J’adore les Musées

cool artwork at the MFA’s new contemporary wing

So my little header thingy for my blog is “Art, Travel, Food, Design.”  I think that so far, I have sufficiently covered the travel and food topics (for now), so now for some art and design.  Of course, being in a small town where the only museum is closed for construction for the entire year, I will again refer to my wonderful week in Paris back in October.  I figured I should probably finish talking about that trip before we go on our February vacation on Monday, and I come back with lots more to talk about!

Museums have become a really important part of my life.  I started to like museums in high school when my French teacher had us all do a presentation on a French painter (mine was Renoir) and then took us on a field trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  One of the paintings I saw there is still one of my favorites; the Corot you see on the right.  I have the postcard.  Later during my study abroad in Grenoble, I took my only Art History class ever, in French, and I love love loved it.  Museums are so much more interesting when you know about the painters, the different artistic movements, and some context.  I was lucky to be able to travel a lot in Europe during my semester abroad and I went to a lot of museums.  I was really proud of myself when I could go around a museum and name the artist of a painting just by looking at the style and subject.  Of course my art history knowledge is limited, so the only art I can enjoy in that way is French art from the 18th century to about 1920.  I don’t want to limit myself to just looking at those paintings, so I have grown to appreciate and also be critical of museum setups and their attempt at, or lack of, giving an explanation or context to help you understand what you’re looking at.  One of the best parts of going to BU was free access to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I went there many times during my last couple years of college, for the French Film Festival and several temporary exhibits.  Their temporary exhibits are very well presented and the museum has a nice permanent collection, too (yay for the new American and Contemporary wings!).  Also my favorite part of NYC is the museums; my first trip to the MOMA was epic, and I find the MET overwhelming but a necessary evil I suppose.  They have all the best exhibits, but they are horribly set up.  Still, I spent 8 hours on a bus in one day just to see the Alexander McQueen exhibit there.  It was worth the trip.

Centre Pompidou

In Paris, we went to four museums: The Centre Pompidou (modern/contemporary art), the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (specifically to see the Hussein Chalayan exhibit), the Musée Rodin, and the Musée d’Orsay.  I loved them all, especially since we somehow got lucky and accidentally planned to go the museums on the less busy days, completely avoiding the Toussaint holiday crowds and the 3-hour lines.  The amount of people in a museum greatly affects how much you will enjoy it, so I am very glad it worked out the way it did (*coughcoughNewYorkisalwaystoocrowdedcough*).  We also got in free to all of them since we are under 26 and we are French residents!  Each of the museums was very different, both in content and also structure and organizing, giving us a completely unique experience in each museum.

I think that the Musée Rodin was the least “museum-y” of the four, since the main attraction is the beautiful garden.  It’s also unique in that it’s a museum of works from mostly one artist, Rodin, who did sculpture.  So there are large sculptures throughout the garden and then a big building that used to be a mansion, still complete with beautiful windows, mirrors, winding staircases, and chandeliers, that houses many smaller sculptures and a few paintings by artists somehow related to Rodin.  It was quite beautiful, and we spent a lot of time in the garden smelling roses and sitting by fountains.  I’m not usually that into sculpture, but Rodin is unarguably the best of the best (‘The Thinker’) and it was striking to see so many of his works in one place.

Rodin’s famous sculpture ‘The Thinker’

The Musée d’Orsay was of course wonderful, seeing as it’s the most famous museum in Paris after the Louvre.  It was great to see the Impressionist Gallery with all the Monets, Renoirs, Degas, and Lautrecs that are so familiar to anyone who studies French or art history, and hopefully known to the general public.  This is one museum where I see everything that I learned about in that art history class, which is fun.  It’s always cool to see things in person that you have only seen on the internet or in powerpoint presentations.  I had been to the Orsay twice before, and there were a couple big differences this time: 1) no photography, sorry; 2) the entire museum has been renovated and rearranged, with some new acquisitions as well (and it reopened just in time for our visit!).  I was surprised that having been there only twice, 2 years ago and 6 years ago, I could still see the difference.  It is a pretty big difference.  You enter the museum expecting to see a certain big painting in front of you, only to find out that it has been moved to another gallery.  And the wall colors have changed.  From what I can tell, the change was good organizationally, and everything is logically grouped by time period, artistic movement, painter, or sometimes theme (night landscapes, Toulouse Lautrec’s Paris), but a part of me is kind of sad that I’ll never again see Renoir’s ‘Dance in the Country’ and ‘Dance in the City’ paintings hanging against a big white wall in a big white gallery like I did my first time in France when it was so magical.  The lighting is different I think.  Oh nostalgia.

