Thursday, January 26, 2017

Travel Adventures 2017 - New York, Belgium, Eastern Canada Drive

The exciting (and sometimes frustrating) thing about trying to arrange our travel plans based on home swap is that we are never sure what opportunities might arise, sometimes at the last minute.  Luckily, being retired means that we are often free to take advantage of these offers and are extremely flexible about switching up or postponing tentative plans in favour of a new swap offer that appeals to us.  For example, for several years now, we have talked about doing a "Rust Belt" driving tour of the USA where we would visit cities like Buffalo, Detroit, Toledo and Cleveland in order to visit their excellent art galleries.  We've gone so far as to plan out routes, itineraries and tentative schedules, but then we would receive a new swap request for a more exotic location that we have not visited before and the driving trip gets postponed again.  It has become our back-up trip for the year that we are not lucky enough to find a good home swap match.

So far most of our home swap opportunities (to France, Ireland, Holland, Italy) have come from us agreeing to offers made by other members on the website LoveHomeSwap.  Despite sending out innumerable requests to people in both United States and Europe, so far only one of our swaps have been the result of a request that we initiated.  In many cases, we did not even get a response (positive or negative), let alone finding a match.  Understandably getting a swap is not easy since you need to find someone who wants to come to your city at the exact same time that you want to go to theirs.  Not everyone else could be as flexible as we were or might be interested in our city.  We have turned down our share of requests too, out of lack of interest for going to the requesting location.

That is why when Love Home Swap came up with the new feature of a "points" swap that would facilitate non-simultaneous swaps, it sounded like the perfect solution.  You are given a starting set of points and can earn more by allowing others to stay at your place while you are away for whatever reason.  In exchange you could use these points to stay somewhere else at another time.  The problem is that we have had as much trouble finding anyone to take our points as we did trying to get a simultaneous swap. 

After many fruitless attempts over the past years, for 2017 we decided that we would temporarily stop sending out home swap requests and would just wait to see what came to us.  If nothing turned up, then we still had our fallback plan. Up until the end of 2016, we were convinced that the Rust Belt tour was on for the following year.  And then out of the blue, we got another new fantastic offer.  We will be spending two weeks in April living in a 19th Century home in Antwerp, Belgium.  From there, we will take day trips to nearby cities like Ghent and Bruges (which I've wanted to visit ever since I watched the Colin Farrell comedy "In Bruges").  Since we will be in Belgium anyways, we will extend our vacation through the first week of May with a one week stay in a rental apartment in Brussels.  The prospect of eating moules frites, Belgium waffles and of course, Belgium chocolate is very exciting to us.

Quite happy with this European trip, we were not expecting anything else to come up when suddenly and totally unexpectedly, one of my many requests from the previous year came to fruition.  There are several cities that are so dynamic and interesting that we would like to return again and again.  One of these places is New York City.  I had sent out dozens of requests for either a simultaneous or a points swap to people in New York and up to now, I have found no interest or received no response.  It has been so long ago that I don't even remember when I made the request, but last week I received notice that one of my many points swap inquiries had been accepted.  We will be spending 7 days in a gorgeous condo unit in the Murray Hill district of Manhattan with a stunning view of the New York skyline. Prior to this I had become convinced that I would never get a points swap, or any type of swap in North America.  I figured that Toronto was not exotic enough for anyone in Canada or the USA to want to bother doing a home swap.  This experience has proven me wrong and has reinforced to adage that "You can't win if you don't play".   I think we increased our odds by picking a place which is a "secondary" or rental home and requesting to swap during the "off-season" when it is less likely that the place would be rented.  I will keep this in mind for future inquiries.

This takes up much of our vacation budget for 2017 and I think that we will be postponing our Rust Belt driving tour once again.  We may consider taking a last minute driving trip across Eastern Canada to celebrate Canada's 150th (sesquicentennial) birthday and take advantage of the free access to national parks, conservation areas and historic sites across the country, offered to mark the milestone.  We would stop in at cities like Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax en route to Cape Breton and hopefully take part in Canada 150 festivities.

2017 is shaping up to be another exciting and varied vacation year for us.  More blogs will follow to document our travels.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Paris 2016 - La Défense Business District and Trip Wrapup Thoughts

On our last day in Paris, we, were planning to return to the 3rd Arrondissement to visit three lesser known museums –the Carnavalet Museum of the history of Paris, the Museum of Magic and the Museum of Automatons.  But having already toured so many musems throughout our visit, I was "museum-ed out" and could not face another round of them.  I wanted to do something different, preferably outdoors.

