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Luminous imagery


Jean Nouvel At the Pompidou Centre, Paris until 4 March

A show on level four of the Pompidou, about the Russian Constructivist Antoine Pevsner, follows a familiar model for the architectural exhibition: a three-dimensional array of elements of the architectural book - archive material, plans, drawings, photographs and artefacts. But on level six, we enter a different realm. If there exists a common genre of architectural exhibition, then this show, largely by Nouvel on Nouvel, pulverises it.

Five out of its six rooms have been transformed from gallery white to cinema-hall black. This dissolves the surfaces of the gallery so that there is no interplay between the show's images and the immediate context. Second, and just as significant, it modifies the position of the viewer. The exhibition declares that the museum visitor is simply not the right kind of being to engage with the Nouvelian spectacle. We become more like a meandering version of the lighttransfixed eye of the cinema spectator, subject to an irresistible barrage of luminous imagery. (This programme of optic seduction and control also has precedents in the light works of James Turrell or the LED signboard installations of Jenny Holzer. ) The five dark rooms or 'sequences' spread the architecture across a panoply of visual media, in which the near-cinematic viewing conditions in the fourth sequence form a crescendo in the play of scale between the different rooms. This ranges from the 3m high projections of that fourth room - photographs by Georges Fessy showing 11 of Nouvel's completed projects - to the hundreds of 6cm x 4cm transparencies that cover three walls of the first.

Other sequences include meandering corridors of spotlit, computer-generated art work, showing mainly future or unrealised projects see picture), and a conventionally lit room where technical plans and drawings can be consulted on computer terminals.

There is some digital film work by the multimedia artist and cinema theorist Alain Fleischer. In a section on Nouvel's attitudes toward urbanism, which looks at the Parisian projects for the St Denis Stade de France and the Right Bank, video diaries are presented on small, wall-mounted monitors. These document existing urban environments, supposedly acknowledging Nouvel's preference for a process of modification rather than a dynamic of destruction and renewal.

The prosaic nature of the videos contrasts brutally with the saturated colours of the computer-generated images which precede them. Sound from the videos then merges with sound emerging from the next space, 'sequence four' - the projection room where Fessy's photography becomes tectonic. Fleischer supplies the grey light of common reality, an interlude between the simulated dream and Fessy's almost full-scale confrontations. But if Fleischer's work provides a point of contact with raw urban matter, it does nothing to explain the way in which Nouvel himself engages with it.

The curators would probably argue that Nouvel reveals enough of his own process in the six video interviews presented on monitors on the outer walls of the exhibition. But what we receive from this series of talking heads is a familiar means of articulating the end product - an aesthetics of the transitory, a poetry of dematerialisation, versions of which appear again within the exhibition proper, in red text on black walls (disparition-apparition, opacité-transparence, etc).

The exhibition subjects its visitors to the almost total dominance of the image, pushing that mode of architectural display to a level perhaps not seen before. But simulation and documentation light our paths through the dark rooms with equal force.

In the absence of a discussion of process, and the subsequent remoteness of Nouvel himself, it is virtually impossible to make any genuine distinctions between the values represented in one image and the next. Ironically, when the dust of pulverisation settles, there is a distinct lack of transparency.

Robin Wilson writes on architecture and art

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