“A Live Center of Information”: The Paris Connection, or, Of What Was Beaubourg the End?

— Kim West

Centre Pompidou, 1982

Centre Pompidou, 1982

This text consists of a revised version of a chapter (“Coda: ‘A Live Center of Information’: The Paris Connection”) and of the conclusion (“Of What Beaubourg is the End?”) of the doctoral thesis of Kim West, The Exhibitionary Complex, Exhibition, Apparatus, and Media from Kulturhuset to the Centre Pompidou, 1963–1977 (Södertörn University, 2017).

For a generation of art critics, art historians, museologists, architectural theorists, and philosophers, one date seems to mark a turning point in the history of the late twentieth-century museum of modern and contemporary art: January 31, 1977, the day the Centre Georges Pompidou was inaugurated in Paris. Numerous commentators described this as a momentous event, representing the terminal, spectacular manifestation of the conflict between the old place of the museum and the fluid realm of new media apparatuses, between the disruptive ideals of the avant-garde and the conservatism of patrimonial canonization, or between the radically popular cultural practices of the 1968 movements and the recuperating mechanisms of a new governmental control machine. For Jean Baudrillard, as we have noted, the high-tech structure now erected in the center of Paris was a “carcass of signs and flux, of networks and circuits,” which “cho[se] for its content the traditional culture of depth.”[1] According to Reyner Banham, “It is very difficult nowadays to see [Piano and Rogers’s building] as anything other than a kind of terminal monument” to the “megastructure movement,” that final avatar of modern architecture’s progressive embrace of new technologies.[2] For Annette Michelson, Beaubourg represented the “supreme museological instance of the imagination of the late capitalist era,” with its announced program of Americanized blockbuster exhibitions.[3] The critic Marie Leroy, writing on behalf of the cultural committee of the French socialist party PSU, held that the new institution “secured the policing of cultural production, in accordance with the demands of a market in full restructuring,” and so enabled “the reproduction of capitalist relations of production in the specific sphere of the culture industry.”[4] And for Andreas Huyssen, Beaubourg was the historical embodiment of the “failure and frustration” of the “European attempt to escape from the ‘ghetto’ of art and to break the bondage of the culture industry.”[5]

Among these commentators, then—and others could have been quoted—a sense of historical, cultural, and political closure, of the final eclipse of a horizon, was prevalent. The museum had been fully subsumed in the late capitalist culture industry, the progressive dream of merging the exhibitionary apparatus with new information technologies had turned out to serve the exclusive interests of a new regime of exploitation and managerial power. How do we assess this end theorem from the vantage point of our present configuration of social, cultural, and technological forces? Before we address this question, let us take a last, brief detour via the Moderna Museet group’s Information Center project, in order to gauge the repercussions of that project on the early history of the new cultural center in the Beaubourg neighborhood.


In 1975, the French cultural review L’Arc interviewed Pontus Hultén, who had then served for two years as the director of the Visual Arts Department within what was by now known as the Centre Georges Pompidou, under construction in the heart of Paris.

L’Arc: In an article in the review Museum a couple of years ago, you proposed a project for an ideal museum in the form of a three-dimensional model featuring four concentric spheres, representing four different domains of activity. If you have today accepted to direct the “visual arts” sector of Beaubourg, is it because you see a possibility of realizing that ideal model there?

P.H.: In effect, my work, my hope consists in rendering it possible. But perhaps it is too optimistic to imagine that we will be able to realize this model immediately. The realization of the outer sphere, with “raw” information, which places the interior space of the museum in contact with the exterior space of the street or of life, will no doubt encounter great difficulties. The society we live in has become too aggressive. The risks of conflict too great. Museums are in a sense cours des miracles, where it is possible to do things that cannot be done elsewhere. But the hope is that it will be possible—that is, when museums must no longer protect themselves from the aggressiveness of outside life. I am convinced that, in order to live, they must be places not only for exhibitions, but also for creation, open to the large public, and on one level with life.[/ref] “Entretien avec Pontus Hultén,” L’Arc, no. 63 (1975), p. 12.[/ref]

Hultén had been offered the appointment at Beaubourg in the fall of 1972, apparently soon after the Swedish Ministry of Education had delivered its final discouraging response to the proposal for an extension of Moderna Museet’s facilities on Skeppsholmen, in September. [6] He started the new position in the fall of 1973, and his first months in Paris therefore coincided with the debate around the New York Collection for Stockholm, which opened in October of that year. Although Hultén’s vague remarks in the L’Arc interview about the “risks of conflict” and the “aggressiveness of outside life” were primarily comments about a French post-1968 situation (described in unspecified and depoliticized terms, as his critics would note),[7] it is difficult not to also read them in relation to those recent quarrels and debates in Swedenas if Hultén had brought not only the hope of rendering his vision possible to Paris, but also a certain skepticism regarding the ideal of turning the museum into anything other than a cour des miracles.

