October 18, 2006

From Picasso to Pinocchio

There is a plethora of wonderful museum shows in Paris right now and here is a very personal tour of what's on view this fall!

The Musée Picasso is housed in a magnificent 17th Century townhouse in the 4th Arrondissement. Totally renovated in the 1970's, it now features one of the largest permanent collections of this prolific artist's work. An added bonus this autumn is the special exhibition "Picasso/Berggruen - A Private Collection". Heinz Berggruen was born in 1914 in Berlin and developed a passion for Modern Art between the wars. Although he escaped to the United States during WWII (he eventually became a US citizen), Berggruen returned to Europe in 1947 and began collecting Picasso in the 1950's. He continues to collect to this day, and for a limited time the Musée Picasso is presenting highlights of his collection. It is a superb selection of "Picasso's Greatest Hits" and well worth seeing. To top it off, the museum has completed a re-hanging of its own and has many works on display that have never before been shown.

The Centre Pompidou finally re-opened to the public after some labor problems and our patience was rewarded with an outstanding retrospective of the work of Yves Klein. "Corps, Couleur, Immateriel [Body, Color, Immaterial]" highlights the works of this remarkable artist who prefigured conceptual and performance art. For Klein, color was the link between the body and the immaterial, and he expressed this force with three emblematic colors - gold, rose, and his famous blue (actually registered as "I.K.B." for International Klein Blue). The exhibition is divided into three main concepts: Impregnation, The Illumination of Matter, and Incarnation. The last subject is for me the most fascinating as he used women as his living paintbrushes. In his "Anthropometries" he literally covered his models in paint and created a painting by dragging them across or pressing them onto the canvas. The results are sensual and stunning. Yves Klein's career lasted only 7 years. He died of a heart attack at the age of 34 in 1962, but the impact of his ideas remains very much alive.

After years of renovation, the Musée des Arts décoratifs re-opened to the public on September 15th. Situated next to the Louvre, on the rue de Rivoli, the newly reconfigured space seeks to present a historic and cultural overview of the decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the present day. The 9 floors of galleries are arranged to display furniture, objects, jewelry, fashions and textiles through history. A special inaugural exhibition of gowns by the couturier Christobal Balenciaga is on display through January. Although the recreated rooms in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco sections are outstanding, I think I would wait until the museum is fully functioning before spending another 30 minutes in line for tickets.

From the fancy of French decor, I take you to the mystery of Africa and the Musée du Quai Branly. Housed in a dramatic building designed by Jean Nouvel and located at the base of the Eiffel Tower, the museum opened in June of 2006. It is entirely dedicated to the arts and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, and houses an enormous permanent collection of primitive and tribal art from these non-western cultures. One follows a curving path through innovative installations of masks, tools, weapons, religious objects, clothing, adornments and amusements, some ancient, some fairly recent, from the Incas of Peru to the Inuit of Alaska. Both the collection and the building are fascinating.

Our tour ends on a high note with a fabulous exhibition at the Grand Palais. "Once Upon A Time - Walt Disney" is not simply a review of the cartoons that we remember so fondly, but an indepth look at how Walt Disney was influenced by the fine arts - painting, music, literature and film - in creating these 20th Century icons. Walt Disney was a creative genius and his many masterpieces, Snow White, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Bambi, and Fantasia, to name just a few, were influenced by art from the Gothic Middle Ages to Surrealism. In the days before computer graphics, a Disney illustrator was a true artist in his or her own right. This exhibition presents side by side, the preliminary drawings and cartoon cells, as well as video clips from the actual movies, with the art that inspired them. Of particular interest was a short film made in 2003 by Roy Disney that for the first time presented "Destino", a collaboration envisioned between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney in the 1940's that was sadly never completed in their lifetimes. The 6 minute video tells the story of a ballerina and a baseball player as only these two Masters of the Surreal could have imagined. The exhibition is outstanding - fine art and popular culture in a fabulous presentation.

It is time to leave Paris and return to New York, but I leave you with a view of the Seine on a gorgeous Indian Summer day and a fond adieu until the next time!

Looking West from the Pont du Carrousel
with the spires of Notre Dame in the distance

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