I had been curious about the La Défense Business District ever since spying the uniquely shaped skyscrapers off in the horizon from our bedroom window.  We caught an even better glimpse of them from the top deck of the Fondation Louis Vuitton.  Reading more about the district in a guide book, I found out that this area also included a landscaped pedestrian promenade with fountains, parkettes and over 70 sculptures and modern art pieces, forming an "open-air museum".  This sounded like a perfect place to explore for our last day in Paris.

Situated in the suburbs of Paris, north-west of the 16th and 17th arrondissements, La Défense is the largest specifically-built business district in Europe.  Spanning 1400 acres, it is home to 72 buildings made of glass and steel, including 18 (and counting) skyscrapers.  Centralizing the tall, modern towers in the suburbs was a way to protect the historic nature of central Paris. The Center of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT) was the first building to be erected in the newly formed area in 1958.  CNIT has been refurbished twice and now acts as a convention centre with shops, offices and a hotel.  La Défense sits at the western end of the "Historical Axis" or "Triumphal Way", which consists of a line of iconic monuments and thoroughfares, starting from the Louvre, Place de Concorde, Champs d'Elysees, L'Arc de Triomphe, and Avenue de Grande Armée.

In the 1980s, it was decided that a modern 20th Century monument was required in La Défense to mirror the Arc de Triomphe and to mark the end of the Historical Axis.  Danish architect Johann von Spreckelsen won a design contest and created "La Grande Arche de la Défense", a 110 metre high concrete cube covered in glass and Carrara marble from Italy.  Government offices are housed in the two sides of the cube, people sit on the wide steps in the summer, and a wonderful view of the surrounding area can be seen from the top of the stairs.  Concerts and other cultural events are held at the base of the arch.  In contrast to the Arc de Triomphe which was built to celebrate military victories, the Grand Arche is a monument dedicated to "humanity and humanitarian ideals".

I was initially lured to visit the La Défense district because of the unique-looking buildings that I saw from a distance.  They did not disappoint once we were able to get a closer look at them.  It was spectacular to see so many beautiful yet unique skyscrapers and low-rises, all designed with the different shapes, curves, and angles, created with a variety of materials, colours and decorative patterns.  The ones with glass façades shimmered in varying shades and tones of blues, greens, golds, greys and whites.  My two favourite buildings were the "Tour D2", a 561 foot tall office building that looked like an egg from afar, and the 541 foot tall "Tour EDF", whose large metal circular canopy makes it look like the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek.

Office buildings line both sides of a wide pedestrian concourse running through the stretch of the La Défense, spanning the Esplanade du Général de Gaulle and Esplanade de la Défense.  The 1.2km promenade includes paved flagstone sidewalks, expansive green lawns, and tree-lined parkettes, offering benches, lounge chairs, and picnic tables, as well as cafés and bistros with outdoor patios. What a lovely environment for the office workers to come out into for a leisurely lunch.  All along the promenade can be found sculptures, monuments and art installations that range from historic to contemporary.  This includes two major water features which are works of art in their own right, including one which just blew me away with its size and beauty.

The Fontaine Monumentale (Monumental Fountain) by Yaacov Agam spans 26x72 metres and flows down a 7 metre waterfall at the far end.  The fountain is comprised of 86 shades of mosaic glass enamel imported from Venice, producing a spectacular rainbow effect that stretches far into the distance.  Although they were not active when we passed by, the fountain has jets that can shoot water into the air and musical "water ballet" shows are performed like the ones they have in Las Vegas.

Bassin is a fountain-pool designed by Greek sculptor Vassilakis Takis, situated at the eastern end of the Esplanade de la Défense, from where you can get a clear view down the Triumphal Way to spot the Arc de Triomphe in the horizon.  The 50-metres wide fountain is decorated with 49 metal rods of various heights, topped by vibrantly coloured geometric shapes and flashing lights.  To create an echo effect, architect von Spreckelsen requested that Takis add another 17 free-standing rods at the rear of the Grand Arch, to mark the western end of La Défense, thus encompassing the entrance and exit of the area.  The Bassin is a popular lunch spot with picnic tables along the edge of the sunken pool.  From afar, it looks like the tables and their occupants are floating on the water.