The various statements Hultén made about his ambitions for Beaubourg’s Visual Arts Department in the years leading up to the inauguration of the center in January 1977 generally confirm that impression. In a text presenting the gigantic new department—which would result from the merging of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, France’s main modern art museum, and the Centre National d’Art Contemporain, a relatively young institution dedicated to artistic production and temporary exhibitions—Hultén explained that, once integrated into the Beaubourg center, the department would feature “three sections (…) corresponding to three different functions”: the “permanent,” the “temporary,” and the “tools,” that is, the collections, including resources for “conservation, presentation of works, acquisitions;” the “manifestations,” including “the exhibitions, and the program of presentations;” and “documentation,” providing instruments “necessary for research and scientific work.”[8] What we are familiar with as the Information Center diagram’s first circle, then, that outer “envelope” or membrane which would “connect to the universe of everyday life” and establish a “system of emissions (…) with all institutions of the same sort, and with the organs of circulation and communication,” had here—just as Hultén suggested in the L’Arc interview—been erased.[9]

To this contraction of the Circular Function Model was added a renewed emphasis—prompted by the Beaubourg center’s multi-institutional structure, which would include not only the new Visual Arts Department, but also the Bibliothèque Publique d’Information (a large public library), the Centre de Création Industrielle (a center for industrial design, architecture, and city planning), and IRCAM (an experimental music laboratory)—on the virtues of flexible interchange between traditionally separate cultural forms as well as a corresponding stress on popularity and audience outreach. “Beaubourg,” Hultén wrote in an article in Le Monde in 1974, “is a unique and original effort to unite the different elements of modern culture, and to render them accessible to the public in one single location.” [10] In an interview in Art Press from the same year, Hultén stated that what made Beaubourg “internationally exceptional” as a “museological experiment” was the “absence of compartmentalization,” which made it possible to “make all the supports of modern sensibility immediately and simultaneously accessible,” so as ultimately to “reverse the long tradition of separation between connoisseurs and laymen.”[11]

In a sense, then, Hultén’s statements about the orientation of the Visual Arts Department at Beaubourg marked a regression toward his early 1960s idea of a “museum in movement,” with its accents on dynamic interplay between collection and exhibitions, interdisciplinarity, and audience outreach and engagement. They are closer in kind to his writings related to Willem Sandberg and the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and to his pre-Expert Group outlines for the Kulturhuset project, than to the notion of the museum as a “catalyst for the active forces in society” or a socially transformative “broadcast station.” Different accounts by Hultén’s associates in Paris support this view, often comparing his museological vision to Sandberg’s, and underlining his commitment to collaboration across the artforms and to visitor interaction while generally eliding the critical dimensions of the program at Moderna Museet in the years prior to his Paris move. In his book on the development of the Beaubourg project from 1976, Claude Mollard, the chief administrator of the center during the early phase, offers a brief account of the Kulturhuset venture in Stockholm, proving that it was in fact an active reference for the group around Hultén at Beaubourg—but invokes it only as a precursor to the Paris center’s multi-institutional setup, its urban location, and to some extent its architecture (a “screen-building” opening toward a large, pedestrian piazza).[12] Remarkably, it is as if Hultén, given the opportunity to pursue his Information Center plans within the ostensibly high-tech framework of the Centre Pompidou, chose to limit the range of those plans, excluding precisely their most techno-enthusiast aspects: the conception of the exhibitionary apparatus as a progressive, cybernetic media system, which would channel information flows and social forces through its interior and out toward an exterior network of urban arrangements and media apparatuses.[13]

It should here be noted that when Hultén started his position in 1973, two years had passed since Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers had won the architectural competition, the construction of the building had already begun and the general principles of the center’s institutional structure and program were already well established. As director of the Visual Arts Department, Hultén could therefore not influence the conception of the center at a fundamental level—and so it is incorrect to claim, as Swedish commentators sometimes have, that Beaubourg was modeled on Kulturhuset, or even Moderna Museet, in Stockholm.[14] That Hultén had a major role in developing the program and in setting the exhibition standards of Beaubourg’s Visual Arts Department, on the other hand, is of course beyond doubt. That topic, however, is outside the scope of the present remarks.[15]

