Interview with Clément Chéroux
The New Photography Gallery at the Pompidou Centre
In the fall of 2014, the Pompidou Centre inaugurated a new exhibition space devoted to photography. Beyond the strictly local consequences involved, such a decision by a world-class museum may be understood as unequivocal recognition of the legitimacy now granted to this medium within the contemporary art system and canonical institutions. Clément Chéroux, conservator of photography at the Pompidou Centre, explains the reasons in principle for this decision, as well as the theoretical implications inherent to it.
Rémi Coignet : Why did the Pompidou Centre choose to open a gallery devoted to photography?
Clément Chéroux : Three years ago, the president of the Pompidou Centre, Alain Seban, asked me to think about different possibilities for creating a specific space for photography. So, I observed the situation of pluridisciplinary institutions that have photographs in their collections, but also painting, sculpture, and video. I realized that there were generally two models.
The first model, more American, in force at the Metropolitan and MoMA in New York, consists of presenting exhibitions and the collection in a photography gallery and not to have photographs in the rest of the museum. The other model, more European – that of the Pompidou Centre since it opened in 1977 and also that of the Tate today – consists of presenting photography in the permanent collection exhibitions and, from time to time, in major exhibitions. Each model has advantages and disadvantages.
The American model makes it possible to show the collection and the work of the conservators, but it has a shortcoming: it does not allow for a dialogue with the arts. Today, how is it conceivable to have a gallery on surrealism or constructivism without including photographs? The European model presents exactly the opposite advantages and disadvantages. Once we made this observation, we decided to follow both policies at the same time: to continue to have photography in the museum, but also to have a specific space for photography. We will have three exhibitions a year there: one historical, one contemporary, and one thematic.