La Défense is named after the iconic statue La Défense de Paris by Louis-Ernest Barrias, which was erected in 1883 to commemorate the soldiers who had defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.  The central character of a woman dressed in a National Guard uniform holding a flag represents the city of Paris.  A young soldier at her feet represent the defenders of the city, while a sad young girl represents the suffering of the civilian population.  It is currently located in Place de la Défense, at the base of Agam's fountain. A giant abstract sculpture made of polyester resin and painted in bright primary colours is called Personnages Fantastiques by Spanish Surrealist artist Joan Miró and sits in front of the enormous shopping centre Quatre Temps.  For me, the most fascinating and fun sculpture is "La Pouce", the giant 40 foot tall bronze thumb by sculpture César Baldaccini, who used his own thumb as the model, realistically representing the lines and wrinkles of his skin.

Two large bronze sculptures by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj puts a modern spin on Classical sculptural styles with his well formed torsos that are deliberately disfigured or mutilated, as a reflection of human nature and its imperfections.  His winged sculpture Ikaria is missing a head and has a small face carved where the penis should be.  A hand grasping his right foot seems to prevent him from flying away.  The other sculpture Icarus has the top of his head chopped and both arms chopped off, like a male version of the Venus de Milo. Although the maps and documentation name the armless sculpture as Icarus, it would seem to be a more appropriate name for the winged figure, based on Greek mythology?

Lim Dong Lak's Point Growth features a stainless steel globe with a plant stemming from it.  The shiny globe reflects the beautiful buildings that surround it, similar to the large globe in Parc de la Vilette. Slovak sculptor Joseph Jankovic's "Dans les Traces de Nos Peres" (In the Footsteps of our Fathers) symbolically depicts two children trying to climb out of giant feet (of their fathers' legacies or expectations?).  Several works are modeled like giant smokestacks or chimneys.  Rachel Guy's ceramic "Les Trois Arbres" is a 28.5 metres tall mosaic decorated with tree roots, while Raymond Moretti's 32 metre "Fibre de Verre" chimney is made of 672 fiberglass tubes painted in 19 colours.

A pretty, tree-lined parkette interspersed with benches provided a peaceful green space and respite from the hubbub of the rest of the area.  At the end of the park was the whimsical sculpture "Grenouille" by Claude Torricini of a large frog with its mouth open.  When you look in the mouth, you find another miniature frog sitting inside, with it's mouth open equally wide.  In another square, concrete planter boxes are decorated with carvings on each corner of characters with outstretched arms that join each in a circle.  These are the works of Shelomo Selinger which he calls "La Danse".  Cafés, bistros and eateries were situated in this square and we chose one called La Safranée to have some lunch.

We sat outside on the patio, surrounded by Selinger's beautiful planters.  While Rich ordered a burger and fries (how boring when in Paris!), I went for the lunch special of veal stew with mashed potato.  For dessert, Rich chose the strawberry cake since strawberries were in season and we had been eyeing the strawberry desserts at all the patisseries.  I went for the old standby of chocolate mousse, made from rich, smooth dark chocolate.  Both the food and the ambience was great, but it was a bit chilly sitting outside.

Having walked the entire stretch of the main esplanades of La Défense, we headed back towards our metro station, passing a few more large-scaled art pieces along the way.  There was something that looked like a big tree house, and a round, bright yellow table and curved benches that were surrounded by a frame dangling strips of plastic.  We were not able to identify the artists of these pieces.  Finally, we came across Anthony Caro's "After Olympia", a monumental work of rusted steel spanning 23 metres across the path of the esplanade. Inspired by the pediment of Zeus in Olympia, it consists of pieces of steel are bent and folded to form simple overlapping shapes sitting on a steel platform.

La Défense is split into four quarters– Arche Nord includes the CNIT building, and the district Faubourgh de l'Arche, where the Leonardo da Vinci center of higher education and other office towers, shops and residential buildings are located.  The giant thumb is located in this quarter as are Mitoraj's pair of torso sculptures.  Arch Sud is highlighted by "Les Quatres Temps" shopping centre which contains four floors of shops and 22 eateries, with Joan Miro's colourful RYB sculpture looming in front of it.  The Grand Arch sits between these two quarter.  Esplanade Nord and Sud seem to contain a high density of office towers mixed in with residential buildings with Takis' Bassin sitting between the eastern end of these two quarters.  The La Défense de Paris sculpture and Agam's Fontaine Monumentale sits at the intersection of all four quarters.

