Thursday, 1 October 2009

Je veux te peindre ta beauté / Où l'enfance s'allie à la maturité

One evening while strolling nonchalantly by the Seine I recall hearing Jeremy, a Harvard graduate I met through my friend Angel, say that what was keeping him (and us) here was the beauty exhuberated by the city of Paris. This might be the truest of statements I heard while living in that city of aesthetes. Paris caters for both those desiring an initiation into bohemian living as well as life in a stark intellectual stronghold; it is la cité des lettres et des arts. I had the pleasure of seeing its best and worst sides: The beautiful sunset behind the Eiffel Tower as seen from the top of the Pompidou (Musée National d'Art Moderne) and the vulgar cursing of stressed Parisians crossing the sidewalk (I was called by words that included both the highly refined salope for slut and connard for asshole).

I experienced the bohemian Paris of Baudelaire first hand from my flatmate Angel's 6th floor apartment on Rue Greneta, located in Les Halles and by the Maraïs District. The locations was a Parisian cliché in itself, with excess of corner cafés juxtaposed with (now) trendy sushi bars. I must say that having seen most of Paris on several occasions, the districts of Les Halles and Maraïs are some of the nicest areas of town, neither too pompous nor too sketchy like the Parisian banlieu which I (un)fortunately experienced first-hand. Impressionist painter Monet had a penchant for Les Halles too, as seen in his painting of Rue Montorgueil (the sidestreet to Greneta).

The flat I stayed in was of a curious sort, consisting of one very large room and an adjacent toilet. It had a bunk-bed like the ones I had slept in as a child and a beautiful view from the window, the sort you can imagine but seldom actually get to see, with a number of chimneys enriching the landscape of housing complexes, only to culminate with the Eiffel Tower as the tallest point in the horizon. It is said Sartre had a habit of dining at the Tour de Montparnasse, for only there could he escape the judgmental presence of the Eiffel Tower. Now I understand why.

I started out my trip by spending two full days in the Centre Pompidou, which was only a short walk away from the flat. This culture centre is intriguing both in its exterior appearance (built in the tradition of structural expressionism) and its interior contents of fine art. The key theme of said style (like in the brutalist style) is for the building to reveal its structure on the outside and the inside, with a visual emphasis on the internal steel/concrete skeletal structure as opposed to exterior concrete walls. Inside was a temporary exhibition on l'art féministe. In their attempt to assume the role of provocateurs, the artists took the liberty to try a variety of mediums, with one of my favourite works being a piece titled "my 7 days of menstrual blood". The underlying theme was the criticism of the male chauvinist, patriarchal nature of the art world until recently. It is said that art critics used the term l'art féminin as a derogatory term to distinguish art by females from the rest. There were very big names amongst the exhibitions, including Niki de Saint Phalle (Tinguely's wife) and Barbara Kruger.

The third floor of the Pompidou houses the permanent exhibition, this being one of the best I have seen in Europe. The works were all part of the forefront of 20th century art, well displayed and intertwined with both modernist and functionalist furniture and design. Everything from Marcel Duchamp's Fontaine (of which there are 5 copies, after the original was thrown out) and Bicycle Wheel, to Tinguely's kinetic art pieces (mobiles), Matisse, Derrain, Picasso, Braque, Miró, Ernst, Rothko, Pollock, Léger. Most movements were also represented, including a tiny section devoted to the short-lived Fauvist style of 1905–1907. A truly delightful experience without precedent, bigger than Stockholm's Moderna and as imposing as the collection of the Tate Modern. I am especially interested in the Color Field style, for which there was a lot to come for. Pollock, Rothko and Kline were there, but so was Helen Frankenthaler, one of the few female abstract expressionists.

Futurism was also well represented by Russian Kasimir Malévitch as well as Braque's Cubist-Futurist work. I always rejoice in a section of Marinetti's manifesto: "We affirm that the world's magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed". This enshrines the contemporary attitudes of the 20th century with regards to the simultaneous brusque movement of scientific and artistic paradigms.

More to come later.

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