Prodigal Child

October 5, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Posted in art, plans | 1 Comment

*looks around*

Boy, it sure gets dusty around here when you ignore it for a few months!  As some of you may know, I was cruelly ousted from the City of Lights last June, my return date uncertain.  During that time, I decided to let this blog lie fallow for a while, and give myself some time to work on other projects.  HOWEVER…  no firm plans yet, but word on the street is, come November, I may have reason to parisblog once more!

In the meanwhile, here’s a list of stuff you should be doing because I wish I could:

Jacques Villegle at Pompidou
From Miro to Warhol. The Berardo collection at the Musee du Luxembourg
Christian Boltanski at the Maison Rouge – okay, this actually just closed, but how sad am I that I missed it?  Please let me know if you saw it.
Picasso et les maitres at the Grand Palais

Oh, and you might also want to check out the first in Le Meg‘s vital (and timely) series on experiencing Paris on a shoestring.



July 9, 2008 at 1:42 am | Posted in art | Comments Off on Promenade
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There is a moment upon entering the recent Monumenta exhibit at the Grand Palais during which it’s hard not say, “This is it?”  Standing by the front door, I heard a number of people express the sentiment, and I admit I thought it myself.

After all, this was a hugely hyped exhibit of one of the most renowned sculptors of our era — but when you walk in, all you see is five giant, apparently identical slabs of steel, lined up in a monotonous row.

Appearances, though, can be deceiving.

As an artist, Richard Serra can be strikingly austere, even by minimalist standards.  But he is also frequently playful and contrary in his works (see the to-do about his 1981 piece, Tilted Arc), and so I believe this initial shock and disappointment was exactly what he intended.  It is in the wake of this disappointment, however, that a true appreciation of Promenade begins to take form — because as you walk around and through the five monoliths, you’re bound to uncover the subtle beauty in the rhythm and off-kilter balance of their relationship.

I doubt my photos do any justice to the experience, but for what it’s worth, here is a taste of Promenade:




And as always, more here.

Note: this post is horribly outdated, and the exhibit itself is long since closed, but that might actually be a good thing.  Based on the images originally used to promote the event, I think the curators wanted people to be surprised by the actual sculptural content when they entered the hall.  I can see why they would — this piece simply wouldn’t be the same if you knew what was coming.  So I was wondering for a while if it would be wrong of me to share my photos with people who might conceivably go to the exhibit, but…  too late!  You missed it, so enjoy.

Take Your Time

June 25, 2008 at 4:41 pm | Posted in art | Comments Off on Take Your Time
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I have a huge backlog of Paris posts to type up, but this is time-sensitive (closing at the end of the month), so it’s coming first.

Take Your Time

This weekend I schlepped all the way to New York because I just couldn’t bear to miss the Olafur Eliasson retrospective on right now at the MoMA. I like Eliasson because he’s not about art as stuff — instead of asking people to stand around and admire his beautiful objects, his art is about perception and intangible experience. There are objects, but the objects themselves aren’t the point, except in that they create an environment where strange, beautiful, unexpected experiences are possible.

Take Your Time

This piece, for example, 360 degree room for all colors, is the one I first fell in love with when I saw it at the Tate modern back in 2004. My original description: “You enter this circular room in which glorious colored light emanates from the walls. Everything you look at is awash in the glow from the walls, but even better is if you stand right next to the wall so there’s nothing in your field of vision but pure colored light. It’s like staring right into the abyss, or confronting the face of God or something. Awesome and terrible all at once, so beautiful you feel as though you’d go mad if you don’t look away.” Obviously, the piece can’t really be conveyed by still photos on a computer screen, but if you want to get some vague idea of it, check out this slideshow.

Not everything in the show was a complete success. One of the most talked about pieces was the Reversed waterfall out at PS1 in Queens, and for all that I loved the concept, the execution failed to impress. As the title implies, “a system of pumps reverses the flow of water in this man made waterfall, sending the water streaming upward.” A wonderful, whimsical idea, but it turns out gravity is a mighty foe when it comes to rushing water — the whole piece looked like a glorified bubbler or drinking fountain, and nothing about it conveyed “waterfall” to me.

Beauty, on the other hand, (also at PS1), completely made up for it. Another totally unphotographable work, in which “a spotlight shines obliquely through a curtain of fine mist, creating an indoor rainbow.” Oh, but what a curtain!

Take Your Time

Even though I knew it was water, there was a strange tactile, fabric-like quality to the mist — if you stood directly under it, it was like a shimmering, gossamer curtain billowing down on you, just slightly heavier than air. Definitely worth the trek out to Queens.

