Karen Knorr is part of ‘The Unbearable Lightness: The 1980s’

The Unbearable Lightness: The 1980s 

Photography, Film February 24 February – 23 May  2016 

Photography Gallery, FORUM-1, Pompidou Centre, Paris

Heterogeneous, elusive, painful, fantastical, still too close, as light-hearted as they were serious, the Eighties were full of contrasts and paradoxes. With films and photographs from its collections, the Centre Pompidou cast a fresh eye on this decade in an exhibition featuring over 20 artists and some 60 works in a completely new circuit. 

From Florence Paradeis to Jean-Paul Goude, and from Karen Knorr to Présence Panchounette by way of Martin Parr and Pierre and Gilles, the works selected mostly express criticism of culture and society through various strategies, such as irony, realistic or imaginative staging, pastiche, subverted sets and odes to artifice. The history of Eighties photography somewhat eludes comprehension even today. 

While neo-documentary forms (such as “The Düsseldorf School”, the photographic project of DATAR, the Interdepartmental Delegation for Territorial Development and Regional Attractiveness) were positively received by critics overall, the same was not true of “manufactured”, staged or possibly “Baroque” photography, which represented much of the work produced in the Eighties. Beyond the sometimes too all-inclusive concept of post-modernism, the Eighties saw the emergence of new issues that were both poetic and political. Hybridisation, humour, irony, eroticism and nostalgia are all possible keys to interpreting the art of this period, particularly its photography. 

Mainly dedicated to the Western and American scene of the 1980s, well-represented in the Centre Pompidou’s collection, this exhibition reflects the geopolitical and economic order of a time when the ideological divisions between North and South, East and West, capitalist democracies and centralised totalitarian regimes were being swept aside by the new global economy.