April 13, 2008

La Belle France

The much anticipated appearance of Spring last week was quickly cut short when Parisians awoke Monday morning to a thin layer of snow on the rooftops! It was the first snow of the season and was followed later that day by a hailstorm! Since then, the days have been sunny but quite cool and there is no question of going out without a jacket and scarf.

Monday was also the day that the Olympic torch was to be carried through the streets of the City en route to its final stop at the games in Beijing this summer. After the recent experiences with the torch in London, the Paris riot police (the "CRS") were out in full force and prepared to deal with any disturbances. It was not my intention to line the parade route as I have enough experience with French protests to know that navigating through angry crowds is not a lot of fun. But I happened to emerge from the Metro stop at Rue du Bac just as the athletes and the flame were approaching and it seemed like a good opportunity to see something historic. What I did see were (literally) thousands of armed and ready riot police in vans, on scooters, and on foot. I also saw a few vocal but certainly not violent protesters for a "Free Tibet". What I did not see was the flame which had been extinguished several times along the route and had finally been left unlit! It was ultimately a big nothing, but it made for some good viewing and some fun exchanges with fellow watchers.

The cool weather has been perfect for museum going and I was able to catch a couple of good shows. A temporary exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart André presents the crème de la crème of the Tribal Art collection of the Barbier-Mueller Family. Those familiar with this museum, housed in an early 19th Century mansion built by Edouard André and his artist wife Nelie Jacquemart, will be surprised at this contrast in styles, but the reasoning becomes apparent after one sees the exhibition - both the Jacqumart-Andrés and the Barbier-Muellers collected only the best. The permanent collection of this museum features splendid examples of Dutch and Italian Renaissance paintings and French 18th Century masterpieces in a setting of unmatched luxury. The Barbier-Mueller collection is displayed by region in a suite of exhibition rooms on the upper floor. Very carefully curated to present the finest examples of primitive works from Africa, Indonesia and Oceania, each piece is presented as a sublime work of art as well as a study in anthropology.

Marcel Duchamp has been re-incarnated here in Paris with 2 shows featuring his work running concurrently. "La Musée Maillol s'expose" presents works from their permanent collection housed in a mansion on the rue de Grenelle. Featuring works of art by well and lesser known artists of the 20th Century, the highlight is their group of "Ready-Mades" done by Duchamp in his Dada period. Over on the Right Bank, near the Musée Picasso, is a small, independent exhibition space called the Passage de Retz. Here, in conjunction, or perhaps competition, with the current exhibition at The Tate Modern in London, is "Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia: Sexe, humour et flamenco". There are similarities, but it is a different and well thought out approach to a subject that has been explored rather frequently in recent years.

This prolonged visit to France has allowed me to take a long awaited side trip to Lyon. This historic and beautiful city, the second largest in France, is reachable in 2 short hours aboard the TGV high speed train from the Gare de Lyon in Paris. Known as the historic center of silk manufacturing, a religious stronghold and a gastronomic Paradise, Lyon has a lot to offer the visitor, even in a couple of days. Under sunny skies, I loved exploring the old town, looking in the shop windows, visiting the galleries and generally enjoying the beautiful sights of the city. A dinner at the brand new brasserie "Léon de Lyon" was not only a gourmet delight, but the fabulous collection of gastronomic-themed art that decorated the walls, and even the bathrooms, was well worth a visit.

Now I'm back in Paris and more art adventure await! Next week is both the Print Fair and Antiquarian Book Fair at the Grand Palais and I will be reporting on those and other escapades as they happen! A bientôt!

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