Time! An Exploration of the Idea of Time and its Representation

July 28 > October 23, 2000

28 July - 23 October 2000

Time can't be seen or heard, nor can it be touched, nor has anyone ever smelled it or tasted it. It can't be shown to us, yet invisible as it is, it may well be said to be omnipresent. Coming to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni after inaugurating the reopening of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the exhibition told the story of the signs of time, some of which are natural phenomena, while others reveal the hand of man: technical, symbolic, artistic, and scientific artifacts reaching us from the most remote of times, and showing us not time as such, but its manifestations.

Maps of the stars, systems for measuring time, illuminated manuscripts, installations and videos: approximately four hundred pieces made up the refined repertoire of objects and art works from prehistory to the present day that accompanied visitors through the exhibition on a complex journey. A series of interactive corners with sophisticated equipment for the reproduction of sounds and images invited the public to participate, and a library with books on time was also available to them. The exhibition also featured a soundtrack expressly composed for it by Heiner Goebbels.

All these different elements were grouped around twelve themes, twelve like the months of the year or the hours in a day: "Sky," "Identity," "Language," "Calendars," "The Measurement of Time," "Work Time," "Free Time, "Memories," "Transports, "Real Time," "Irreversibility," and "The Future of Time."

As at every point along the exhibition, the section devoted to representations of the heavens featured works and objects from markedly different epochs and sources: from the lunar calendar carved on bone in the Late Paleolithic period (Musée des Antiquités Nationales, Saint Germain-en-Laye); to the De Sphaera, a manuscript from the fifteenth century (Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome); to contemporary works like Luna by Luciano Fabro and Luna is the Oldest TV by Nam June Paik.

In the section that focused on identity, visitors encountered self-portraits by Alighiero Boetti, Christian Boltanski, Philipp Guston, Andy Warhol and Bruce Nauman. The timeless theme of ‘vanitas' was evoked by the still lifes by Cornelijs Gijsbrecht and works by Cindy Sherman, Pablo Picasso, and Gerhard Richter, as well as several precious skulls, like the eighteenth-century silver one decorating a clock from the Musée International d'Horologerie in La-Chaux-de-Fonds.

The section devoted to language and time included a work by Joseph Kossuth, Clock (one and Five).

The section dedicated to calendars featured the fifteenth-century Liber Physiognomiae (Biblioteca Estense, Modena); the Aztec Codex Borbonicus from the fifteenth century (Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée Nationale, Paris); the Machaquila stele from the fifteenth century (Museo National de Archeologia y Etnologia, Guatemala), along with the Lampada annual Batak by Alighiero Boetti, a lamp that is lit just once a year by means of an uncontrollable mechanism that makes the event and the interval between events completely unpredictable.

The section on measuring time displayed an assortment of instruments that testified to the evolution of technology, from the polyhedric sundial designed by Stefano Buonsignori (Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Florence), to the sundial in ivory and various metals made by Leonhart Miller (Muséè Royaux d'Art e Histoire, Brussels), from the hourglasses of ancient Egypt to the bronze waterclock from the third year of the reign of the emperor Yan (National History Museum in Beijing), along with works by Dennis Oppenheim and Rebecca Horn.

Marcel Broodthaers' film La Pluie was representative of the section dedicated to work, while photographer Massimo Vitali's shots of Riccione, among other works, evoked leisure. The section devoted to memories featured works by Christian Marclay and photographs by Etienne Neurdein, Harold Edgerton and other artists. Among others, Andrea Gursky's images recorded the rites of transportation and free time in today's world. The section on irreversibility exhibited works by Giuseppe Penone, Gordon Matta-Clark and Daniel Spoerri, as well as the image taken by NASA scientists capturing the death of a sun. Giovanni Anselmo's work Entrare nell'opera, along with others, was evocative of future time.

Exhibition curated by Daniel Soutif.
Mounted by Lucio Turchetta after a design by Daniel Soutif.
The catalogue included Daniel Soutif's interview with Umberto Eco and essays by Daniel Soutif, Anthony J. Turner, Joseph Ramoneda, Michael Pastoureau, Frédéric Nef, Jean-Pierre Criqui, Georges Didi-Huberman, Catherine Cardinal, André Gunthert, Pierre Michel, Philippe Carles, Eric De Visscher, Francois Nemer, Peter Szendy, Jordi Ballò, Xavier Pérez, and Francois Albera. Published by Castelvecchi Arte Edizioni, Rome 2000.