A whirlwind of museum shows, walking, wandering, a bit of shopping and eating. That’s what this trip to Paris has been about. Seeing what is new, what is gone, what is happening. A bit of napping sneaks in as well but the largest impact for me has been the art. If you are ever in doubt of the power of art, go to your local art museum and immerse yourself in the work. You will never be the same. Art affects us in ways that can be challenging to articulate but are powerful and palpable nonetheless. Which is the whole point isn’t it?
Paris is positively drowning in fabulous art right now.
Lines are everywhere. Paris is all about waiting. Tickets must be purchased online and a Pass Sanitaire is mandatory. One checkpoint for each, plus one to look inside your bags and go through the metal detector.
First up is the Vivian Maier exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg. A small intimate gallery that was unfortunately packed the Sunday afternoon we attended. Note to self, a Paris museum will always be crowded on Sunday afternoon. Vivian handled it well, as the strength of her work can hold a crowd. An amazing show. This unassuming woman, a nanny, no doubt discounted by many, became invisible on the streets of Chicago and so was able to catch an authentic vision of humanity in its daily mundane beauty, helping us experience the sublime in the ordinary.
Late one afternoon we go to the Pompidou for the Georgia O’Keefe and Georg Baselitz exhibits. Two Georges and they couldn’t be more different. Both robust, energetic, powerful and moving. One feminine, one masculine.
I have always loved Georgia O’Keefe’s work. Her paintings are strong yet soft, feminine yet firm, confident, open and always chock full of light. Georgia really knows how to work the paint. Somehow even her hard edges come out with a bit of softness.
Lots of early foundational works including pieces and styles I had not seen before. Graphic stark architectural paintings, undulating vistas in fleshy desert hues, harsh dark cityscapes that emit grit, desert icons with their bare beauty and of course the erotic intimate floral landscapes that entice with their meditative mystery. All filled with light; all radiating light. Light on the hills, light on a tree, a cross, a skull, a wall, a river, clouds, a street. O’Keefe paints a grand celebration of the feminine oozing light that transports the heart, sharing in what and how to see.
After all this light it is shocking and disconcerting to enter the next door galleries with Georg Baselitz’s work, which is new to me and appears quite dark and emotive. Large expressive figures emanate rage and all sport massive members or open flys. His work spills out of all the gallery rooms in such a juxtaposition to O’Keefe’s work. Exuding a frenetic confusing rage, the large scale pieces display discomfort, destruction and unease with strength and surety. Then there is the unease present in the inverted portraits and massive raw sculptures, all bold with a confidence that belies a lack of solutions/confidence/understanding. All this not knowing. Powerful, disconcerting, disturbing.
One morning we venture out to the Sebastian Salgado photo exhibit at the Philaharmonie de Paris. Extraordinary. A powerful immersion in his black and white vision of the Amazon that moves the heart in numerous harmonious levels of connection and beauty. Large scale photos of mountains, impenetrable jungle, snaking rivers, mist, rain and massive clouds, hang at right angles throughout the gallery, softly shifting, surrounding and offering stunning images at every turn of the head. The immensity and mystery of the landscape images is balanced by tender portraits of the indigenous people who call this vastness home. Water, bird, wind, song and rain sounds surround the visuals, filling the room, enhancing and creating a deeply moving experience. Note to self: we live in a marvelous, magical world. It must be protected.
We are connected.
Another early morning start so we can walk through the Jardin des Tuileries on our way to the Musée de l'Orangerie. This museum is a jewel with so many facets.
Start with Monet’s water lilies/les Nymphéas. Even when filled with chatting milling people stillness reigns in the two oval rooms that hold Monet’s water gardens. A meditation in two suites.
I love descending the stairs to the lower galleries of the Orangerie; turning the corner and coming on the great Joan Mitchell triptych, The Goodbye Door. Step down, down, into her garden.
The pedagogical gallery holds work by Chiam Soutine and William de Kooning. New to me is how influential Soutine was for de Kooning, and that they were only 10+ years apart in age. Maybe because Soutine was so young when he died and de Kooning lived to be 92. Both of them lived rough lives.
I adore the wild mess of Soutine’s use of paint and color. His portraits are raw and expressive, especially the hands. I think he struggled with painting hands and I love the idea of that. Clearly that didn’t stop him and it seems to add a tenderness and vulnerability to a man who struggled with his humanity. Soutine hits the abyss with his work that de Kooning emulates from his perspective, sometimes reaching deep but often with a veneer of respectability that couldn’t hide his struggle.
De Kooning’s portraits of women have always read as angry, mistrustful and violent. The timeline included in the exhibit indicated his separation from his wife while he started a new affair as preceding the time of the portraits which explains a lot.
An added bonus at the Orangerie was the massive mural by David Hockney, A Year in Normandy, all done on an iPad. Brilliant.
I remember doing murals in grade school. Most revolved around religious themes as it was a Catholic school in the ’50’s — a mid-20th-century modern experience. Hockney’s mural is a masterful 21st century version that references and gives homage to Monet’s murals upstairs, right down to the purple trees and watery reflections. At first glance the mural appears simple and childlike. One has to look deeper into the masterful layers of color and texture. His rain strokes alone are marvelous. The rain today hit the windows on the bus in exactly the same way.
More to come at the Palais Galliera and Thierry Mugler at Les Arts Décoratifs.