But the reference to the Museum article in the L’Arc interview with Hultén also suggests another, earlier, and in some respects deeper connection between the Beaubourg venture and the Information Center project. As we recall, the article in Museum—the “Exchange of Views of a Group of Experts”—was based on seminars organized by UNESCO, at which not only Hultén, but also Jean Leymarie and François Mathey, both directly involved in the development of the Beaubourg center, participated. The seminars were held in Paris in October 1969 and April 1970 during the same time that a team of museum experts, including Leymarie and Mathey, and under the direction of the cultural administrator Sébastien Loste, was assembling what became known as Beaubourg’s Livre rouge, that is, the general program directives for the new institution from which the architectural competition brief would be derived.[16] And so the question is: what was the nature of the correspondence between the Moderna Museet group’s model for the Information Center as presented by Hultén at the UNESCO seminars, and the core conception of Beaubourg as a center of “constantly renewing information” as the competition brief phrased it?[17]

Posing essentially the same question but from the opposite direction, the architectural historian Ewan Branda asks, in what is the most comprehensive critical study of the development of Beaubourg’s “architecture of information,” “From where did this view of a cultural center as information center originate?”[18] Branda locates the Beaubourg competition brief, as well as Piano and Rogers’s winning response—according to which the new cultural complex in Paris should function as a “live center of information”[19]—within a minor tradition of architectural and institutional information visions, including Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum, Malraux’s Musée imaginaire, and Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price’s Fun Palace. Among the sources that informed the genesis of the competition brief however, Branda ascribes a decisive role to the UNESCO seminars whose “conceptual cross-section diagram of an architectural information machine consisting of four concentric rings,” he argues, gave a “much more concrete form” to the notion of “the museum as an information system.” “Most importantly,” he develops, “the model discussed at the Unesco workshop suggested that information went beyond metaphor or a broad understanding of cultural trends: this new institution would need to actually perform as an information system.”[20]

An overview of the Beaubourg competition brief confirms Branda’s assessment. “The entire Centre has been inspired by an original perspective,” the brief read, “that of constantly renewing information: news of artistic creation in its many forms, news of industrial design, and especially the constant keeping up-to-date of those institutions, Library and Museum, which may be considered the memories of ideas and form.”[21] Such integration of “memories” with resources for information reception and treatment would characterize the center’s functional organization as a whole. There should be, the brief explained, a centrally located “newsroom” offering visitors access to “newspapers, journals and recently published books,” as well as “simple information services […] where staff will also be able to answer questions by telephone.” “Main news items,” the text continued, “will be the objects of small, regularly renewed exhibitions. The newsroom will also host frequent exhibitions of contemporary print and photography.”[22] In the main library facilities, in turn, one “will also find modern devices necessary for the reception and diffusion of information.”[23]

These information resources, the brief went on, should serve the center’s openness toward, and continuous interchange with, its social and cultural surroundings. Architecturally, the building should seek “a permeability as complete as possible between the Center and its environment.”[24] “The Center should not therefore stay isolated; its activity will necessarily overflow the limits of the building, leaving its mark on the district and spreading throughout France and other countries by means of travelling exhibitions, television broadcasts, publications, etc.”[25] Such expansive outward functions, however, the brief argued, must be fully integrated with the center’s internal organization. The center’s different “activities will only be meaningful if they convey a shared experience (…). None can be self-sufficient: all are needed. Unity must be created by the public.”[26]

Accordingly, the display spaces for the museum’s collection “should not be conceived in relation to some specific idea of presentation,” but “on the contrary, be supple enough to permit, with only minimal adjustments, any mode of presentation.” “Contemporary art,” the brief added, “will be exhibited in conjunction with the so-called historical collections; the choice of works will be ceaselessly renewed in relation to their actuality.”[27] The “zone for temporary exhibitions,” in turn, “should allow the public (…) to communicate with the museum and the polyvalent spaces,” and there should be an “experimental Gallery (…) accessible as directly as possible for visitors coming in from the street.”[28] Throughout, in collection spaces, temporary exhibition zones, and library facilities, amenities for information, documentation, and communication should be available for use by artists, researchers, and visitors so as to “enable a far greater public to realize that although creativity affects an appearance of liberty, artistic expression is not inherently autonomous, its hierarchy is merely fictitious, and that there is a fundamental link between today’s art forms and the productive relations within society.”[29]

While the brief’s terms are too generic to allow determination of their exact sources, the overall correspondence between the early Beaubourg directives and the Information Center model is apparent. The brief’s integrated information system incorporates elements of the model presented at the UNESCO seminars which date back to Hultén’s Sandbergian “museum in movement”: collection and exhibition interplay, artform cross-breeding, visitor interaction. However, it also proscribes ideals consistent with features of the Information Center vision that Hultén was distancing himself from by the time he took up his position at Beaubourg, notably an “outer layer” of inside-outside permeability, engagement with the urban environment, and extended “broadcasting” of exhibitions and activities.