Using an online map from a La Défense promotional website, we were able to get a general idea of where the sculptures and art works were to be found.  We did not find out until after we returned home that there was a little museum in an information centre in the square where we could have picked up a more detailed map with photos.  It is also found online in PDF format.  Many of the pieces were along the central promenades so we concentrated our time walking down one side and back up the other.

Unfortunately, without a more detailed map, we missed many of the works that were tucked away between the buildings within the quarters, or even inside the buildings.  I found images of some of these pieces on the internet, and now that I am armed with more information, I would like to return to this area on our next trip to Paris to do a more thorough exploration.

This turned out to be the perfect way to end our "Off the Beaten Path" tour of Paris.  We succeeded in finding all new things to do and see that we had not done before on previous visits, and we still have a long list of ideas ready for our next visit.  Paris really is one of those cities that you can visit infinitely.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Paris 2016 - Museum of Decorative Arts (Temporary Exhibits)

As discussed in my previous blog, the Museum of Decorative Arts consists of a permanent collection primarily focused on French furnishings and decor dating from the 12th Century through the 21st Century.  In addition to this, rotating temporary exhibitions are held to display subsets of the museum's vast inventory of fashion, toys and graphic arts/advertising.  During our visit in July 2016, we were fortunate enough to attend exhibits called "Fashion Forward - 3 Centuries of Clothing", "Barbie" and "Caricature Posters of 1850-1918".  These exhibits in general, and the Barbie exhibit in particular, were some of the best curated shows that we have ever attended, in terms of breadth, depth and comprehensive explanations of what we were seeing and why it was important.

The fashion exhibit was titled "Fashion Forward, 3 Centuries of Clothing".  Around 300 pieces were selected from the collection of 150,000 items, in order to chronologically present examples of French design from the 18th Century to today, highlighting key moments in fashion.  The fashions from the mid 1700s during Louis XVI's reign through Napoleon's reign in the early 1800s are elegant and regal in appearance.  Dresses worn in the royal courts were made of silk, taffeta and satin, often decorated with ornate embroidery and beading.  Accessories on display included folding hand fans, long gloves, purses, slip-on shoes, broaches and pendants.

By the mid 1800s, the fabrics are less ornate in both the women and the men's wardrobe and the bustle comes into style, providing a framework to expand the back of a woman's dress, forming a protrusion at the lower back.  In terms of accessories, the fans of the 1700s century have been replaced with pretty parasols while several examples of purses looked like headbands or scarfs to me.

During the Belle Epoque period (1871-1914) the dresses no longer sported the bustle, but developed a more streamlined, bell shape and used softer fabrics.  The designs were probably influenced by the Art Nouveau movement which partly coincided with this period.  I loved the pumpkin-coloured evening dress by Callot Soeurs (1909-13) with the beautifully embroidered bodice and hem.  The silk kimono came into style during this period and was worn as dressing gowns for ladies of the Belle Epoque.  Painted wax fashion dolls by Lafitte-Désirat were used to model miniature versions of fashions created by designers during the 1910s.  The dolls are given hair styles of the times and wear wool, fur, leather and feathers in their hats.

The clothes of the 1920s-30s reflected the advances of women's roles in society following World War I, resulting in fashion styles that represented their desire for equality.  The dresses became much shorter, climbing from the ankle to mid-calf.  Waistlines were dropped and the forms of day dresses and evening wear were worn more loosely, allowing for easier movement.  Influences from the Art Deco movement crept into some of the designs in terms of bold colors and geometric shapes.  The hot pink evening cape with the gold star burst design by Elsa Schiaparelli (1938) was just stunning.

Following this wonderful tour of fashion through the centuries up to the 1930s, we entered a large room where we were bombarded with a cavalcade of haute couture spanning the remaining decades from 1940 through to the current day.  The earlier works were by designers including Christian Dior, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel by Karl Lagerfeld, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, and John Galiano while the more recent creations were by names such as Christian Lacroix, Louis Vuitton by Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, Dolce & Gabbana, and Prada.

Some of my favourite dresses included the one that looked like a bright red heart by Commes Des Garçons (2015), which stood next to an interesting painted leather jacket matched with a printed twill shirt and pants by Icolas Ghesquiere for Louis Vuitton, the Christian Dior evening dress (1953) with the embroidered flowers and greenery, and the Karl Lagerfeld (for Chanel 1996) gold evening dress matched with a contrasting sheer grey shawl. I did not catch the names of the designers, but I liked the bright fushia evening dress with a modern spin on the bustle, and the soft orange gown with the ballerina-like tulle material at the bottom.

