Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Paris, Day 18 - At the Pompidou

The Pompidou -- Modern and Contemporary Art Museum of Paris.
I am drinking a glass of pale pink wine at a small cafe on Rue Sainte-Martin, right across from the Pompidou, where I have spent the afternoon looking at modern and contemporary art.

"She's very bitter, because she hasn't got a bloke," I overhear an Englishman explaining to his French footballer mate over a beer.  More than half the people on the patio, here, are smoking.  The Japanese couple is trying to interpret the menu, but it's entirely up to them -- the waiter threw his hands up at me, too.  Not feeling the customer-love today.  The young Japanese man is wearing a fetching French hat.  He and his girlfriend decide on hamburgers.  Everything is very multi-culti at this cafe, from the clientele to the menu.  As I eat my dinner, a German girl -- maybe thirteen, but made up to look older -- takes her own picture with the family camera.  The three middle-eastern men -- maybe a father and his two sons -- pack up their souvenir shop next door, working with a pleasant efficiency that suggests they've done this together a thousand times.  T-shirts, sparkly Eiffel Tower toys, Paris bags and scarves with I Paris all over them.  

Three street artists draw likenesses of tourists, who sit patiently, waiting to see what they look like.  I have never, ever wanted to do that.  Either I already know what I look like, or I don't want to.  But it's fun watching them do other people, glamming it up and covering their shortcomings and exaggerating their best features to just the right degree.

Madame has a lot of mirrors in her flat.  Multiple mirrors in every room (except the kitchen).  And a large picture of Freud on the wall of her study.  (She is a psychoanalyst.)  Perhaps all these things, and all the things I've seen today, and all the things I've seen this trip, have got me thinking about the act of seeing itself.

When Christopher Isherwood was in Europe, it was the 1920's, and he had a ringside seat as permissive, decadent Berlin became a frightening, Fascist Hitler Germany. He wrote a book about what he saw that was adapted into the wonderful musical "Cabaret."  "Cabaret" is a great name for the musical version of the story, but the name of his book is really striking.  It's called, "I Am A Camera."

Everyone is clicking cameras all the time here, myself included.  But I've tried to give myself that little speech about balance.  "Don't just take a picture of it.  LOOK at it.  SEE it.  And then decide whether or not to take a picture."  It's no help to have a picture to remember something by if you never really saw it in the first place.

The modern and contemporary art of France is all housed in the appropriately odd and modern Pompidou building, which was built to house it in 1977.  The guts of the building -- the plumbing and ductwork and stairs and elevators -- have been relegated to the outside, leaving the rooms inside for the contemplation of art.  It's not what you'd call a pretty building.  But the more I think about it, the more appropriate it seems to the collection it contains.  And having all the walkways on the exterior maximizes the views -- which are really spectacular.

Going up to the Galleries in the Pompidou, via the outside escalator.  They did remind me, a bit, of hamster runs, I have to say.
Gallery entrance.
Looking out at the Eiffel Tower from the Pompidou.
Reflecting pool at the Pompidou.
Top level -- restaurant and the big vents, which you can see for kilometers in each direction.
Looking through a sculpture out over the city, toward Sacre Coeur.
Sunset, through the scaffolding.


Inside, the Pompidou has many floors to explore.  After buying my ticket in the downstairs lobby, looking at the map of the building and asking advice from the moderately bilingual ticket seller, I decided to start at the top and work my way down.

The very top of the Pompidou has a restaurant and viewing area.  Below that is the Modern Art -- from 1905 to 1945, then 1946-1960.  Below that is Contemporary Art -- from 1961 to the Present.  Below that is traveling exhibits, and interactive exhibits for children, and other things, I'm sure.  But as I thought, I was busy enough with the Modern and Contemporary Art floors that I didn't get any further.