The relationship between the Beaubourg venture and the Information Center model was therefore paradoxical. By 1973, Hultén had severed his ties with the antagonistic, troublesome leftwing contingent he had enjoyed a productive interchange with during the final phase of the Kulturhuset project and the early years of Moderna Museet’s “laboratory period.” Arriving in Paris, he was to some degree disillusioned with the prospects of realizing the full scope of the Information Center project and the social ideals to which it was inextricably linked. Instead, he scaled back his ambitions, seeking to establish a “museum in movement” at Beaubourg. Emblematic here was his decision to invite Jean Tinguely, together with Niki de Saint Phalle and Bernhard Luginbühl, to stage a sequel of sorts to the successful She (1966)—arguably the highpoint of Moderna Museet’s achievements during its dynamic period in the early and mid-1960s—for Beaubourg’s early program, resulting in the unwieldy Crocrodrome (1977), produced and installed in the new center’s vast entrance forum.[30] But the apparatus within which Hultén settled in order to deploy his “museum in movement,” to clear a space for his cour des miracles—the spectacular high-tech structure and institutional experiment of Beaubourg, a “live center of information”—was designed in general accordance with the principles of the Information Center project as originally and fully conceived during the “laboratory” years. In some sense, the early phase of the Beaubourg project could perhaps be read precisely as the unresolved amalgamation of those closely interrelated and yet diverging institutional models. Here, Jean Baudrillard’s cynical but perceptive remark that Beaubourg was a “carcass of signs and flux, of networks and circuits” which “cho[se] as its content the traditional culture of depth,” acquires a different resonance.[31]


Of what was Beaubourg the end? “By means of a museological script which is there only to rescue the fiction of humanist culture, the actual labor of the death of culture is enacted,” declared Baudrillard, with characteristic hyperbolism.[32] The high-tech framework of Piano and Rogers’s building, this “body entirely composed of flux and surface connections,” was “the ultimate gesture toward translation of an unnamable structure: that of social relations consigned to a system of surface ventilation (animation, self-regulation, information, media).”[33]

In other words, Beaubourg embodied, even radicalized, “monumentalized,” what Baudrillard had called in 1972 the “semio-aesthetic order” of a new “cyberneticized society,” fully aligned with the generalization of “sign exchange value,” and founded on the expulsion of “the refractory models of transcendence, conflict and surpassing.”[34] It was the manifestation of an order in which there could be no depth, no culture, no critique. “We enter a social environment of synthesis in which a total abstract communication and an immanent manipulation no longer leave any point exterior to the system.”[35]

And yet inside Beaubourg’s shell of “networks and circuits” as its “content,” there was that perfect anachronism, that archetypal, old place devoted to the culture of depth: a museum. A collection of twentieth-century artworks, of modernist artifacts, of traces of culture and transgression, some of them assembled into displays through which visitors were invited to ambulate, drift, linger, to cross paths, even to interact—rather than being transported using “suction, propulsion, or what have you, some kind of motion in the image of that baroque theatricality of flux which makes for the originality of the carcass.” [36]

So what should have been placed inside of Beaubourg? Not nothing. Emptiness could still have served as spectacular negation, as “a masterpiece of anti-culture.” Stroboscopic lights perhaps, “streaking the space whose moving pedestal is created by the crowd”—or else a Borgesian labyrinth of multiplied, deracinated signs, an “experiment in all the different processes of representation: diffraction, implosion […], chance connections and disconnections.” A “culture of simulation and fascination,” that is, “and no longer a culture of production and meaning.”[37]

But “in another sense,” noted Baudrillard, it is “not true that Beaubourg displays an incoherence between container and contents.”[38] Because the old medium—as always—had become the content of a new medium. Or because, to phrase it otherwise, the “fissures and tensions” between the new information environment (container) and “the concept of the museum” (content), had reached “a point of resolution—of compatibility.”[39] “Beaubourg,” Baudrillard wrote, “is nothing but a huge mutational operation at work on this splendid traditional culture of meaning, transmuting it into a random order of signs and of simulacra that are now (…) completely homogeneous with the flux and tubing of the facade.”[40]

And so “the masses”—those notorious 20,000 daily visitors that exhilarated and overwhelmed the directorship of the new center—did not in fact come there because they “wanted culture,” Baudrillard proclaimed.[41] They came there in order to be initiated into “this new semiurgic system,” “under the pretext of acculturation into meaning and depth.”[42] Culture in the center was fully integrated with the emerging “semio-aesthetic order,” and “acculturation” into “humanist culture” consequently served the opposed purpose: it “enacted” the “labor of death of culture,” as Baudrillard melodramatically put it.

