April 27, 2008

Spring is in the Air!

There is nothing more wonderful than a perfect Spring day and last week in New York was an embarrassment of riches! Beautiful clear blue skies, gentle warm breezes and mild temperatures put a smile on every one's face and made any excuse to get outside seem like a good idea!

So last Friday morning I set off with my camera for a walk in Central Park. It was glorious. Runners, bikers, walkers, strollers, old, young, residents and visitors, everyone was enjoying the beauty of the Park. Many folks were also taking photos and we greeted each other with a camaraderie that is rare in an urban setting.

Everywhere you looked trees and flowers were coming alive with the promise of Spring. From the faint green of new leaves, to the vibrant pinks of cherry and magnolia blossoms the former browns and grays of the long winter were rapidly being replaced. The lilac grove was starting to bloom and there was not one passerby who could resist the lure of the scent of lilac!

Even the sea lions at the Central Park Zoo were happy as they swam in their pool and then enjoyed a nice fish breakfast from their trainer!

It's finally time to throw off your overcoat and drink in the promise of a new beginning and LIFE!!!

April 20, 2008

Paris Potpourri

Although steeped in history and cultural tradition, Paris and Parisians can be very modern and dynamic, and looking back on the past three weeks spent here I've noticed a few changes and adjustments in the city and its personality.

The noticeable lack of American tourists discouraged by the weak dollar has French merchants lamenting the steep drop in business. It's true - coughing up $1.60 for every Euro does give one pause to reconsider previously easy purchases, and buying art for resale has been a real challenge. The no-smoking law that was enacted at the beginning of the year means much cleaner air in restaurants, but it has also taken away a certain part of the enjoyment of dining in France. Evenings seem to end much earlier as friends no longer linger over cigarettes as a coda to the meal. Finally, the idea of global warming has become a city-wide joke as people are wearing winter coats in April instead of dining at outdoor cafés. My dream of "April in Paris" turned out to be a figment of my imagination as the reality of a cold driving rain made any notion of strolling along avenues lined with "chestnuts in blossom" seem ludicrous!

However, I am a undeterred Francophile and I found the time here stimulating, restorative and fabulous. A morning visit to "Vlaminck: Un instinct fauve" at the Musée du Luxembourg bombarded the viewer with color and energy. A major member of the Fauve art movement, Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958) drew from such influences as Van Gogh, Gaugin and especially Cézanne to create canvas' imbued with vivid, if unnatural, tones. This exhibition explores his work from 1900, through the height of Fauvism, and ends in 1915 when he moved away from pure color to explorations with form, volume and facets and a more Cubist approach overall.

Another event was a visit to the one-year-old Musée du Quai Branly - a pet project of former President Jacques Chirac housed in a mind-bending structure designed by Jean Nouvel, this year's winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Although I find the building confusing and another example of design before function, the special exhibitions are excellent.

Now on view until July 13 is "Paracas, Treasures from Ancient Peru". In a practice similar to Egyptian mummification, ancient Peruvians (200 B.C. - 100 A.D.) living on the coastal peninsula of Paracas, prepared their dead for afterlife by removing their muscles and organs, folding the bodies into a compact package and wrapping them with several layers of cloth before burying them in the sand. Since the 1920's, archaeologists have dug up 429 of these "fardos" and carefully examined their contents. Not only did they discover traditional offerings of gold, stone, ceramics and feathers, but an unexpected treasure in the form of elaborately embroidered textiles that bound the bodies. Here on display are about 25 superb examples of these burial cloths, blankets, ponchos and head wraps, most perfectly preserved and all marvelous examples of textile art. A separate but complementary exhibition explores the work of Elena Izcue (1889-1970), a native Peruvian who studied and worked in New York and Paris in the 1920's and 30's as an artist and designer. Using Pre-Columbian iconography, similar to the forms depicted on the Paracas textiles, she developed a very successful line of fabrics and wallpapers and eventually became an exclusive purveyor to the couturier Jean Charles Worth.

On a totally different note, the hot ticket for Paris museum-goers at the moment is "Marie-Antoinette" at the Grand Palais until the end of June. The French have a love/hate relationship with their royal heritage, but the 2 hour long queue to get into this show belies the fact that many citizens are actually Royalists at heart! Culled from the collections of Fontainebleau, Versailles and her native Austria, this exhibition offers a sympathetic look at one of the most famous (or infamous) women in history. Beautifully installed with period music playing in the background, visitors are guided through her transition from child bride to regal queen to despised prisoner. Although not many personal artifacts remain, this assembly of portraits, furniture, objets d'art and documents is a considered and informative look at this major historical figure.

