Cellar Door

April 29, 2008 at 12:22 pm | Posted in art, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Forest of Gunpowder Trees

Friday afternoon I finally made it to the mesmerizing Cellar Door exhibit at the Palais de Tokyo. I’d been a bit hesitant about this show, because they were promoting it as the first time the PdT had given over the entire museum to one artist under the age of thirty — I worried that, with a description like that, it had a lot of potential to go horribly wrong, plus I’ve gotten kind of bitter and resentful about people who are massively creative/successful and younger than I am. But the show won me over! Because it was amazing.

The concept for the show was that the entire space would be re-imagined as a sort of 3-D map of the artist’s brain. To me, the experience was most like waking up in an obscure avant-garde art film featuring a lot of surrealist dream imagery — see, for example, those bare trees lit by a glowing red orb.


This is a mini-map of the mind map. #8, the spectacle of a sculpture, consisted of some people in a cage shooting paintball guns at each other. #1 was a neon sculpture representing the balled-up blueprints of the Palais de Tokyo. #5 was an empty movie theater playing blurry abstractions. And my personal favorite was #9:

Celador, the candy with a taste of illusion

Celador: the candy with the taste of illusion. (“A candy whose indeterminate taste appeals to the consumer’s imagination. On sale in supermarkets, using the conventions of mass marketing. Celador is a contamination of reality.”)

Did the whole show hang together? I’m not sure — some of the elements felt a little thrown together, and some were downright annoying (the signs that faded to black as you were trying to read them, for example). Still, it imparted a sense of wonder and surprise, and a feeling of leaving the real world behind for an hour or two, which is mostly what I look for in contemporary art these days.


The “French paradox” that isn’t

April 21, 2008 at 12:18 pm | Posted in books, food, vie quotidienne | 12 Comments
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If you follow French food and culture at all, you’ve probably heard of a delightfully regressive text called French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. The basic gist is that French women eat pastries, fatty cheeses, five course meals, and buckets of wine, yet remain perpetually slender and never waste a minute worrying about their figures. The book further promises to show sad, dumpy, body-image obsessed Americans how a little bit of joie de vivre can make them thin, thin, thin!

Well, I’m about to let you in on a dirty little secret:

Why French women don't get fat

This is the current window display of the pharmacy down the street from me. Please note that, other than the makeup ad in the corner, every single image is an ad for some kind of dubious “diet aid” (actually, the one bottom left is an ad for control-top stockings, but same idea).

Why don’t French women get fat? Apparently, it’s the same mixture of dieting, disordered eating, and self-loathing that afflicts most western women.

Underwear and Identity Politics

April 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Underwear and Identity Politics

This doesn’t have anything to do with Paris, but those of you who enjoy my occasional deconstructions of European advertisements (see here, here, here, and here) might be interested in this discussion about the new Hanes underwear campaign in India.

Not completely sure how I feel about it yet, but my gut reaction is to agree with those who say it’s okay as art/cultural criticism, not so great as commerce.  But I might change my mind…

süßer duft

April 17, 2008 at 1:06 pm | Posted in art, Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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Okay, that was terrifying.

I just got back from the Gregor Schneider exhibit at the Maison Rouge, and let me just say: scariest museum visit ever. Kind of like a cross between a nightmare and a graphic adventure game. Seriously, as exciting and awesome as it was, I’m not sure I can recommend in good conscience that anyone follow in my footsteps. Particularly not if you are remotely claustrophobic, or afraid of the dark, or anything like that.

If you do want to go and have the full experience yourself, don’t read any further, since I’m going to describe it in a fair amount of detail.

Continue Reading süßer duft…

A Long Way from Itsy Bitsy

April 14, 2008 at 3:01 pm | Posted in art, Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Why the spider? Because my best friend was my mother, and she was as intelligent, patient, clean and useful, reasonable, indispensable as a spider. -Louise Bourgeois

Sure. And the spider/mother is definitely not supposed to be creepy, threatening, or controlling in any way, with its looming body and its spiky feet. Or perhaps Louise Bourgeois is not an artist to be taken entirely at her word. Consider, for example, that in a room filled with bulbous, organic, sensual shapes, Bourgeois is quoted thusly: “These are clouds, a formation of clouds. Me, I don’t see any sexual connotations in them.” Hmmm.