view from the top floor inside the Musée d’Orsay

Out of all the museums, we spent the most time at the Centre Pompidou, which I think is now tied with the MOMA for my favorite museum in the world (so far).  We went in October and again in December with my family, on my birthday.  What an awesome birthday present!  The Centre Pompidou is awesome before you even enter the museum.  It is really unique architecturally, especially compared to the rest of Paris (see above), and to get to the galleries you have to take elevators to the top, where there is an amazing view of the city.  You can see the Eiffel Tower on one side and the Sacré Coeur on the other!

Igor and Julia taking in the view

The exhibit showing at the time was ‘Edvard Munch, the Modern Eye.’  Munch is a Norwegian painter best known for ‘The Scream‘ (1893), a rather disturbing painting, but this exhibit showed that ‘The Scream’ is not representative of his entire life’s work.  Many of the paintings were dark, but that was not the central theme.  As you can tell from the title, the exhibit tried to show how Munch was an experimental innovator, and a bit ahead of his time.

A happy Munch painting!

A major aspect of Munch’s work is ‘Reworking’; he made several versions of the ‘same painting’ at different times in his life and in different styles.  I thought the way the museum presented this was very clever: The first gallery of the exhibit had several major works by Munch, and the second gallery had the same works in the exact same places on the walls, but they were different versions.  At first, there was a strange sense of ‘déjà vu,’ but then I started to notice the differences and it was impossible not to want to go back to the first gallery and take a second look.  I thought this was a much more creative approach than the predictable two versions side by side presentation, and it made the viewer think more and observe more attentively.  Very smart.

Two versions of ‘The Kiss’, taken from the exhibit booklet
‘Vampire’ and ‘Vampire in the Forest’

Munch also experimented with photography, specifically double exposure and blur effects, and many self portraits, so it was cool to see his work in another meduim.  He also went through a period where he had an eye disease, leaving him partially blind in his right eye for a time, and then his vision slowly came back.  He painted what he saw through his right eye, which at times was super crazy.  Most of the time it was a normal picture with a big blob on it, but apparently the blob changed shapes and for a while it looked like a bird.  So he made a picture of his eyeball with a creepy black bird on it.  It was pretty awesome.

The permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou is gigantic, so it was easy to spend a whole afternoon there.  Apparently the collection is growing so much that they needed to open another Centre Pompidou in another city to fit it all (I guess that’s the problem with contemporary art).  The upstairs is ‘modern’ (1900s – 1960s) and the downstairs is more contemporary (1970s – present).  The museum also had a lot of little blurbs on the walls about artistic movements, some specific artists, and a lot of the paintings too, which was really helpful.  I thought I would like the upstairs better, because I know more about it, but some of the contemporary stuff was really cool too!  I got to see some of my favorite artists’ work and a lot of new stuff too.  Let me show you a little sample:

 coolest of the many obligatory Picasso paintings
Prismes Électriques by Sonia Delaunay – I love the Delaunays! Sonia and her husband Robert made a lot of cool stuff
painting by Robert Delaunay
I have a puzzle of this Kandinsky painting! I was so excited to see it in real life!
it’s always interesting to hear everyone’s different interpretations of abstract sculptures…
A whole room of Delaunay!
a Calder mobile complete with lovely shadows on the wall
An example of why information on the wall is useful. I was very intrigued by this painting, but had no idea what it was about.  Apparently this painting by Christian Schad from 1927 is a commentary on Viennese society, and the person on the right is a ‘famous transvestite from Berlin’s highly fashionable Eldorado nightclub.’
covers of a Swiss magazine ‘Annabelle’ from the late 1930s/early 1940s
a giant piece of art made from tin cans and wrappers
oh look, it’s Jason!
Julia introduced me to the painter Soulage who did a lot of cool stuff in different textures of black
We got the whole family to go into this cool room. There’s Dad! The black lines outline different shapes protruding out of the walls, ceiling, and floor, so it was pretty difficult to walk. It was kind of like a weird abstract black and white cave.

Don’t you want to go to the Centre Pompidou now?  And that was only a tiny fraction of my favorites.  Another major highlight of our museum tour was the Hussein Chalayan exhibit at Les Arts Décoratifs, but I think I’ll save that for the next post.  À bientôt!

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