November 18, 2007

November in Paris

Paris is famous for many things - great food, fine wine, stunning fashions, beautiful art... It is also notorious for strikes and civil unrest that can bring the country to its knees. I have experienced everything on this trip, both the good and the not-so-good, and have learned, as the French themselves do, to just shrug off the bad with the understanding that "C'est la France!"

A week in Paris is never quite enough, but certainly better than not being here at all! The bright autumn sunshine belied the cool, damp November air and a winter coat and warm gloves were very much in order. The impending transportation strike forced a quick re-thinking of plans and appointments to take care of the farthest quartiers on the first day and hope that everything else could be taken care of on foot for the rest of the time. No one expected a quick resolution to this strike, although it seems to be very unpopular with the general public who resent being forced to walk or bicycle to work while the rail workers lobby for retirement at age 50.

Beside making it difficult to get around, and limiting the number of exhibitions and activities one could accomplish, the strike caused many business' and institutions to close early to give their employees a head start on the long trek home. This was particularly irksome as I stood in line in the cold at the Musée d'Orsay only to be told that the galleries would be closing in less than an hour. So much to see and so little time!

Given the restricted mobility, there were a number of exhibitions that I could not get to see. I am sorry to have missed the Giacometti show at Centre Pompidou and the Picasso Cubism show at the Musée Picasso. I was also sorry to miss Courbet at the Grand Palais and especially the Biedermeier show at the Louvre. Nevertheless, I did catch "Allemagne: Les Années Noirs (Germany: The Dark Years)" which focused on German art during and immediately after World War I. This presentation of prints, drawings and oils by George Grosz, Otto Dix and Max Beckmann, was not exactly cheery, but it was powerful. It remains at the Musée Maillol until February. I also saw a retrospective of the works of Ferdinard Hodler at the Musée d'Orsay. Hodler (1853-1918) was a Swiss painter of portraits and especially landscapes and his work has been compared with Cezanne. I found many of the pieces overly Teutonic in feel, but some of the views of Lac Leman and the Alps were quite beautiful.

Wednesday evening was the opening of Paris Photo at the Carrousel du Louvre. Over 100 photo dealers from Europe and America exhibited at this annual fair that celebrates photography both vintage and contemporary. As is happening with prints and paintings, the balance is shifting from old to new, but there were some fine examples of early photography by such masters as Cartier-Bresson, Steichen, Edward Weston and Stieglitz. Of special note was a pair of small format Man Ray "Luminographs" on the stand of Lawrence Miller, New York, and a group photo taken at a Dada fête in 1921 on the stand of Lumière des Roses, Montreuil.

As usual, the main objective for this trip was to find beautiful things for my website and next catalogue. The diminishing dollar made buying a little more challenging but our French colleagues have tried to accommodate their poor American cousins and I did manage to find a few treasures!

Cold or warm, strike or no strike, dollar high or dollar low, it is always a pleasure to be here. It is with a certain sadness that I leave for the airport this afternoon to return to New York. But next week is Thanksgiving! And then the holidays! And before you know it, we'll be saying Bonjour again and enjoying the sights and sounds of this compelling city.

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