Beinecke Exhibition Documents French Spirit of Rebellion 1945–1980

An exhibition of memorabilia, posters, manuscripts, prints, books and manifestos at Yale’s Beinecke Library, through December 19, chronicles the spirit of revolution that enthralled France from the end of the German occupation to the turbulent “events of May” that immobilized the French economy in 1968.

The riots, strikes and general mayhem that brought work and school to a halt in France in the spring of 1968 stand out in collective myth and memory as the quintessence of an era of social rebellion. Yet, while the massive student protests and strike by 11 million French workers were a manifestation of a world Zeitgeist, the “events of May” were rooted in a social, aesthetic and cultural movement that dated to the liberation of Paris in 1945, according to Beinecke Library curators Kevin Repp and Timothy Young, who organized the exhibition.

Titled “The Postwar Avant-Garde & the Culture of Protest, 1945 to 1968 & Beyond,” the exhibition traces the era of political protest in Europe to its origins in post-War France and follows the trail of influence to the present-day.

In an essay accompanying the exhibit, Repp writes, “From political convictions to personal lifestyles, attitudes about diversity and dress, music, sexuality, and self-expression, the worldwide uprisings of 1968 seemed to mark the end of an era and the birth of something new, something we now recognize all around us as a basic feature of the social, cultural, and artistic landscapes we inhabit today.

“Yet 1968 was in many ways an expression of the old culture it seemed to supplant. … It was in the process of this intense engagement with the legacies of the old avant-garde — Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism — that young artists and activists helped prepare the ground for a new international culture of protest in the immediate postwar years. The story of 1968 is in part also the story of this remarkable resurgence and transformation: the long march of the avant-garde from the ashes and rubble of one war (and world) to passionate revolution in the midst of another. And, of course, beyond,” he adds.

The exhibition is divided into two parts. Materials on the ground floor cover the period from the liberation of Paris to the uprisings of May 1968, while the mezzanine level is devoted to the echoes and reverberations of the 1970s, from the Underground Press and urban communes to anarchist movements, sexual liberation and punk. Connecting the two levels thematically are more than 50 posters — many of them from the Atelier Populaire of revolutionary Paris — mounted on the glass book tower in the center of the building.

Among the items on display are several works by Guy Debord, a French Marxist theorist, writer, filmmaker, hypergraphist and founding member of the groups Lettrist International and Situationist International (SI), which both played a part in the 1968 uprisings. These materials include the original working manuscript of Debord’s philosophical tome “Society of the Spectacle”; a complete run of Potlatch, the journal of the Lettrist International, which Debord edited; and two early artist book collaborations by Debord and Asger Jorn: “Fin de Copenhague” (Debord’s personal copy) and “Mémoires” (bound in sandpaper).

An opening celebration featuring women who played a major role in the development of the postwar avant garde movement — Alice Becker-Ho, Debord’s widow and a member of the Situationist International, and Jacqueline de Jong, practicing artist and former editor of the Situationist Times — will take place at 5 p.m. on October 15. The public is invited.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, located at 121 Wall St., is open for exhibition viewing Monday–Thursday 9 a.m.–7 p.m, Friday 9 a.m.–5 p.m. and Saturday noon–5 p.m. Admission is free. For directions, call 203-432-2977.

For more information, contact: Kevin Repp, Curator, Modern Books and Manuscripts, kevin.repp@yale.edu, 203-432-2967 or Timothy Young, Curator, Modern Books and Manuscripts, timothy.young@yale.edu, 203-432-8131.

PRESS CONTACT: Rebecca Martz 203-432-2969

Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this

Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345