March 30, 2013

What's on in Paris

As usual, there is a plethora of interesting exhibitions on view in Paris.  I've already mentioned the blockbuster "Dalí" retrospective that just closed at the Centre Pompidou and "Marie Laurencin" at the Musée Marmottan, but I'd like to tell you about a couple of others that were well worth visiting.

A little on the strange side, but interesting to see was "L'ange du bizarre / The Angel of the Odd.  Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst" that opened early in March at the Musée d'Orsay.  The title, taken from one of Edgar Allen Poe's dark mysteries, perfectly describes the theme of this show.  For centuries people have been fascinated by what terrifies them.  Even today, movie goers flock to cinemas to experience the thrill of fear and the escape from reality that comes with.  European art movements since the Age of Enlightenment have been obsessed with this pursuit of the horrible, the erotic and the perverse to escape the moral, social and religious confines of bourgeois society.

Sources such as Dante, Milton, Shakespeare and Goethe inspired canvases by Goya, Blake, Delacroix, Hugo, Munch, Moreau and Redon.  Images of demons, femmes fatales, isolated landscapes, nightmares, cannibals and skeletons were routinely depicted by the Dark Romantics, the Symbolists and eventually the Surrealists who incorporated these non-conformist ideas of cruelty and sensuality, the importance of chance and dreams into their work.  It is a lingering obsession as "Goth" continues to influence modern day painting, cinema and literature which all goes to show that everything old is new again!

Let's go across the Seine to the Centre Pompidou and a totally different subject - an exhibition devoted to the architecture and design of an under-appreciated 20th Century icon, Eileen Gray.  Born in Ireland in 1878, Eileen Gray had a perfectly proper upper middle class upbringing that included instruction in the ladylike art of painting porcelain.  But she had another vision for herself.  While studying in London, she became intrigued by examples of lacquer work on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum and apprenticed herself to a local artisan/restorer.

After moving to Paris in 1906, Eileen Gray made the acquaintance of master lacquer work artist Seizo Sugawara and the two began a very fruitful collaboration.  Their lacquer furniture and accessories became highly sought after by decorators and style makers and are still highly prized by collectors today.

But Eileen Gray had a bigger vision for herself.  In addition to the lacquer ware, she opened a workshop dedicated to a wider range of luxury good for the home.  A weaving factory offered carpets and textiles and later chairs, tables, lamps and other furniture made of tubular metal, glass, cork and plastics were added to the collection.

She was enormously successful with this line and became a trend setter in avant garde circles but it was still not enough.  Once again Eileen Gray reinvented herself, this time as an architect.  Working in conjunction with Jean Badovici, Miss Gray designed and built a series of Modernist houses, some of which remain to this day.  Based on concepts of Minimalism but as "an organic entity with a soul" these houses were constructed as "wholes" - a total vision of landscape, architectural design and décor as one.

Eileen Gray faded out of the public eye for quite a long time but her popularity was renewed in the 1960s and more recently in 2009 with the fabulous auction of Yves Saint Laurent that included a number of her pieces.  It seems, with this exhibition, that she has finally regained her rightful place in the annals of Art Deco and Modernist design history.

I did not have a chance to visit every exhibition on my list, but that will leave some great shows to see when I return in June.  It's time to bid adieu to Paris but I'm not heading back to New York just yet.  I will be spending the Easter weekend in Prague and am looking forward to reporting back with my discoveries in this historic and beautiful city.

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