The center’s contents were therefore “merely the ghostly support for the medium’s operation, whose function is still that of beguiling the masses.” They were phantomal objects of pure feedback: people “come here to choose the objectified response to all the questions they can ask, or rather they themselves come as an answer to the functional, directed questions posed by the objects,” in an “integrated circuit.”[43] The real contents of the Centre Pompidou, in this sense, were the masses themselves. “Thus this concave mirror: it’s because they see the mass(es) inside it that the masses will be tempted to crowd in.”[44]

However, Baudrillard proposed, the visitors did not come there only because they “obey the commands of deterrence.” Certainly, people were drawn to Beaubourg to consume, to choose objects customized to fit their desires, desires themselves customized as “answers” to the “questions posed by the objects”; and they came there because they came there, in an even tighter loop, that is, in order to enjoy the spectacle of their own mass congregation. And this system worked. The surge of people flooding into the new center, Baudrillard claimed, was approaching “critical mass,” threatening the building’s structural integrity: “Above 30,000 it threatens to ‘buckle’ Beaubourg’s structure.”[45]

“But at the same time,” Baudrillard now asserted—and here the unresolved contradiction indicates the hidden dialectics of his argument—the visitors “aim expressly and unknowingly [expressément, et sans le savoir] for [the] annihilation” of Beaubourg. “Beaubourg’s success is no mystery; people go there just for that,” he wrote. They “stampede to it just to make it buckle.”[46] Because this was their only possible response, the only mode of abolition available to them, in “defiance of a massive acculturation into a sterile culture.”[47]

We recognize the idea: “Make Beaubourg buckle!” Baudrillard’s new revolutionary slogan[48] corresponds to his position in “Requiem for the Media,” that true reciprocity “can emerge only from the destruction of the media such as they are.”[49] Just as no “critical reversals” could challenge the “model of transmission” according to which media were currently organized, so “[f]ire, explosion, destruction are no longer the imaginary alternatives for [the] edifice” of Beaubourg, and the new information regime it monumentalized. “To a universe of networks, permutations, and flux, the response is reversion and implosion.”[50]

We are therefore back at Baudrillard’s either-or: either “the media such as they are” are destroyed, or generalized sign exchange value reigns supreme; either institutions are made to “implode [by] themselves, by the power of ramification, feed-back, overdeveloped control circuitry,” or Beaubourg’s “model of absolute security,” its system of “semiurgy” and “deterrence,” is extended to “all social levels.”[51] In “The Beaubourg-Effect,” Baudrillard still maintained the myth of an originary, fuller, more general mode of exchange—idiosyncratically modeled on the pre-modern gift economies theorized by Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille —that presumably was present as residue or trace in the culture whose “labor of death” was enacted by the center: “culture is a precinct of secrecy, seduction, initiation, of a highly ritualized and restrained symbolic exchange.”[52]

It was from the vantage point of his privileged access to that more general exchange, and in favor of its redemptive realization, that Baudrillard could look down upon the emerging system of signs and flux and summon its implosion through spiraling feedback and overload. And it was on account of this access that he could perceive what Beaubourg’s visitors “expressly and unknowingly” wanted, rather than the falseness of the center’s “culture.” Baudrillard’s next step—already suggested in the Beaubourg essay, with its fantasy of a stroboscopic play of empty signifiers—would be to discard the enigmatic concept of the “symbolic” altogether and, as so many after him, pronounce the end of history in favor of the accelerated proliferation of simulations.

The Moderna Museet group’s Information Center project—which still figured, however vaguely, in the background of the Beaubourg enterprise—was never reducible to the terms of Baudrillard’s Manichean opposition. The system of museological and social functions that Hultén, Stolpe, and their associates had outlined was not designed to slot smoothly into place as the “content” of a new information environment, sustaining the museum’s “fiction of humanist culture” even as it was rendered compatible with the circuits and protocols of the new media apparatuses (the fantasy of digital museology), or “transmuted” into “a random order of signs and simulacra,” in Baudrillard’s words. Nor, evidently, did the Moderna Museet group envisage the implosion of the exhibitionary apparatus or the full abolition of “the media such as they are,” in favor of “symbolic” redemption or the end of history.

The Information Center project was refractory to such end theorems. What it proposed was a set of abstract and practical models for critically inserting the exhibitionary apparatus in the mutating complex of new media, aiming to preserve the integrity of that apparatus under new social, technological, and economic conditions, while setting its specific resources to work for an extension of the realm of social and cultural self-determination. The project’s premise was the sustained incompatibility of the exhibitionary apparatus: that what Baudrillard announced, and then quickly disavowed, as the contradiction between the realm of “signs and flux, networks and circuits” and the “anachronistic cultural contents” of the museum, must be upheld, perhaps even exacerbated as conflict.[53] Because the question the Moderna Museet group posed was not only how to defend the relative autonomy of the exhibitionary apparatus within a pervasive information environment but also, inversely, how the exhibitionary apparatus could serve as a catalyst for the extension of autonomy across and through the environment of new media networks, as they exerted an ever stronger impact on the definition of social life.

