Traces of the Sacred

June 11, 2008 at 12:01 am | Posted in art | 4 Comments
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Looking over my reviews of the last few exhibits I’ve been to, I see a theme emerge. What I’ve really been into, recently, is art that embraces the anti-rational, the emotional, the transcendent — nothing too cerebral or easily defined. So it’s no big surprise that I fell wholly in love with Traces du Sacré, the big exhibit currently at Beaubourg.

traces du sacré

How much did I love it? All told, I spent about seven hours there, spread out over three visits, and if I hadn’t been leaving town, I probably would have gone back again.

The purpose of Traces du Sacré is to assemble works by artists engaged in a search for something beyond mundane, material existence. Over the long history of art, artists have often been charged with representing spiritual themes; in the past, this generally meant producing overtly religious works, but in the 20th century, when organized, mainstream religion lost its sway over artists and intellectuals, people didn’t give up on the idea of the sacred entirely — they just found new ways to explore the basic human urge toward transcendence.

The exhibit is organized thematically, with a focus on the different approaches artists of various kinds took toward the problem. There’s a section on psychedelia, complete with day-glo swirlies under ultra-violet light, and a section on Freudian psychology — another non-religious way of examining the invisible landscape of the psyche. One of my favorite rooms emphasized the new occult/religious movements that grew up around the turn of the last century in an attempt to reinvent faith without the baggage of archaic religious institutions. It was surprising how many artists — Mondrian, Duchamp — dabbled in new age ideology before settling into their better known incarnations.

It’s a huge exhibit with some 350 works in various different media. Some were goofy or hadn’t aged well — Thelemites wandering around Egypt to a soundtrack by Jimmy Page, for example — but others, like Rothko, Francis Bacon, or a film clip by F.W. Murnau impressed with their ability to capture the resonance of the sublime and the supernatural within a secular framework.

Traces du Sacré
until August 11 200
Centre Pompidou



  1. Wow, Amy, this does sound like an AMAZING exhibit from your description and review of it! Excellent job on this… It wasn’t an exhibit that had jumped out at me, but now I’m dying to see it! And I haven’t been back to Beaubourg in ages… I’m going to have to try to work in a visit during my maternity leave now, before the baby arrives!!

  2. Thank you, Alice! You’re sweet. And you should definitely try to make it there before you pop! I think you’d find it really interesting.

  3. Hi Amy,
    I was looking to order books from the Pompidou Centre and chanced upon your website.

    I also went back twice and spent about 8 hours total viewing and reviewing this exhibit. How you wrote about your experience there captured exactly how I felt. Thank you. Being from SF, I especially liked the books, poetry, and video of the Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac, Gary Sneider, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

    What did you think of the Louise Bourgeois exhibit–did you get a chance to see it?

    Enjoy your time in Paris and happy writing.


  4. Eugenia, thanks for stopping by… I did indeed see the Louise Bourgeois exhibit — my write up is here.

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