Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mashed in Museums

There are a lot of museums in Paris and many of them are crowded with people.  These people tend to fall into two categories in my experience: first, visitors determined to see the well-known treasures they've read and heard about, and second, locals who are determined to see the new exhibitions they've heard and read about.  Mostly, they're not in the same place, but they take up equal room when you're trying to do either of these things.

We've mostly fallen into the second category recently.  Yes, it's true that with all the incredible museums at our disposal we tend to go to see the temporary exhibitions and ignore the full time residents of the galleries of Paris museums.  Our bad.

So which crowds have we been battling recently?  One rainy afternoon we started out to go to the Jacquemart-André museum to see the Fra Angelico show but the gloomy weather kept us closer to home and we walked to the Musée Maillol to see the show on Pompeii instead.  I keep forgetting how these little, and I mean tiny, old ladies push and maneuver themselves to the front, luckily too short to block others' views but shameless in their determination to ignore anyone else who might be in their way.

The Maillol, like many of the smaller museums in Paris, is not designed to handle large crowds, having one big room and lots of little ones connected by narrow corridors.  Blockages are inevitable, and when one of the small rooms contains the "erotic" wall paintings, one can feel like the cork in the bottle.  Naturally they book popular exhibitions that tend to draw crowds.

Had we managed to get to the Jacquemart-André we would have been in even worse shape, as there the rooms set aside for temporary exhibitions are even smaller, and for some reason the museum seems to encourage tours, so one is often stuck behind or pushed away by groups with guides explaining what they're seeing to people with bad eyesight who need to get RIGHT UP to the paintings and study them for A LONG TIME.

It isn't only in smaller museums that these hazards arise.  We went to the Louvre to see the exhibit of Macedonian art from the dynasty that culminated in Alexander the Great.  Lots of small objects and detailed descriptions on the signage encouraged people to move very slowly along in lines before the display cases.  Once again the tiny ladies (the same ones, maybe?  they all look alike) practicing their maneuvering skills manage this time to block the views, leading me at least to skip whole displays.

So what to do?  Why, visit the less popular and thus less populated exhibitions and museums of course.  So we're off to the Pinacothèque de Paris to see a show on German Expressionism.  This museum is interesting in that it's private and seems to have fewer connections with large international museums so that their exhibitions, while not bad, don't manage to borrow the best examples of what they're showing. And once again we have the Curatorial Dilemma we last ran into at the Cezanne and Paris show.

It's nearly impossible to mount an exhibition anymore without a "hook", and no, that's not a pun.  Curators seem to need a reason to show work that's not new, no matter how flimsy.  In this case, the difference between die Blaue Reiter and die Brucke schools of Expressionism was the hook.  While there were clearly theoretical differences between the two, explained in language I found impenetrable, the work itself didn't seem to reflect those differences in any consistent manner.  Or maybe I was just tired.

There were only 3 other people in the museum.

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