Views from above examines the fascinating subject of the earth seen from the sky, from the first aerial photographs of the 19th century to the satellite images of the 21st century. At the same time, it considers how this view of the earth seen from the air has transformed the work of artists.
There has been a considerable regain in interest in the aerial view over recent years. From the success of Yann Arthus Bertrand's photographs, taken from helicopters, to the popularity of Google Earth, we are fascinated by this bird's eye view. Views from above draws on this popularity to return to the origins of aerial photography and explore its impact on the work of artists and, consequently, the history of art.
When Nadar took his first aerial photographs, circa 1860, he gave artists their very first glimpse of the world seen from above. An elevated perspective blurs landmarks and relief.
The land below is unrecognisable; a flat surface whose visual reference points are no longer distinguishable one from the other.
This change in perspective fascinated Impressionist painters such as Gustave Caillebotte, Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet, who depicted flattened street scenes with no visible horizon. Meanwhile, Léon Gimpel used this new vantage point to spectacular effect in his photographs for the illustrated press.
As aviation developed, the view from above seduced avantgarde artists, from the early Cubist compositions of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque to the urban scenes portrayed by Fernand Léger and Gino Severini, or Robert Delaunay's Eiffel Tower.
With the outbreak of the First World War, the abstract painting of Kasimir Malevich, El Lissitzky or Piet Mondrian looked to aerial views of battle fields. In the 1920s, aerial photographs reached the Bauhaus where they captured the attention of Paul Klee, Vasily Kandinsky and Laszlo Moholy Nagy, and spawned New Vision photography whose advocates, including Germain Krull, André Kertesz and Alexandre Rodtchenko, challenged perspective to create a strange and unreal world. The excitement of seeing the world from above, usually
the preserve of gods and the omnipotent, influenced Dada collages as well as the aeropainting of Italian Futurism. This same sense of excitement found its way into architecture through the work of Le Corbusier.
After the Second World War, Sam Francis, Lee Mullican and Georgia O’Keeffe painted the vast open spaces of North America as abstract views. The aerial view is instrumental to understanding the Land Art of Robert Smithson and Dennis Oppenheim. It reveals structures that are otherwise hidden from the human eye, such as the grids of buildings that form our modern cities, and which fascinate both artists and architects. Now images of the earth from the air sound the alarm and alert us to environmental destruction. The "view from above" has become a kind of "super vision".Through eight themed sections, staged chronologically until 1945 then addressing post war art, visitors move through time as well as space, mapping progress in technology from the first works, taken from a hot air balloon, rising to an aeroplane's height, and ending with satellite images.
Right up to today, artists, photographers, architects and filmmakers have continued to explore the facets of this extraordinary perspective. Covering 2,000 sq m, Views from above gives us the power of Icarus and, through more than 350 works spanning painting, photography, drawing, film and architecture models, offers us an elevated view of modern and contemporary art.
A catalogue will accompany the exhibition.
Angela Lampe, Curator, Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne.