Sunday, October 6, 2013

You say Pompidou. I say Pompidon't.

Maybe it was because it was the end of a long day of sight seeing.  Maybe it was the lackadaisical nature of the gallery attendants.  Or maybe it was because there just wasn't much excitement in the building. (The Pompidou was the only museum or tourist attraction I went to in Paris at which there was absolutely no line.) But my visit to the Pompidou in Paris left me feeling flat. We left championing the phrase, "You say Pompidou, I say Pompidon't."

But as I looked back at photos from the visit, I realized there were some interesting things to look at other than bored gallery attendants.  I may have been a little harsh on my assessment of the museum's permanent collection.  So here are a few things I liked.

In one sizable gallery, the walls were painted in bright colors and adorned with precise, life-sized line drawings of everyday objects by Michael Craig-Martin. I like the way these objects are simultaneously simplified and elevated to the level of art.

Michael Craig-Martin, Papillion Gallery Project
(Wall Drawings), 1993 - 2012

Michael Craig-Martin, Papillion Gallery Project
(Wall Drawings), 1993 - 2012

Michael Craig-Martin, Papillion Gallery Project
(Wall Drawings), 1993 - 2012

Bones seem to be a popular theme for my visit to Paris, especially considering my visit to the Catacombs. So it's no wonder that I loved Jean Pierre Raynaud's large drawing of a skull presented brilliantly within a large, gridded container.

Two works by Jean Pierre Raynaud, Container Zero,
(1988) and LINE (1993 - 2012)
I have nothing smart or insightful to say about Gerard Fromanger's painting other than that its colorful view of humanity was delightful and appealing.
Gerard Fromanger, En Chine, a Hu-Xian, 1974

Gerhard Richter's colorful (or lack there of) paintings will factor into a number of my museum visits. This painting, with its repetitive shapes and endless variation, speaks to something in my brain that shares a fascination with the same ideas.
Gerhard Richter, 1024 Colors [350-3], 1973
Speaking of bones, Adel Abdessemed's glass skeleton was mesmerizing.  It spoke about death but somehow made it less scary and more zen like.

Adel Abdessemed, Habibti, 2006
Murano glass, hair, wire, and metallic fasteners

Kadir Attia's Ghost is a wonderfully spooky work of hollow human figures created from compressed aluminum foil.

Kadar Attia, Ghost, 2007,
compressed aluminum foil

Finally, there was a strange cave-like structure at the Pompidou that featured Jean Dubuffet's Le Jardin d'hiver.  I love any artwork that let's you walk into it and take silly photographs.

Jean Dubuffet, Le Jardin d'hiver, 1968 - 1970
Jean Dubuffet, Le Jardin d'hiver, 1968 - 1970

Jean Dubuffet, Le Jardin d'hiver, 1968 - 1970

Versaille Part 2: It's definitely not Koons or Murakami.

Giuseppe Penone, Le Foglie Delle Radici,
2011, bronze, plant, and earth
One of the most pleasant days of my trip to Paris was spent in the gardens of Versailles. You can read about it here. In this post, I want to talk about the featured summer artist at Versailles. Before I get to that, a little fine-art griping. Over the past several summers, Versailles has hosted some of the biggest blockbuster exhibits of their respective years. I wanted desperately to see two shows in particular; namely the retrospectives featuring the works of Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. This summer, the visiting artist was someone I'd never heard of; Giuseppe Penone. (Although since I visited this show, I've seen Mr. Penone's name all over the place including.)  So I was less than excited for the show.

Penone's sculptures definitely don't have the in-your-face spectacle that the work of Koons and Murakami would have had.  And yet, by the time I'd experienced these monumental, quiet works I was a fan of the artist. The sculptures are a strange fusion of bronze and natural materials, often combined in a way that make it hard to determine where the bronze ends and nature begins. I was also frequently delighted with the wonder of the installation.  Many of these works involve very large trees. I can only imagine the efforts made to place these trees in a way that makes them look like they've been a part of Versailles for years.  That brings me to my final point about the work; these sculptures feel surprisingly at home among the meticulously tended  plants, fountains, and sculptures of Versailles. Their unexpected view of nature feels like a perfect contemporary addition to the artistry of the traditional gardens.

Sure, if I had to pick I'd choose to see Koons or Murakami at Versailles. But I'm happy to have been introduced to the inspiring sculptures of Giuseppe Penone's and I will actively seek out his work in the future. Here are a few photos from the installation.

Giuseppe Penone, Albero Folgorato,
2012, bronze

Giuseppe Penone, Elevazione,
2011, bronze and trees

Versailles Penone, installation view
Giuseppe Penone, Spazio di Luce, 2008, bronze

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Versailles Part 1: One helluva backyard!

What better thing to do on a beautiful spring day than take a visit to the gardens of Versailles.  The weather gods were looking out for us as we made our way out of Paris to a place that, no matter how many pictures you've seen or descriptions you've heard, is more grand than you can possibly imagine. We decided that we'd visit the gardens first.  And we timed our visit to ensure that we could see the fountains with the water running.  I'm glad we did.  The problem? We spent way too much time in the gardens which would create problems for our later efforts.  Here are a few of my favorite things about the gardens.

Topiary has always inspired a kid-like wonder in me.  And the topiary at Versailles are about as close to perfect as you can get.  Sure they avoid cutesy animals and the like. But their formal precision is still somehow humorous and magical.  And it helps accentuate everything in the gardens like the sculptures.

The lattice work in some of the garden areas is wondrous.  It offers a strange, mathematical view of what I can only image is the engineering behind the gardens.

The fountains.
I can only imagine that in a time before movies, TV, and the internet, wandering through these gardens with the spectacular fountains turned on would have been awe-inspiring.  Because even in a time with movies, TV, and the internet, walking through these gardens with the fountains running was spectacular.  If you plan a visit, be sure to go when the fountains are on.

The Bikes
As you head Northwest from the palace about halfway down the seemingly-endless canal you can exit the ticketed area of the gardens and rent bikes. This was spectacular fun. And it gave us an opportunity to bike down to the Queen's hamlet.  More on that later.  It was also fun to see all the French families out for fabulous picnics.  Here are a few photos and and video of Felix looking very French on his bike.

The Queen's Pretend Hamlet.
The bikes allowed us to travel the distance to Marie Antoinette's charming hamlet.  In a time before movies, TV, and the internet, what's a bored queen to do? Construct a charming hamlet so you can experience what it's like to be a common farm girl, of course.  So, here are a few images from a truly charming hamlet.

The Bad News.
With all that fun, we spent more time in the gardens than we probably should have.  And by the time we got done, it was 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon.  Not a lot of time left to visit the actual palace.  And with the line you see behind Felix in the photo below.  We decided it wouldn't be worth the wait to get into the palace.  Oh well, I guess we need to save a few things for our next visit.