A professional highlight, and a whole lot of fun for me was the "Salon de l'Estampe et Livre Ancien". A combined print and antiquarian book fair held for the second time in the gorgeous (if thermostatically challenged) Grand Palais. 33 print and 155 rare book dealers from around the world (including 10 Americans) displayed an amazing variety of works for sale. In the print section one can find anything from a Dürer engraving to a Japanese woodblock to a Cassandre lithographic poster. The book section choices were staggering - illuminated manuscripts, first editions, natural history books, autographs, maps, photographs, modern illustrated books and more. It took hours to complete one circuit, and a return visit took most of an afternoon just to cover the stands that I had missed. All this under the magnificent glass roof of this exhibition hall first opened for the Paris International Exhibition of 1900.

There is never a lack of things to do or see here in this beautiful city and I tried to take advantage of every wonderful opportunity. The great thing is, it's always changing and there will be a new crop of exhibitions and shows to look forward to the next time. Then there are the eternal pleasures of window shopping, dining, or enjoying the innate beauty of this magical place and that never changes!

April 16, 2008

Surrealism Lives in Paris

No, I am not making a disparaging comment about the winter-like conditions in the middle of April. Or the fact that once again this week we had a hailstorm that blanketed the trees and rooftops with little balls of ice. I am referring to Surrealist Art that is the subject of three current exhibitions here in the Movement's birthplace.

Now on view at Galerie Daniel Malingue, a very fine gallery on the posh Avenue Matignon, is "Grands Surréalistes". This is a museum quality show of large format oil paintings by the some of the most famous artists of the Surrealist genre and is a great opportunity to see master works by Paul Delvaux, Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy and Roberto Matta without paying an admission fee. What is truly remarkable about this show is that despite being in a private commercial gallery, none of the works are for sale. Mr Malingue has assembled these important works and presented them to the public as a labor of love and a true passion for the Surrealist Movement. This show runs until May 31.

On a lighter note, but also of historic and artistic importance to Surrealism, is an exhibition at the Jeu de Paume's outpost at the Hotel de Sully entitled "La Photographie timbrée". "The Stamp of Fantasy: The Visual Inventiveness of Photographic Postcards at the Start of the 20th Century" is a small but charming presentation of 500 photographic fantasy postcards dating from about 1900-1920. It is not simply a history of the postcard, rather it is a look at how the art of photography developed as both a means of disseminating information and as an art form. What does this have to do with Surrealism? These inexpensive and fanciful curiosities were adored by the Surrealists who collected them and used their imagery as inspiration. The writer Paul Eluard was fascinated with postcards and amassed thousands of examples in albums. He called them "Lilliputian hallucination of the world" and surmised that though postcards were perhaps not "art" merely the "small change of art" but they did sometimes convey the "idea of gold"! This show is both amusing and enlightening and well worth a visit.

Man Ray is the subject of a small but quite good show on view at the Pinacothèque de Paris, near the Madeleine. "Unconcerned but not Indifferent" presents part of the collection of the Man Ray Trust based in Long Island, New York, and traces Man Ray's artistic life from his birth in Brooklyn, to the artists' colony in Ridgewood, New Jersey where he met Marcel Duchamp, his move to Paris, his exile in Hollywood during World War 2, and finally his return to Paris where he died in 1976. This exhibition is not strong on original artwork - may of the pieces are reproductions or later editions - but the collection of work presented gives an concise and informative history of the man and his oeuvre.

Finally, a serendipitous Surrealist experience that I think you will enjoy! Last week while meeting with a director of Sotheby's Paris, I had the opportunity to preview a very special lot that will be offered for sale in May. Sotheby's has secured for their Books and Manuscripts auction the one and only original example of Andre Breton's "Manifeste du Surréalisme". The publication of the "Surrealist Manifesto" in 1924 effectively ended the Dada Movement and officially began what might be considered the most important art movement of the 20th Century. Contained on these 19 legal sized pages of hand-written manuscript are Breton's theories and tenets for Surrealism. It was a remarkable document to actually see and the historical significance of the work made for a very moving experience. The original manuscript has never been offered for sale and it will be interesting to see what price it fetches and if the French Government steps in to acquire it as a national cultural treasure.

Enough Surrealism - now it's time to face Realism and a new wonderful day in Paris! I'll be back soon with the next update!

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!

