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Note: this post is horribly outdated, and the exhibit itself is long since closed, but that might actually be a good thing.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


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.

Red House

November 20, 2007 at 12:50 pm | Posted in art | Comments Off on Red House
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Red House

Last week I made my first visit to La Maison Rouge — which, contrary to appearances, is not a den of prostitution but a small museum with rotating exhibits that had been recommended to me a number of times.

On right now they’re showing Sots Art: Art politique en Russie de 1972 à aujourd’hui, an exhibit devoted to the works of politically motivated artists in the late soviet and post soviet eras. This focus makes for some graphically appealing (if somewhat heavy handed) pieces:

Lenin Coca-Cola

Some that were a bit more subtle:

Revolutionary Russian Porcelain

In this work by Kossolapov, Duchamp meets Malevitch, pointing up the contrast between avant garde art in Moscow vs. New York. Still others, however, were very nearly incomprehensible to an undereducated western eye:


Here we have some creepy, suit-clad monsters, debating over glasses of wine. I think they’re supposed to be aliens, but I didn’t quite grok the political message.

Which brings me to the main weakness of the exhibit: there is absolutely no wall commentary. And I know a lot of people feel that wall commentaries in museums are a crutch, and that everyone should come to the art on their own terms, without the curator holding your hand through the whole thing. And that’s a fine approach for many exhibits — but when we’re talking about political art that was produced in a very specific context, really, I’m going to need some cliff’s notes.

Of course, the Maison Rouge doesn’t leave you completely on your own. When you buy your ticket, they give you a tiny little stapled booklet, in French only, filled with in depth essays regarding most of the works on display. But good luck finding a place to read it! There isn’t a bench in the whole show, and I wound up sitting on the floor at one point just to get a good angle and enough light to read the damn thing.

I have to admit, though, the booklet had a lot of interesting commentary, and really made me appreciate the exhibit on a deeper level. I just wish I’d hung around the comfortable lounge in the lobby area to read it before venturing inside.

La Maison Rouge
Sots Art: Art politique en Russie de 1972 à aujourd’hui
10 boulevard de la bastille
Open Wednesday through Sunday

Check out some more pictures here


October 2, 2007 at 10:46 am | Posted in art | Comments Off on Ozga
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If you missed Kasia Ozga‘s unsettling rope sculptures back in May, you’ve got another chance now. Her exhibit, “Attractions et Oppositions,” is opening tonight.

“…[Ozga] thus creates a universe around the organic, on the theme of attachment and tension. At the heart of the exhibition space, the artist will present a participatory work conceived specially for the exhibit.”

Exposition: « Attractions et oppositions »
Opening tonight at 7:30
Running October 2-25th, 2007
Animathèque MJC de Sceaux, 21, rue des Écoles, 92330 Sceaux (RER :
Ligne B direction Robinson station Sceaux, BUS : 192 / 128 / 395)
Tel :


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