Okay, this post is getting on the long side, but please do check out the rest of the photos for more gorgeous experiments with light, color, and water.

Olafur Eliassion
at the MoMA and PS1 in New York until June 30th.

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


May 7, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Posted in art, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825)

Le Désespoir de l’artiste devant la grandeur des ruines antiques, 1778-1880

The despair of the artist before the grandeur of ancient ruins… And honestly, what artist among us hasn’t felt like this some days?

This sketch is from the exhibit L’Âge d’or du romantisme Allemand: Aquarelles et dessins à l’époque de Goethe, currently on at the Musee de la Vie Romantique. It may not be the most fashionable style these days — the people will have their realists and impressionists — but the passion and drama of Romanticism has always had a strange attraction for me: the desolate landscapes, the fascination with overlooked periods of art and architecture, the easy familiarity with death and the supernatural… The idea is to be swept away by the visceral impact of art, instead of dispassionately admiring the skill of the artist.

While the style may sometimes veer into base sentimentality, I’m nevertheless drawn to its ideal of privileging subjective experience — as Casper David Friedrich put it, “The painter must not be content to paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees in himself.”

P.S. Since the exhibit was devoted almost entirely to pen and ink drawings and watercolors, it might be of some interest to the illustrators in my audience.

Musée de la Vie romantique
Hôtel Scheffer-Renan
16 rue Chaptal – 75009 Paris
until June 15th

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.

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


March 31, 2008 at 12:26 pm | Posted in art | Comments Off on Boyzone
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Last week I headed over to the Musee d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (and yes, that’s the longest museum name *ever*) to see Clarisse Hahn’s “Boyzone”. Really, with a title like that, how was I to resist? Here’s the description:

This series of videos is a study of the male body, sometimes isolated but more often in groups: squatters drinking beer with their shirts off, teenagers training in martial-arts in a public garden, boyscouts, bodybuilders, a dog-handler training his dog…

Stereotypes are questioned here: how much are we susceptible to them? Boyzone questions the rapport of the individual to the group: how does one become integrated in it? To what extent do we model our behaviour on that of the group we belong to? What signs of our belonging to this group do we exhibit?

I’m always fascinated by the examination of cultural constructions of masculinity, so I was pretty excited about this, but I’m sorry to say the exhibit itself was a bit of a disappointment, and I suspect the biggest problems were due to the curator, rather than the artist. True, it’s hard to build an art exhibit around video and still have it be visually and spatially engaging. But did they have to scatter the tv sets in such an irritatingly random manner? Some were on the floor, some were on pillars, and one tiny set was perched way up by the ceiling, where it was pretty much unwatchable. Also, each of the video pieces had sound, but instead of having headphones, each tv was set at a frustratingly low volume, so you could hear it only if you listened really intently and ignored the cacophonous noises coming from all the other tvs.

I was also somewhat annoyed by the artist’s decision to include so many “isolated” male bodies, which didn’t seem to contribute much to her thesis. Especially since these supposedly isolated males were not actually alone, but obviously interacting with the artist behind the camera — who is female. If the piece is supposed to be about how men act around other men, how useful is it to see them interacting with a female documentarian?

Despite these flaws, there was still a lot of interesting commentary on/documentary depiction of masculine behavior. The artist’s choice to use very short, highly edited clips with low sound helped to frame and highlight the physical interactions of men in groups — how the soccer players playfully slapped at each other, the squatters nodded obliquely, or the teenagers wrestled and spit… Even the video of a group of men and boys slaughtering a goat was illuminating, if a bit gross.

Clarisse Hahn — Boyzone
Musee d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
Ends April 6 — free

Lacroix, Dahling

December 12, 2007 at 3:03 pm | Posted in art, fashion | 6 Comments
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I have neither the time nor the energy to blog seriously right now, but I wanted to tell anyone who thinks they might have even the remotest interest to see the Lacroix show at the Musée de la Mode.  The gowns on display are truly gorgeous — although only a few of them are by Lacroix, the rest were selected by Lacroix from the museum’s extensive permanent collection to illustrate his favorite tropes and techniques in the history of fashion.

Of course, everything is stunning, but what really impressed me was the curating.  It seems as though the museum basically gave Lacroix carte blanche to play with their collection, and it was surprising to me how intelligent and considered his choices and remarks were.  Not all artists can talk about art as well as make it.

There was no photography allowed, but do take the time to check out this slide show of pieces from the exhibit — it should give you some idea of the pieces on display.

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