These problems—that, at least, has been a guiding assumption of this study—remain as urgent now as they were four decades ago. We are today, it may be argued, approaching a condition of full social integration of digital, networked everyday life are increasingly synchronized with the temporalities of ubiquitous software platforms, themselves aligned with the currents and demands of global neoliberal capitalism, and where these tendencies are enforced by media monopolies historically unparalleled in might and scope.[54] With Jacques Rancière’s concepts, what is assuming shape is a globally scaled “police” configuration of the “distribution of the sensible.”[55] It is as if the major digital media corporations today were aspiring specifically to corroborate Baudrillard’s demoralizing premonitions, of “a society that has become its own pure environment” or a “semio-aesthetic order” which “no longer leave[s] any point exterior to the system.”[56]

But it is precisely because reality today sometimes resembles an enactment of Baudrillard’s most dystopian prophecies that we must reject the fatalistic either-or scenario he himself derives from them. We should not accept settling into complacent reliance on the inherent benevolence of digital interconnectedness—a position that may here be represented by those self-avowed “post-critical museologists” who hold that, through the integration of “social media,” the museum can “trace” its “invisible non-technical networks” and so come into its own as a “distributed museum.”[57] But nor should we heed to Baudrillard’s own millenarian response, his call to “Make Beaubourg buckle!” or destroy “the media such as they are”—although the mere fact that the new wave of “digital abolitionism” today is gaining mainstream traction, when it would have been categorically dismissed as reactionary Luddism only a few years ago, indicates that circumstances are becoming untenable.[58]

What both of Baudrillard’s options—complacency or implosion—have in common is that they naturalize the prevalent configuration of the media complex and of the social relations it generates and feeds upon under the pretext of our supposed transition into a post-historical state, which places their social, political, and economic conditions beyond critical reach. With Rancière’s terms, what they both exclude is the very dimension of politics as the practice that seizes upon the “wrongs” of “consensual” social configurations, in order to actualize equality as disidentification and subjectification.[59] What the Information Center project leaves us with, instead, is the question of how, today, the exhibitionary apparatus might contribute to the critical transformation of the media complex, so as to serve the extension of the realm of the public—that is, of potential disagreements and of free, collective self-determinations—rather than its eradication. And the first condition of any such project is that the exhibitionary apparatus must preserve its incompatibility, its status as a site of systemic contradictions. Only then could it inform new disputes regarding the current organization of the media infrastructure and future struggles for one conducive to new freedoms and experiences.

