October 27, 2014

Paris Wildlife!

Bienvenue à Paris where the weather is gorgeous and it more summer than autumn.  Before we get to the hardcore museum exhibitions, I thought we would have some fun and explore two lighthearted but still meaningful shows where animals take center stage.

Let's begin at the venerable house of Deyrolle, one of the few remaining and probably most famous taxidermy shops in the world.  Established in 1831, the premises at 46, rue de Bac are filled with examples of the craft from tigers and bears to birds and fish.  Beside this menagerie of "stuffed animals", the store offers an amazing range of shells, skeletons, butterflies and insects for collectors of curiosities of natural history.

I had been fascinated by Deyrolle ever since I first visited Paris and passed by the shop with gazelles, peacocks and lions in the vitrines and I was horrified when I read of the devastating fire that ripped through their building in February 2008.  Months later they rose from the ashes with a rebuilt emporium that now offered a bookstore and boutique in addition to their traditional stock.  Still, I had never gone inside so when I saw an announcement that they were partnering with contemporary artist Damien Hirst in a special on-site selling exhibition I took the opportunity to venture in.
"Signification (Hope, Immortality and Death in Paris, Now and Then)"is the latest in a long tradition of joint ventures between Deyrolle and the arts and it is a natural fit.  Damien Hirst is probably best known for his controversial animals in formaldehyde series in which a shark or sheep is contained in a large see-through tank of preservative and the viewer has an up close look at its decomposed state.  It is not for the faint hearted.  But Damien Hirst (b. 1965) also did a major series on the theme of pharmacies including installations of glass fronted medicine cabinets and large format prints of various drug packages.

In this collaboration, Damien Hirst explores the idea of a Wunderkammer, a cabinet of wonders, using Deyrolle's natural history treasures as a springboard.  On view in stainless steel framed display cases, mixed in with stuffed foxes, birds and shells, are ostrich eggs decorated by Hirst with his iconic skull motif and little stuffed chicks with Hirst drawings on their mounts.  Totally out of context are the brightly colored containers of cleaning products that are also part of the installation as Hirst explores the relationships between nature and science, life and death, myth and reality, and art and beauty.

Of course, all of the taxidermy and natural history objects at Deyrolle are for sale and so too are these works by Damien Hirst.  If you are feeling like a little something for your own Cabinet of Curiosities you can bid online at Paddle8 and maybe take home a souvenir!

Moving across the Seine to another Paris institution, we come to one more joint venture but this time between two museums.  To mark the 20th anniversary of the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution at the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle, some of the specimen monkeys and birds from their collection have taken up residence among the antique furniture and paintings of the Petit Palais.  "Les Animaux font le mur (Animals at Large)! is a fresh new way to liven up the rather staid eighteenth and nineteenth century galleries with the animals mimicking the art.

It's a switch on the old maxim of art imitating life as these feathered and furry creatures seem to be in on the joke and enjoying the spotlight in their new, temporary home.

Now I'm going to head outside and take advantage of this warm Indian summer afternoon with a glass of wine at an outdoor café and drink in the beauty of Paris surrounding me.  A perfect end to a very lovely day!

Street performers in front of the Comédie Française

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