Thursday, November 11, 2010

Museums Galore

With the weather turning wet and wintry, we've been visiting our share of museums lately.  Yesterday we were at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, where the big excitement is a major Basquiat exhibition.  You may recall Jean-Michel Basquiat as the young American graffiti artist who turned Minimalism on its head in the 1980s before dying young of an overdose.  It's been attracting long lines and we tried twice just to drop in before biting the bullet and ordering timed tickets online. 

The museum is also hosting an exhibit by Didier Marcel, whom we'd never heard of.  An artist who works in unexpected materials, i.e. soil, chocolate, etc.  has constructed a stroll through the gallery, using logs, boulders , paper, rolling columns, and a herd of deer made of rebar.  It was an experience we thoroughly enjoyed.  The Larry Clark photography exhibition, on the other hand, didn't appeal to us at all.  The sad young people, the drugs, the sex depicted have caused the museum to limit visitors to those over 18 years of age.  I'm well over that and could happily have missed it. 

The Basquiat show is immense but covers only about 10 years; he was extraordinarily prolific and only 28 whwn he died.  What I wasn't prepared for was how much of the work referenced history, with long lists of historical figures and events scribbled on the canvases, connections made between Europe, Haiti, the United States, slavery, conquest, and African-American life.  Fascinating, but overwhelming.  And the colors!  Particularly the earlier work, in which he used shockingly vibrant acrylics which could have been seen across the street.

Photos weren't allowed in the Basquiat exhibition, a fact I wasn't aware of (at least the Larry Clark show had signs forbidding photos and video) and I was admonished by a guard after taking this one.  It's ironic that the art of a street kid who began by painting on every available public surface should be protected from photography, but oh well.

Five centuries earlier, the end of the 100 Years War in France inspired a rich outpouring of art and architecture that is documented in the exhibition called France 1500 now at the Grand Palais.  Stained glass, paintings, illustrated manuscripts, furniture and architectural drawings overwhelm the casual visitor, but I was blown away by this statue of Saint Anne, stunned by the character in her face, very different from the more idealized portraits of Madonnas that abounded in the show.

And back once again to the 21st century, where the Cinémathèque Française has an exhibition called Brune/Blonde,  focusing on the way women's hair is represented in film.  Using film clips, stills, posters, this review of the sexual and mythical attraction of blondes or brunettes over time is a fascinating inquiry into how society views women.  And the outside of the building gives you a great view of a man!

An unknown (at least to us and to anyone else we've asked) Impressionist named Giuseppe De Nittis is being given an exhibition at the Petit Palais.  An Italian who worked most of his life in Paris, he was also extremely prolific, producing hundreds of paintings before dying at only 44.  Quite a few of these are excellent and made us wonder how many other artists languish in obscurity while thousands of people line up to see Monet over and over again.  Thank goodness for curators and academics looking for someone new to focus on.

And finally, on one of the occasions we couldn't get into the Basquiat show, we walked up the street to the Musée Guimet, which we had been meaning to visit for years, and discovered that one visit wouldn't be enough.  The Guimet houses several major collections of Asian art, including the largest Cambodian collection in the west.  It's extraordinary and beautiful, and the building itself is a great frame for the work.  The museum is also hosting a special exhibit of the work of Rashid Rana, a Pakistani contemporary artist, whose work is scattered among the pieces in the permanent collection.

I haven't even mentioned the fact that November is le Mois de Photographie and there are photo exhibits all over town.  Every other gallery is showing photography, old and new, and there's a palpable air of excitement as people move through the galleries in St-Germain des Prés and the Marais.  It's hard to be bored here.

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