  1. [1] Jean Baudrillard, “The Beaubourg-Effect: Implosion and Deterrence,” trans. Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson, October, no. 20 (Spring 1982), p. 3 and p. 6.
  2. [2] Reyner Banham, “Enigma of the Rue du Renard,” Architectural Review (May 1977), p. 277.
  3. [3] Annette Michelson, “Beaubourg: The Museum in the Era of Late Capitalism,” Artforum
    (April 1975).
  4. [4]  Marie Leroy, Le Phénomène Beaubourg (Paris: Syros, 1977), p. 35. 
  5. [5] Andreas Huyssen, “The Search for Tradition: Avantgarde and Postmodernism in the 1970s,” in After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 166.
  6. [6] See Pierre Restany, “Per il nuovo Centre Pompidou: intervista di Pierre Restany a Pontus Hultén,” Domus, no. 558 (May 1976).
  7. [7] See Marie Leroy, Le Phénomène Beaubourg (Paris: Syros, 1977), p. 28: “Such admirable (false) naivety from the angel of Stockholm! This random violence does not concern him. Its source escapes him. He does not wish to discuss either its causes or it consequences. If (bourgeois) culture is silent, if the noise is in the streets, then this is no one’s fault. For him, that other—institutional—violence, perpetrated by the dominant class, that law of profit which liquidates the heart of a city, expulses its inhabitants, and irremediably tears up the affective tissue of a community, does not count for anything.”
  8. [8] Pontus Hultén, “Toutes les muses,” L’Arc, no. 63 (1975), p. 5. This text was originally published in a brochure edited by the Département des arts plastiques, Centre Georges Pompidou in 1975.
  9. [9] Yann Pavie, “Vers le musée du futur: entretien avec Pontus Hultén,” Opus International, nos. 24–25 (May 1971), p. 61.
  10. [10] Pontus Hultén, “Un lieu de rencontre pour le passé et la recherche,” Le Monde, May 16, 1974.
  11. [11] Otto Hahn, “Beaubourg: entretien avec Pontus Hultén,” Art Press, no. 8 (December/January 1974).
  12. [12] Claude Mollard, L’enjeu du Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris: Éditions 10-18, 1976), pp. 202ff.
  13. [13]  As Ewan Branda shows, Hultén was opposed to the notion of understanding Beaubourg as a “broadcast center” which would circulate travelling exhibitions in the rest of the country, since that would “reinforce perceptions of hegemony of Paris over the broader territory.” Instead, the idea was that Beaubourg should “promote spontaneous initiatives” on the part of regional cultural institutions, although it is unclear how that would have worked practically. Ewan Branda, The Architecture of Information at Plateau Beaubourg, Diss. (University of California Los Angeles, 2012), p. 47. 
  14. [14]  A recurring misconception is also that Hultén was the first director of the Centre Pompidou and that he was recruited specifically because he was the mind behind the institutions on which Beaubourg was modeled (that is, Moderna Museet and Kulturhuset). See e.g., Andrew McClellan, The Art Museum from Boullée to Bilbao (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), p. 86, and Claes Britton, “The Second Coming of Moderna Museet,” Stockholm New, no. 5 (1997). Robert Bordaz, followed by Jean Millier (until 1980) and Jean-Claude Groshens (until 1983) were the directors (présidents) of the Centre Pompidou during Hultén’s tenure as director of the center’s Visual Arts Department, a position he was offered, as Bernadette Dufrêne clarifies, “after all French curators [conservateurs] had declined the proposition” due to the conflicts surrounding the integration of the Musée National d’Art Moderne and its collection in the new structure. Bernadette Dufrêne, La Création de Beaubourg (Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 2000), p. 87. The only part of the Centre Pompidou which can actually be said to have been informed, in its initial phase, by Kulturhuset, was the “newsroom,” the “salle d’actualité” of the BPI, whose director Jean-Pierre Seguin visited the Swedish cultural center in January 1971 and was impressed by the inviting atmosphere, the range of resources, and the generous opening hours of Kulturhuset’s “reading lounge,” “Läsesalongen,” which had opened that same month (and which, we recall, was the sole element of the Expert Group proposal to have been approximately realized). See Jean-Pierre Seguin, Comment est née la BPI: Invention de la médiathèque (Paris: Bibliothèque publique d’information, 1987), p. 65. 
  15. [15] On Hultén’s early exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou, see e.g., Dufrêne, La Création de Beaubourg, ch. 7 (“Beaubourg expose, Beaubourg s’expose”), and Jean-Marc Poinsot, “Incertitudes et évidences: de la crise comme moteur de l’histoire,” in Centre Pompidou, trente ans d’histoire , ed. Bernadette Dufrêne (Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2007). See also Rebecca J. DeRoo, The Museum Establishment and Contemporary Art: The Politics of Artistic Display in France
  16. [16]  Loste put together the team, and they developed the Livre rouge between December 1969 and June 1970. The architectural brief was officially adopted in July and the competition was announced in November. See Branda, The Architecture of Information at Plateau Beaubourg, p. 43 and pp. 63f. 
  17. [17]  Concours international d’idées à un degré (programme du concours) (Paris: Ministère d’état chargé des affaires culturelles, 1970), p. 4. 
  18. [18]  Branda, The Architecture of Information at Plateau Beaubourg, p. 35. 
