June 27, 2006

Bonjour from Paris!

After a lovely week in the South of France, we took the TGV from Aix-en-Provence to Paris to begin the last leg of this trip. It's almost a little too calm to be here without riots or strikes, but the weather has been pretty dramatic. Either it is gorgeous sunshine or pouring rain and cold! Nevertheless, we persevere and are always happy to be here! The summer solstice means dawn comes at 4 AM and the evenings extend until after 10 o'clock. This photo was taken on Monday afternoon from our little nest on the 7th floor. It is a spectacular view with, from left to right, the steeple of Ste Chapelle, the dome of the Prefecture of Police, behind that the shrouded Tour St Jacques, and finally Centre Pompidou on the right.

As far as museum shows, so far we have visited three. The first was at the Musée de Luxembourg, a small museum that puts on some really good shows. "L'Envolée Lyrique: Paris 1945-1956" was not the best effort ever, but very interesting and a good overview of Abstract art in the years immediately following WWII. They featured some very good examples of works by artists like Lanskoy, Viera da Silva, Poliakoff and Riopelle, none of whom are household names in the U.S. but all are very respectable artists in their genre.

The news in May of the re-opening of L'Orangerie was a red flag for me. I know it's a cliché, but I LOVE the Monet "Waterlilies" and couldn't wait to see them in their newly refurbished surroundings. They did not disappoint. The upper floor consists of 2 large oval rooms, each with 4 huge panels of waterlily paintings surrounding the viewer in heavenly color. Downstairs was another fabulous permanent exhibition - the collection of the legendary art dealer Paul Guillaume (1891-1934) who bequeathed his extensive holdings of Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso, Soutine, Modigliani and other notables, to the City of Paris for public enjoyment. It was like a "Greatest Hits" of Classical Modern art.

Finally, we took in "Italia Nova: An Adventure in Italian Art 1900-1950", now in its final days at the Grand Palais. What a great surprise! The exhibition explored 2 main movements "Futurism" and "Metafiscia" both of which were born in Italy and whose influence can be seen in the French movements of Dada and Surrealism. The Manifesto of Futurism, as interpreted by such artists as Depero, Severini, Balla and Boccioni, was very simply an opposition to the middle class focus on the past, instead it promoted a focus on modern life - it's speed, industrialization, geometric and mechanical splendors. The counterpoint was Metafiscia or Metaphysics which involved a return to Classicism and concrete forms but in which recognizable objects no longer had a logical relationship to their environment. Theoretically, this juxtaposition became a place in which the hidden life of things was revealed. Here we find works by Morandi, Carra, and above all Georgio deChirico.

When night falls it is always dramatic, but I thought this view of Notre Dame after a rain storm, again taken from our window, was an appropriate way to wish you adieu until the next post!

June 22, 2006

From Cannes to Monaco

We have been enjoying the sights and delights of the French Riviera for several days now and can report that it is truly beautiful, terribly overcrowded, and the idea of blue skies every day is a fallacy! In fact, we have had a cloud cover and rain showers every single day!

There is alot of see and do here and we have taken advantage of our home base in the lovely town of Mougins to visit Vallauris, where Picasso created his wonderful ceramics, the ramparts of Saint Paul and made a pilgrimage to the Fondation Maeght with its fabulous collection of works by such modern masters as Leger, Miro, Giacometti and Chagall all housed in a complex designed by the Catalan architect Josep-Lluis Sert.

The Sculpture Garden at the Fondation Maeght

One day we took a drive along the coast from Cannes all the way to the Principality of Monaco! The views were spectacular and we enjoyed a delicious lunch of roasted stuffed peppers, a local speciality, sitting outdoors next to a bustling antiques market in Nice. All along the route were gorgeous beaches and magnificent homes. Some of these homes are now museums and open to the public and we visited the house and gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild in St. Jean Cap Ferrat and the Villa Kérylos, an homage to Ancient Greece, in neighboring Beaulieu sur Mer.

The South of France does indeed have a special magic and I imagine one can easily spend a lot of time discovering its treasures. For me, there is a particular pleasure in thinking back to days gone by when the Cote d'Azur was being discovered by the likes of Sara and Gerald Murphy, the F. Scott Fitzgeralds and Picasso. It is no longer the same quaint beach resort area, but it does have some lovely ghosts.

June 16, 2006

Back to Basel

Art Basel is not only confined to the Messe (Convention Center), but overtakes the entire city in the form of museum shows and ancillary fairs.

The Fine Art Museum, or Kunstmuseum, has mounted an exhibition of works created by Hans Holbein the Younger during his years in Basel (1515-1532). Considered one of the most significant artists of the 16th Century, Hans Holbein worked here until the restrictions imposed by the Reformation forced him to leave for England where he could express himself more freely. Although he was eventually appointed court painter to King Henry VIII, he dreamed of one day returning to Basel. This exhibition, to be followed in September 2006 by a sister show at the Tate in London focusing on the British years, is a fantastic survey of Holbein's œuvre. From religeous murals to delicate pen and ink drawings of the women of Basel, from exquisitely detailed oil portraits to his mastery of wood and metal cut prints, Holbein's artistic virtuosity is clearly demonstrated here.

Speeding through the Art History Time Machine, we took a short tram ride to visit the Fondation Beyeler situated in the pastoral town of Riehen, very close to the German border. The great dealer/collector Ernest Beyeler commissioned Renzo Piano to create what I personally consider to be his masterpiece - an absolutely perfect home to Mr. Beyeler's formidable collection of Modern Art. Working in concert with both the location and the art, Renzo Piano has created the ideal viewing situation for the visitor - with the architecture enhancing, rather than overpowering, the art itself.