Early days.  Matisse... the Dadaists... and a great photo exhibit by Brassai.  I want to get a book of his photos, now.
I'm pretty sure this says, "You are here."
Another Matisse.  I rather liked this fellow.
Dada period.
But what does it mean???
I really loved these photographs by Brassai -- all scenes from the city at night, and the people who wandered that particular landscape.  Beautiful use of light and shadow.

Moving right along, the other half of the fifth floor covered 1945 to 1960 -- a time I find particularly interesting, as it includes the early work of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, whose stuff I like for reasons it is difficult to explain.  But how does anybody explain what art they like?  Certain things are aesthetically pleasing, like Michelangelo's David, and a great majority of people might say they like that. But beyond that, why do certain pieces of art and certain artists speak to us?  I like Van Gogh, because everything looks terribly strange but absolutely right to me in his paintings, and he uses lots of paint.  I like Rodin's sculptures, because of their physicality.  But as we move into contemporary and modern times, artists are often playing with ideas as well as aesthetics.  Do I like the artist's ideas as well as the art they produce?  I'm also very susceptible to story.  I'm a storyteller, after all.  So sometimes I'll be pulled into an artist's work because of the story of how they came to create it.  With Johns and Rauschenberg, it's all three... plus I want to write a play about them some day.

Now you are here.
Jasper Johns.
A poor picture of one of Johns' number paintings -- #5, in fact.  (I hate it when they put paintings behind glass.)
Robert Rauschenberg.
A big Rauschenberg installation, with multiple pieces, sound, movement, water -- the works.  It wasn't quite as cool as the one with the dead goat and the tire, but it was cool enough.
Moving down to the fourth floor, I found things to be even stranger.  But I'm sometimes quite fond of strange...

Shadow Ellen and the Kandinsky.
Six Lizes.  1963.  Andy Warhol.  A whole wonderful wall of her, silkscreened.
Rauschenberg Redux.  His signature on a big silkscreen. 
Detail from a huge silkscreen called Hoarfrost.  Robert Rauschenberg, 1974.  As with his combines, which are assemblages of found objects, sometimes with painting included, this has a variety of different source materials.  My mind always makes stories out of his pieces.  I want to write some short plays named after some of his art pieces.
Ellen in the art.
The piece below, by Rineke Dijkstra, was my very favorite of the day.  It's called, "I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman), Tate Liverpool, 2009-2010."

You go into a small dark room.  There is a bench, where you can sit down.  Projected on the wall in front of you are a bunch of school children who have visited the Tate Art Museum in Liverpool, and are responding -- out loud and as a group -- to a piece of art there.

What they say is subtitled, which is good, because they have rather thick Liverpool accents and talk over one another sometimes.  The camera (or how the film has been edited) captures different views: sometimes the whole group, sometimes a close-up on a single child's face.

They have clearly been asked some sort of open-ended question, like, "what do you think is happening in this painting?"  The painting they're looking at and talking about is Picasso's "Weeping Woman" -- a portrait of Dora Maar, anguished and in tears, painted in 1937.

The kids have all kinds of ideas about what she's feeling, and what might have happened in her life to make her unhappy.  Some are wacky and some are funny and some are probably right on.  They free-associate, and sometimes build on each others ideas.  And it goes on for a good bit.

At some point, you realize that you are sitting where the painting is, because they really are looking at you, perspective-wise.  And the whole experience, as you sit there in the darkness, begins to feel very present tense.  When was this piece of art made?  In 1937, when Picasso painted his weeping woman, or in 2009, when Dijkstra filmed and edited this installation, or right now, with you?

I keep thinking about this one.  It was delightful to watch.  But there are also ideas inherent in it that have captured my imagination in a lasting way.

I guess art is like pornography.  You'll know it when you see it.

"It looks like she has just seen a ghost or something."
New Acquisition -- and my very favorite thing that  I saw at the Pompidou.

1 comment:

PJS said...

Yay! I love the tales! From the personal reasons of not wanting a charicature done (I feel ya) to the nature of art. :-) PJS