  19. [19] Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, Du Plateau Beaubourg au Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 1987), p. 54. See also Kester Rattenbury and Samantha Hardingham, eds., Superscript #3: Richard Rogers, The Pompidou Centre (New York: Routledge, 2012). 
  20. [20]  Branda, The Architecture of Information at Plateau Beaubourg, pp. 40ff. Claude Mollard also refers to the UNESCO seminars as formative, in L’enjeu du Centre Georges Pompidou, p. 38n1. 
  21. [21]  Concours international d’idées à un degré (programme du concours), p. 4 
  22. [22]  Ibid., p. 12. 
  23. [23]  Ibid., p. 19. 
  24. [24]  Ibid., p. 9. 
  25. [25]  Ibid., p. 4. 
  26. [26]  Ibid., p. 3. 
  27. [27]  Ibid., p. 17. 
  28. [28]  Ibid., p. 14. 
  29. [29]  Ibid., p. 3. 
  30. [30] On the Crocrodrome, see Pontus Hultén, ed., Jean Tinguely: A Magic Stronger than Death (Milan: Bompiani, 1987), pp. 252–57, and DeRoo, The Museum Establishment and Contemporary Art, pp. 178f.
  31. [31] Baudrillard, “The Beaubourg-Effect,” p. 3 and p. 6. We might note that Baudrillard also singled out Tinguely’s presence in the center as emblematic of this contradiction: “Within this carcass that might have served as a mausoleum for the hapless operation of signs, Tinguely’s ephemeral, self-destructing machines are reexhibited under the rubric of the eternal life of culture. Thus everything is neutralized at the same time: Tinguely is embalmed in the museological institution and Beaubourg is trapped within its so-called artistic contents.” (p. 5.)
  32. [32] Ibid., p. 6.
  33. [33] Ibid., p. 3.
  34. [34]  Baudrillard, “Design and Environment, or How Political Economy Escalates into Cyberblitz,” in For a Critique of the Polotical Economy of the Sign, trans. Charles Levin (St. Louis: Telos Press, 1981), p. 188 and p. 202. 
  35. [35] Ibid., p. 202.
  36. [36] Baudrillard, “The Beaubourg-Effect,” p. 3.
  37. [37] Ibid., pp. 5f.
  38. [38] Ibid., p. 6.
  39. [39] Ross Parry, Recoding the Museum: Digital Heritage and the Technologies of Change (London: Routledge, 2007), p. 14.
  40. [40] Baudrillard, “The Beaubourg-Effect,” p. 6.
  41. [41] See here the animated discussion between Baudrillard and Beaubourg’s director Robert Bordaz during a radio broadcast in January 1978: “Jean Baudrillard: […] The masses don’t come because of the meaning of this culture, that is, the cultural norms which should be those of culture, of intellectuals. […] Robert Bordaz: But why shouldn’t people who aren’t intellectuals have culture? Jean Baudrillard: That’s not the point. They don’t want it. They need other things. Robert Bordaz: They don’t want it! What an idea!” “Le Centre Georges Pompidou (France Culture, 6 janvier 1978),” in  Jean Baudrillard et le Centre Pompidou: Une biographie intellectuelle, ed. Valérie Guilllaume (Paris: Le Bord de l’Eau, 2013), p. 48.
  42. [42] Ibid., “The Beaubourg-Effect,” p. 6. Translation modified. Cf. Jean Baudrillard, “L’effet Beaubourg: Implosion et dissuasion,” in Simulacres et simulation (Paris: Galilée, 1981), p. 100.
  43. [43] Ibid., “The Beaubourg-Effect,” p. 8.
  44. [44] Ibid., p. 9.
  45. [45] Ibid.
  46. [46] Ibid.
  47. [47] Ibid., p. 10. Translation modified.
  48. [48] Ibid., p. 9.
  49. [49] Baudrillard, “Requiem for the Media,” originally published as “Requiem pour les media,” in Utopie, no. 4,  p. 177.
  50. [50] Baudrillard, “The Beaubourg-Effect,” pp. 10f.
  51. [51] Ibid., p. 3 and p. 11. Translation modified.
  52. [52] Ibid., p. 5. On Baudrillard’s “symbolic exchange,” see Symbolic Exchange and Death, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (London: Sage Publications, 1993), and The Mirror of Production, trans. Mark Poster (St. Louis: Telos Press, 1975), esp. ch. 5. See also e.g., Alain Caillé, “Jean Baudrillard, anti-utilitariste radical et/mais dandy?,” in Baudrillard, cet attracteur intellectuel étrange, ed. Nicolas Poirer (Paris: Le Bord de l’Eau, 2016). “One thing is for certain, however,” Caillé concludes: “if [Baudrillard] is right, then humanity will soon end, and there will be no one left to confirm it.” (p. 66.)
  53. [53] Baudrillard, “The Beaubourg-Effect,” p. 3.
  54. [54] See e.g., Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2015). For a speculative, theoretical account of new modes of sovereignty and governance under conditions of “planetary-scale computation,” see Benjamin H. Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015).
  55. [55] See Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), ch. 2.
  56. [56] Baudrillard, “Design and Environment,” p. 188 and p. 202.
  57. [57] Andrew Dewdney, David Dibosa, and Victoria Walsh, Post-Critical Museology: Theory and Practice in the Art Museum, pp. 201f.
  58. [58] See e.g., Jack Linchuan Qiu, Goodbye iSlave: A Manifesto for Digital Abolition (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016). “The tide has broken,” Geert Lovink writes: “The self-evident Californian Ideology” and “the hegemony of the once powerful libertarians [are] finally being contested.” Social Media Abyss: Critical Internet Cultures and the Force of Negation (Malden: Polity Press, 2016), p. 2. The literature on “critical net studies” is of course vast, and growing exponentially. For one overview, see Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, and Anton Vidokle, eds., The Internet Does Not Exist (Berlin: e-flux journal/Sternberg Press, 2015).
  59. [59] See Rancière, “Politics, Identification, and Subjectivization,” October, no. 61 (Summer 1992), and Disagreement, ch. 2.