The Fondation Beyeler features an outstanding permanent collection of Modern Art, with the finest examples of each Modern Master displayed to optimum effect and enhanced with select pieces of Primitive Art to complement the aesthetic. This year's special presentation is "Matisse: Figure, Color, Space" and features 160 paintings, drawings and sculptures representing each phase of Matisse's career. From the early academic works like "Nu à la serviette blanche" (1902), to "Nature Morte à "La danse" (1909) where he explores the perception of space, and on to portraits such as "Portrait d'Olga Merson", 1911, this show seeks to clearly delineate Matisse's artistic evolution. It continues with his great interiors like "Le Paravant Mauresque", 1921, to less patterned, more stylized "Grand nu couché", 1935, and finally his fabulous colorful cut-outs culminating in "Jazz" 1947.

A return visit to Art Basel with a walk-through the ultra-contemporary Art Unlimited section was very amusing. Here, in this enormous exhibition space where one can easily imagine a convention of farm equipment, for example, are site-specific installations by some of the hottest names in today's art scene. My favorite was "bit.fall" by Julius Popp, a young German artist who uses the medium of falling water as an "ephemeral information-curtain as a metaphor for the incessant flood of information we are exposed to and from which we draw our perpertually changing realities...". However formally you want to express it - the bottom line is it was mesmerizing and very popular.

For several years now, the month of June has involved a trip to Basel and the Art Fair. It is always a fascinating and wonderful show filled with delights both artistic and collegial. This year was no exception. To be able to combine great art with a celebratory lunch with friends on a terrace overlooking the Rhine makes me feel very lucky indeed.

Our time in Switzerland is almost over. Next stop - the South of France!

June 14, 2006

A Beautiful Day in Bern

It certainly feels like summer here in Switzerland with glorious sunny days and warm evenings where one can sit outside and enjoy the extended daylight hours. A nice change from the cold and rain we endured for weeks in New York!

On Wednesday, we took a one hour train ride from Zurich to the Capital City of Bern. The main purpose of the outing was to visit the newly opened "Zentrum Paul Klee" a foundation devoted to the life and work of the city's most famous son. Located just outside town, across the river Aare and surrounded by pastures, are three steel and glass "hills" the creation of Renzo Piano in another museum commission undertaken in 1998 and opened to the public in June 2005. From the exterior, the building is stunning - reflecting the rolling green hills of the landscape in an almost surreal vision.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) was destined to be an artist. It was all he ever wanted to be and he lived and breathed his art. Although he moved within various art groups, from "Der Blaue Reiter" with Kandinsky and Macke in 1911, to Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus group, and finally "Die Blaue Vier" (Kandinsky, Jawlensky, Feininger and Klee) in the 1920's, Klee always remained true to his own style. "Colour possesses me" said Paul Klee in 1911, and this is clearly evident in his work. A Klee painting or drawing is typically full of color and light, whimsy and a joy that is almost child-like. Despite the debilitating disease which caused his untimely death, Paul Klee's artistic output is remarkable and each work is a treasure.

After the Zentrum Paul Klee, we visited the Fine Art Museum where we were under-whelmed by a retrospective of the work of the Surrealist artist and native daughter, Meret Oppenheim, entitled "An Enormously Tiny Bit of a Lot", but could have been called, in my humble opinion, "Much Ado About Nothing". Except for her well-known fur tea cup, the show was not inspiring.

Much more interesting was a small exhibition of works by the American Abstract Expressionist Sam Francis who had lived in Bern in the 1950's. He started to paint after he crash-landed his fighter jet during WWII and ended up in the hospital. This beautiful show is an homage to the years in Switzerland and his influence on several important Swiss artists.

The day had a perfect ending as we enjoyed an elegant dinner on the Terasse of the Bellevue Hotel which overlooks the river and the mountains in the distance. We had such a nice time that we had to run to catch the last train back to Zurich and to bed!

June 13, 2006

Hello From Switzerland

We arrived in Zurich this morning at 7 to a beautiful summer day. Everything went right from last minute upgrades to Business Class to the room actually being ready at that early hour! Hopped on the train to Basel and were there in time for the 11 o'clock professional preview of the 37th Edition of Art Basel.

Even from outside the Exhibition Hall, one can tell from the energy that Art Basel continues to reign supreme as the pre-eminent modern and contemporary art fair in the world. Thousands of dealers, collectors, curators and just plain art lovers converge on Basel every June to be carried away by the enormity and the outstanding quality of the work for sale. Every major artist of the 20th Century is represented in fine fashion with 290 galleries from every continent saving their best material to present here. From the elegance of Post-Impressionism, through the assertiveness of contemporary performance art, there is something for everyone. And if you just can't look at another work of art, the people watching is simply sublime!

June 09, 2006

If it's June...

If it's June it must be Art Basel! So on Monday night we fly to Zurich and catch a train to Basel just in time for the Professional Preview starting at 11:00 on Tuesday. We may be a little jet-lagged, but we'd hate to miss the opening of what The New York Times calls "The Olympics of the Art World".

The 37th Edition of Art Basel will feature 290 galleries offering the greatest examples of art from Modern Masters to ultra contemporary installation pieces drawn from the 4 corners of the earth. In addition, the city of Basel pulls out all the stops with its many museums offering block-buster shows so there is a constant stream of art world types moving en masse from one event to another.

After Switzerland, we will fly to Nice, pick up a car and rendezvous with our good friend Laurence at her home in Mougins. A week on the Riviera should be fabulous with great food and lots of wonderful places to visit and explore. Finally, we will be taking the TGV up to Paris for a few days to see our friends and colleagues and to catch some exhibitions.

So please check back often as I am expecting some great blog material and can't wait to share our adventures with you!