In keeping with a trend that most European museums have embraced for over a decade, the Louvre finally is integrating living artists’ works with those of old masters. Ignore the dust bunnies in the corners of the museum and find the stairwell between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian antiquities. On the walls there are permanent installations by Anselm Kiefer, a major figure of the contemporary art scene. In the medieval room, renowned conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth’s neon sentences illuminate the subterranean spaces. While these archaic halls receive an infusion of creativity, venues around Paris also feature delicious, fun, and provocative contemporary art.
Palais de Tokyo, the 1936 exposition showpiece, takes art to the rooftop with a gastronomic performance at “Nomiya the ArtHome,” a chrome and glass boxcar-sized room that has the Paris skyline for a backdrop. Chief chef Gilles Stassart and colleague Nicolas Cedric create cuisine twice daily for their audience—six couples, unknown to each other, who’d made reservations online one month prior. On my appointed day a colleague and I sat for two hours at a communal table with ten strangers and participated in an event that consisted of a heady, elegant invention of flavors and textures and stimulating conversation. Laurent Grasso designed the cozy “ArtHome” (the corporate sponsor is Electrolux), which is due to come down in December 2010.
After that unique experience I visited the eclectic exhibitions in the Palais’ interior. Dominating the first floor, artist Ji-Ji opened his first solo show with his idiosyncratic giant grumpy pandas. In a room nearby, Zarka’s 40-minute video documented the locations where skateboarders perform. Pneumatic capsules inside a jumble of transparent tubing created by Serge Spitzer whooshed up, over, and around most of the ground floor, while Laith Al-Amiri’s six-foot high bronze-colored shoe dominated the entrance.
A retrospective of conceptual artist Elaine Sturtevant was on view next door at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (from which five masterworks were subsequently stolen). Sturtevant’s new creation, titled “The Razzle Dazzle of Thinking,” featured a life-size replica of a 1938 carnival attraction replete with skeletons, gory vignettes, and monsters. I continued to ponder the implications behind the “House of Horrors” as I headed over to the Centre National d’Art et de Culture George Pompidou.
Even though I stayed until 9 p.m. (the closing time), the extensive exhibit “Elles@centrepompidou” required more than one visit. Curator Camille Morineau drew from the museum’s permanent collection and presented 500 works of 200 women artists, revealing a galaxy of styles and approaches to contemporary art. In May 2010, part of the collection was installed in a new home at the Pompidou’s sister museum, Centre Pompidou-Metz.
In his solo exhibition, Eco (Spanish for Echo), at Galerie Chantal Crousel, artist José Maria Sicilia’s expressive works—his large bronze “Mirrors” with subtle forms and designs in the surfaces, his marble doors sculpted with images of the sky (“Constellations”), and his abstract paintings and drawings—are intended as a means of exploring one’s identity in the world. Not easily categorized, I admired them for the visceral response they evoked rather than for intellectual reasons.
At the new “in” restaurant, 114 Faubourg, contemporary methods of artistic expression was the topic of discussion over dinner with my knowledgeable friend, Julian Pieve, owner of Deluxe Drivers, who got me into and around Paris.
The next day I started out from my apartment at the Chagall with renewed energy to visit the exhibit at La Maison Rouge, Foundation Antoine de Galbert. “Vinyl,” featured 800 records and covers, tapes, CDs, photographs, magazines, and catalogues created by 20th century visual artists who were inspired by consumerism and popular culture. Starting with the movement in Dadism (nonsense poetry and noise music), continuing through Pop (comic strips, ads, and mass-produced objects), Op (optical), Happenings, and Performance Art, the sleeves were young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and brilliant. British collector, publisher, and curator Guy Schraenen compiled the show. I returned after brunch—a delightful oeufs en cocotte (eggs cooked in a ramekin) at the Maison’s café—to listen to the actual recordings at a specially designed sound deck.
There’s an enormous quantity of high caliber art in Paris’ museums and galleries that allows the viewer a comprehensive overview of 20th and 21st century achievements. Although many of the installations I saw will be gone by the end of summer, they’ll be replaced with new ones—works by artists who have explored lively and imaginative approaches to art—in the Louvre and beyond.