Leonard Freed, Visitor to the Pompidou

Visitor to the Pompidou

Leonard Freed
Visitor to the Pompidou Center looking at art installation, Paris, France, 1977
Gelatin silver print
Scripps College, Gift of Sally Strauss and Andrew E. Tomback

Though Freed predominantly focused on documenting urban life in New York, his photographic journeys occasionally took him into Europe. This image depicts an excursion to the Pompidou Center in France, which was designed by Renzo Piano to be a modern cultural hub and opened in 1977. The exhibition displayed here was part of the modern art museum’s opening shows. A series of provocative installations, such as this one, occupied a gallery to draw in viewers. The upper corner of the photo reveals that the title of this particular piece is “Femmes D’Un Jour,” which roughly translates to “Women for a Day”. The feminine mannequins standing in a cluster wore signs coated with headlines that corresponded to how women were perceived by society. It was a controversial piece that dealt with presentation of the female body in the media and the stereotypes surrounding femininity.

Freed’s snapshot of this work presents a contrast between the spectator and the art under observation. The evocative installation of nude figures catches the eye. At first the figures are disturbing–their baldness and fixed stance make them eerily subhuman. Yet at the same time they are oddly alluring with their feminine features and legs posed as if they are gliding. Despite all the attention these figures demand, they primarily occupy the background of the scene. The central figure here is instead the gentleman with his back turned so he can take in the spectacle. His masculine presence contrasts with the delicateness and sensuality that surround the figures. The two central mannequins lean towards each other and away from him, as if exchanging a look about the outsider in their midst. The opening of the Pompidou was intended to spur new cultural expressions in Paris, and this conservative figure in the midst of a radical exhibition neatly demonstrates that attempt.

Madeline Helland SC ’18
Wilson intern summer 2015