Such were my thoughts upon attending the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at Beaubourg. I can’t say I came away believing that she is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, but there were certainly some strange, even disturbing pieces. As with many retrospectives, unless you are a hopeless devotee, I would advise you to hurry through the first few rooms of the exhibit — Bourgeois’s early works struck me as mostly uninspired and derivative, and infused with an irritating literalism (see the “house wife” series, where the artist depicts herself as trapped by cage-like houses).

Her works from the 80s onward, on the other hand, were a lot more compelling. I particularly liked her “Cells” — a series of installations that have a definite element of psychological spookiness. The two largest are made up of wooden doors, arranged in a circle to act as walls, and adorned with signs that read “Fermez la porte, SVP” and “Private”. In chinks and hinges, the viewer can peer inside these little rooms, decorated with strange red objects and representing the realm of the parent and realm of the child, and implying the dark secrets these two have from each other.

The rest of the exhibit was mostly devoted to Bourgeois’s grotesque fabric sculptures, like Seven in a Bed, in which seven pink bodies with ten heads among them seem to be maybe embracing, maybe cannibalizing each other. (See this and other works here.) I have to say, images like that can make you wonder if Bourgeois was quite as innocent as her words insist.

Louise Bourgeois
until June 2nd
Centre Pompidou

Naturellement Bizarre

April 9, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Posted in food | 14 Comments
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File this under “sincerely puzzling marketing campaigns”:


Mmm… nothing says thirst-quenching delight like a sexy… kangaroo? Gazelle? What is that monstrosity, anyway?

When I see something like this, I can’t help wondering if there’s some joke or pun or, I don’t know… meaning I’m missing thanks to my status as a cultural outsider. Actually, I thought I had this one figured out, since the first one of these ads I saw was this:

orangina octopus


Anyway, I figured the joke must be a play on “pulpeuse” because the French word for octopus is “poulpe”. Pretty witty, right? If weird. But this new kangaroo-gal has upset that idea, so now I think the point is just some vague, half-hearted sense that “naturallement” (naturally) might have something to do with wild animals, and “pulpeuse” can mean fleshy and, to some extent, sexy or luscious. Put those ideas together and you get… bestiality kitsch! Obviously.

I watched this ad in hopes that it might make things marginally clearer:

But I can’t say it did.

This is one of those times that I’d like to hypothesize some great Gallic genius at work that a foreigner simply couldn’t be expected to understand. But I suspect the ad agency was simply taking a page out of the skittles playbook:

Make your ad creepy and disturbing enough, and people will inevitably blog about it, garnering you a boatload of free publicity. Well played, ad man.

Les Nouveaux Negriers

April 7, 2008 at 12:42 pm | Posted in spectacle, vie quotidienne | 2 Comments
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This was the scene outside my window Saturday:


Good thing I didn’t have any big plans that day…


Ooh, flares! Pretty.

RESF= Nouveaux Negriers

If that guy would be so kind as to move out of the way, you could see they’ve written “RESF = Nouveaux Negriers” (RESF = New Slavers) on my street. Not having any idea what this could possibly mean, I did a little research. RESF, apparently, is the Réseau Éducation Sans Frontières, itself a newspeak kind of term for a policy intended to allow children to remain in France even if their parents are being deported.

It’s pretty educational to check out RESF’s website, compare it to its Wikipedia page, and then again with the protestors outside my window. The website makes it look as if RESF is protesting a horrible government policy. The wikipedia page, on the other hand, makes it seem as if the RESF is working with the government. The protestors, meanwhile, are comparing the principles of the RESF to the atrocities of the slave trade. So… wait. This counter-government group outside my window is actually protesting another counter-government group? Now I’m confused.

It just goes to show how challenging it can be to make sense of politics in another language. In English, I’m well-practiced at disassembling the rhetoric of both sides to find the real issue underneath. In French, I still often feel bewildered.

(A propos: please feel free to jump in and clarify the details of this conflict, if you understand it better than I do — I had to wade through a lot of propaganda, which is the hardest kind of French for me to read.)



My better informed sister has this to add:

I think the Negriers comment was written ahead of time by right-wing, anti-immigrant folks, trying to speak against the RESF parade. Here are some sites that indicate the right is not happy about the pro-immigrant RESF. The RESF are “slavers”, in that they encourage immigrants, who then serve as cheap labor to undercut “real” French workers.

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