"La Semaine du Dessin" in Paris

Enthusiasts of original drawings from Old Master to Contemporary have flocked to Paris this week to enjoy the city's annual celebration of this art form. With 2 major art fairs, several museum exhibitions and galleries featuring special drawings shows, all of Paris seems caught up in the spirit of pencil (or ink) on paper.

The centerpiece of the week is the "Salon du Dessin", now held for the 5th year in the magnificent Palais de la Bourse, the former stock exchange that has been adapted to function as a prime location for gatherings such as art fairs, fashion shows and small conferences. 36 exhibitors from Europe and the U.S. have the coveted opportunity to display at this prestigious annual event where passionate collectors and museum directors vie to acquire a new jewel for their individual collecting crowns.

I spent 3 happy hours exploring the fair on the opening afternoon, sipping champagne and talking with the dealers who were very gracious in answering questions. It is difficult to choose favorites as the quality of the material was so high, but I would have to say that the stand of Ronny Van De Velde, a first time exhibitor from Antwerp, Belgium, was outstanding. His presentation of 40 framed original drawings by J.J. Grandville (1803-1847) for his masterpiece "Un Autre Monde" was absolutely fabulous. They were offered as a group and quickly marked SOLD. I also loved the watercolor on vellum by Margaret Macdonald Macintosh, the wife of Arts & Crafts architect extrodinaire, Charles Rennie Macintosh. Done in the Pre-Raphealite style, "Le Jardin Mysterieuse [The Mysterious Garden]", 1911, featured an ethereal woman in a blue gown inspired by Maeterlink's play "L'Oiseau bleu [The Blue Bird]". It is offered at 325,000 Euro on the stand of The Fine Art Society, London, and is absolutely beautiful.

Also on the Pre-Raphealite theme was the watercolor and pencil drawing of "L'Annonciation", 1855, by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. It was a perfect example of the symbolism, the mystery and the sheer beauty of the movement, on the stand of Agnew's, London, for 350,000 Euro. On a more modern note, the oil on cardboard painting of a polar bear, by noted 20th Century French animal artist Paul Jouve, was a charmer, and I was not surprised when the staff on the stand of Galerie Philippe Heim, Paris, told me it was sold on the first day.

A quick trip to the "Salon du Dessin Contemporain [Contemporary Drawings Fair]" at an exhibition space near the Gare Saint Lazare, was fun to see, but it is hard to appreciate any depth or passion in the work after being immersed in the world of true masters at the other fair. However, I did discover a gifted young artist named Glen Baxter whom I think we'll be seeing some more of in the future.

Only in Paris could an entire city celebrate a week dedicated to the art of drawing and it was a pleasure to participate. I can't wait till next year!

April 04, 2008

Bonjour from Paris!

It has been a cold and wet spring here in Paris. In fact, they had so much rain in the month of March that the Seine is almost at flood stage and many dinner cruises on the Bateaux Mouches have to be canceled because the boats cannot pass under the bridges!

But rain or shine, cold or warm, the art scene continues and this week kicked off a three week run of art fairs and events to satisfy every interest.

Tuesday evening was the opening of the Pavillon des Arts et du Design held in huge white tents erected right in the Tuileries Gardens, along the rue de Rivoli. This show is an interesting mix of fine art and 20th Century design and offers works as diverse as a Sioux Indian war bonnet (Galerie Flak, Paris), a suite of Nakashima furniture (Sabastian + Barquet, New York) and a painted ceramic reproduction of an 1894 poster by Georges de Feure (Vincent Lécuyer, Paris).

The next day, Wednesday, was the opening of Art Paris, held now for the third year in the magnificently restored Grand Palais. Here the focus is on Contemporary Art but a few very fine French dealers of early to mid 20th Century Art are also exhibiting. Especially lovely is the booth of Galerie Larock-Granoff devoted exclusively to the work of 1950's Abstract artist Simon Hantaï. Totally different but also exciting is the stand of Galerie Patrice Trigano whose devoted a large part of his booth to a series of large format, realistic style oil paintings by Ron Kleemann on the theme of American NASCAR auto racing.

Last Sunday France changed over to European summer time and the evenings are light until after 8 PM. As if in recognition of this human manipulation of the seasons, the sun is trying a little harder to emulate Spring. Finally, yesterday, it was possible to walk around in just a jacket and scarf and a few optimistic souls braved outdoor cafés without heater lamps.

The delicate green haze of early Spring leaves is deepening and some cherry trees are about to burst into blossom. I leave you with this picture of the South side of Notre Dame in its budding morning splendor. I'll be back soon with some more news and views from this beautiful city. A bientôt!