Scenes A space devoted to the theatre, organised around audiovisual recordings of performances of four major plays and short pieces. These are accompanied by photos of performances, by manuscripts and objects, and the sound-work Noir-Gris by Jérôme Combier, another piece specially commissioned for the exhibition, in collaboration with the IRCAM. "For me, it was a question of coming up with an artistic 'event' that combined Samuel Beckett's play, read rather than performed — the Ohio Impromptu — with writing a score for a string trio and making a video." Combier works with the rhythm of Beckett's writing, which is linked to the rhythm of the music itself.

Thing This is the space of biography, of "this thing called my life" as Beckett called it, illustrated through family photographs, early publications, correspondence and unpublished documents. The biographical narrative is divided into a number of sections, from childhood in Ireland to the Nobel Prize, taking in as well Beckett's meeting with Joyce, his decision to write in French, and his discovery of the theatre. Also here are portraits of Beckett and works by some of his friends (Yeats, Arikha, Hayden). How Far is the Sky, by filmmaker Pascale Bouhénic, was commissioned by the IMEC for this exhibition. It is composed of a series of interviews with eye-witnesses, young writers, artists and other readers of Beckett's work: in order of appearance, Jude Stéfan, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Pierre Zaoui, Werner Spies, Jean Martin, Philippe Beck, Pierre Pachet, Françoise Gorog, Tom Bishop, John Calder, Raymond Federman, Hermine Karagheuz, Geneviève Asse and Jean Echenoz.

Eye This space is focused on Film, the film that Beckett made with Buster Keaton in 1964. Alongside this is shown a work by Stan Douglas, made for the exhibition: shot in the Paris suburbs, Video (2006-2007) draws parallels between Beckett's cinematic world and that of Orson Welles' film The Trial.

Cube With its geometrization of space and movement, ars combinatoria, lists and logical games, Beckett's writing and television work presents a wealth of obsessional systems that give it its formal and poetical power. Works by Sol LeWitt, Robert Motherwell and Bruce Nauman accompany a screening of Beckett's Quad, made for television.

Bram In 1945 Beckett began to write about the work of Bram Van Velde. These few texts, collected and published by the Editions de Minuit, are among the finest accounts of the artist's work: with an acute fellow-feeling, the writer recognises in the painter the rhythm and anxiety of his own creative process.

Black This last space is sunk in shadow, with a few pools of light marking the path through the dark, at each of which one can sit a while and hear a number of Beckett's short prose pieces, Lessness, Ping, Worstward Ho, and Stirrings Still, read in both French and English by Michael Lonsdale. Screens on the wall show the works that Beckett made for television between 1975 and 1986: in Ghost Trio, ... but the clouds..., Nacht und Träume and What Where, Beckett invents an art of the image that would have a profound influence on a whole generation of videomakers.

Samuel Beckett pendant une répétition de En attendant Godot, 1961, © Photo Roger Pic © Départment des Arts du Spectacle – Biblioth¸que nationale de France

Samuel Beckett. Photogrammes de Not I, 1989, © What Where, Global Village, New York.