June 14, 2008

Monumenta 2008

It's been a lovely week here in Paris despite unusually cool and rainy weather. The sun did come out on a couple of occasions and the event was celebrated with typical French abandon - every café immediately opened the doors and windows and installed as many tables and chairs as would fit on the sidewalks. Many went so far as to offer large televisions outdoors for the soccer enthusiasts who didn't want to miss a game of the Euro Cup!

The major art event of the moment is "Monumenta 2008" now in its second incarnation at the Grand Palais. Opened in 1900 for the Exposition Universelle, the Grand Palais is an enormous glass-roofed hall that can accommodate everything from aircraft to horse shows with natural light bathing a soaring expanse of Beaux-Arts metal and glass work. Closed for renovations in 1993, the Grand Palais re-opened 12 years later to rave reviews and has quickly regained its place as the pre-eminent locale for art events in Paris.

In 2007, the French Ministry of Culture initiated a program to invite leading contemporary artists to create site-specific, temporary installations in the nave of this massive structure. The inaugural exhibition was prepared by Anselm Kiefer, and American artist Richard Serra accepted the "Monumenta" challenge for 2008.

Entitled "Promenade", Richard Serra's installation of 5 huge steel plates on an off-kilter axis is far more complex and involving that you might think. The visitor experiences the sculpture by walking into, through and around the entire field in what becomes an intensely personal examination of space, light, gravity and majesty. The scale of the installation fits the enormity of the space and therefore challenges the viewer to shift perceptions of height, movement and one's unique relationship to the larger space around him. It is at once a public and a private space. One may enter the Grand Palais thinking "what is all the fuss about", but I promise you, you will leave having had a powerful emotional experience.

Richard Serra's "Promenade" is at the Grand Palais until June 15th. His outdoor installation "Clara-Clara", created in 1983, will grace the Tuileries Gardens until November 3rd.

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