November 02, 2008

Promenades in Paris - Part II

Welcome back to our whirlwind tour of the Fall 2008 art season in Paris!

Let's pick up our circuit on the Right Bank and the Grand Palais where a retrospective of the Expressionist artist Emil Nolde is currently on view. Born Emil Hansen to a family living in the town of Nolde on the Danish/German border, he adopted the last name when he married a young actress in 1902. At this point he was already working as an artist having defied his father's wish that he continue in the farming tradition and and chosen woodcarving as a vocation. His studies took him to Switzerland where he discovered painting as a passion and a career.

His return to Denmark shifted his artistic focus and the new vitality in his work caught the attention of a young group of German artists known as "Die Brücke". Nolde began to paint in a frenzy of color as his urgency to succeed pushed him to new limits. Impatient with the group's progress, he separated and went on to create a massive series of religious art based on his own version of Protestantism. It was this body of work that caught the attention of the Nazis who considered it sacrilegious and included it in the infamous 1937 show of "Degenerate Art" in Munich. His work was banned, the pictures seized and he was forbidden to paint, but Nolde, a true artist who could not be restrained, continued to create "unpainted pictures seen through closed eyes" and completed a series of watercolors revealing fantastical inner worlds. After the war he returned to his homeland and lived out his life painting works inspired by the sea.

Another current exhibition featuring an important body of work created during World War II is "L'Art de Lee Miller" now on view at the Jeu de Paume, Place de la Concorde. Elisabeth Miller (1907-1977) began her stellar career as a model for Vogue in New York where she quickly became the darling of photographers Horst P. Horst and Edward Steichen. She moved to Paris in 1929 and shortly thereafter met, and fell in love with, a fellow American-in-Paris, the artist Man Ray. Lee Miller not only became his companion and muse, she also traded her position from photo subject to photo taker as she studied Man Ray's methods and techniques. It did not take long for Miller's keen eye and determined spirit to produce an impressive body of photographic works. From her early experimentation with Surrealist subjects, to high society fashion shots, to her travelogues from Egypt, Lee Miller proved to be a natural with the camera. Her work as a front line reporter for the U.S. Army during the Second World War provided first hand images of The Blitz (see photograph "Women With Fire Masks, Downshire Hill, London", 1941), the D-Day Invasion, the Liberation of Paris and the nightmares inside the concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald. In 1947 she married Roland Penrose and settled down to a quiet life in the British countryside, but she never gave up taking pictures. This tribute to her photographic output and fascinating life was created with the cooperation of the Lee Miller Archive, a foundation set up in 1980 by her son Antony Penrose.

Time to move over to the Place de la Madeleine and the Pinacothèque de Paris' exploration of "Jackson Pollock et le Chamanisme". We are all familiar with Pollock's astonishing "drip" paintings, but how many have seen his earlier work - the work created in the 1930's and 40's influenced by the culture and symbols of Native Americans?

Jackson Pollock was born in 1912 in Cody, Wyoming, and spent much of his youth in the Southwestern states of Arizona and California before going to art school in New York in 1930. The influence of this early experience with native people is clearly evidenced in this small but thoughtful show. Early paintings are presented alongside Native American, particularly Inuit, artifacts, and the viewer can clearly see the relationship between Primitivism and Pollock's own quest for spirituality and expression. Following in the footsteps of the Surrealists, Pollock searched for the "new man" by exploring themes of fire, sun, cosmos, sacrifice, man and animal, man and woman, birth, dance and ecstasy - precursors to his ultimate ceremonial commentary, the drip paintings.

It's back to the future with a visit to the Centre Pompidou and "Le Futurisme à Paris - une avant-garde explosive" a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the publication of Marinetti's "Futurist Manifesto" on the front page of Le Figaro, February 20, 1909. Considered to be the first avant-garde art movement of the 20th Century, Futurism sought to embrace the new century with its urban culture and technological advances. By comparing Futurism with Cubism, and exploring its contribution to Modernism, this exhibition seeks to set the movement apart as a unique and influential "ism" and a major part of the 20th century art scene.

This is a terrific show with powerful and compelling examples of why Futurism was and continues to be important. With blockbuster paintings by major contributors to the movement such as Gino Severini, Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Kazimir Malevich, Marcel Duchamp and Robert and Sonia Delaunay, this exhibition presents some of the last century's greatest hits in art and explores the question "How do we think of the future today?"

Finally, we've arrived at the present and the annual Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain, or "Fiac!" as it is affectionately known. This year the fair was presented over two venues, the magnificent Grand Palais, for more traditional contemporary art (it's not really an oxymoron) and in a tent erected in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre for more recent works. The art at the Cour Carrée was really far out - like the 2' high elephant made of gray carpet with a vacuum cleaner hose for a trunk, or the ketchup bottle that regularly spun around spraying the onlookers with Heinz's most famous product, or the large framed collection of "wild" rabbit droppings. Old fogies like myself might be more at home among the stands at the Grand Palais where contemporary means Andy Warhol, Maria Helena Vieira Da Silva or Simon Hantaï - works where the paint had actually had time to dry. The current global financial problems certainly slowed things down, but the business of art continued - maybe as an alternative to investing in the stock market or maybe just for the sheer joy of owning an object of desire.

The City of Paris is always beautiful and the current abundance of art gilded the proverbial lily but in an absolutely glorious way! I leave you (poor exhausted reader!) with a photo I took of an installation in the Jardins des Tuileries that I hope will make you smile. These fantasy desserts are a feast for the eyes and totally calorie free! Enjoy!

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