There were also designs that ranged from interesting to strange in my mind.  There was the Spanish matador pantsuit and Picasso-inspired dress by Yves Saint Laurent (1979), the outfit that looked like my flannel pajamas, a couple of "space-aged" designs, and the dress made of small sheets of credit-card sized metal linked together by metal chains.  But the weirdest outfit for me was the sweat suit dress with hoodie that was even more peculiar when viewed from the back.  We were really impressed with this temporary fashion exhibit of the Museum of Decorative Arts, which was more comprehensive and better curated than the one we saw in the Galliera Museum, despite that museum being entirely dedicated to fashion.

Also excellently curated was the even larger, more impactful and totally comprehensive toy exhibition simply titled "Barbie" since this iconic doll is universally known and needs no further description. Developed by Mattel in 1959, the Barbie universe has grown and morphed with the times, reflecting changes in social, cultural and sartorial norms throughout the years.  To give the Barbie doll context, a brief history of dolls is provided and some early dolls were displayed.  It was noted that in the 18th and early 19th centuries, dolls were considered valuable ornamental items, or were created as tiny mannequins to show off wardrobe designs, as were the Lafitte-Désirat that we saw in the fashion exhibit.  It was not until 1870-80s that dolls with child-like bodies, faces, and clothing were first developed and even then, they were only available for the wealthy.  From then until the invention of the Barbie in 1959, dolls were meant to be cradled and cuddled like babies, allowing young girls to simulate the role of their mothers.

Barbie was the brainchild of Mattel executive Ruth Handler, who watched her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls, pretending that they were adults as opposed to children.  After some difficulty, Ruth convinced Mattel to create a physical "teenage fashion model" doll with protruding breasts and a tiny waist, which girls could dress up and use to act out their potential future lives.  Barbie allowed the girls to imagine themselves as successful, free, independent women as opposed to the traditional stereotypes of being wives, mothers and home makers.

Named after Ruth's daughter Barbara, the first iteration of Barbie had blond hair tied up in a classic pony tail and was dressed in a striped strapless swimsuit, black mules, sunglasses, and hoop earrings.  A brunette version was also released at the same time.  The intent was to sell not only the doll but also different outfits for her, each giving Barbie a different persona and identity.  Barbie's hair also changed with the times, in terms of length, style and colour.  By 1961, influenced by Jackie Kennedy, Barbie was sporting much shorter hair and came with multiple wigs of different styles and hair colours.  A later version sported extremely long, wavy hair.  One of the most important features and greatest achievements of the Barbie doll is her mobility.  The original Barbie could move her arms and legs, allowing her to walk, sit, or wave.  Later versions were given joints at the elbows and knees, allowing the doll to perform Yoga and gymnastic moves.  Barbie was given an entire history including a birth date of March 9, 1959 (the day the doll was launched), a full name of Barbara Millicent Roberts, and parents George and Margaret Roberts from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin.

In 1961, Ken Carson (named after Ruth's son) was the second doll added to the line, in reaction to a strong demand for a boyfriend for Barbie.  This allowed for more play options including sporty and romantic dating scenarios for Barbie and her beau.  But continuing the theme of Barbie's free spirit and independence, Ken never became her fiancee or husband and was never the dominant figure in their "relationship".  Barbie actually "left" Ken for Australian surfer Blaine in 2004, mimicking other real-life celebrity breakups, before reconciling with her original boyfriend in 2011 after a prolonged period of "wooing" on Ken's part.   What a great marketing ploy to raise interest in the dolls and promote a new one to be purchased!

Barbie's universe was expanded to include a slew of family, friends and pets who were all made into dolls (although her parents were not and only existed in Barbie-based books).  Her 14-year-old sister Skipper was added in 1964, followed by younger siblings including Tutti, Todd, Stacie and Krissy, as well as cousins (Francine), aunts and uncles.  Barbie had many friends with her first best friend Midge Hadley created in 1963, followed by many others including Stacey, PJ, Steffie, Christie, and Teresa.  Many of the family and friends were given family, friends and boyfriends of their own, thus further expanding the Barbie realm.  Barbie has over 40 pets including multiple cats, dogs and horses, and even a panda, lion cub and zebra.

No one can fault Mattel for not trying to be inclusive or embracing diversity when it comes to producing Barbie products, sometimes with varying degrees of success.  In 1997, they created a wheelchair bound friend of Barbie's named Becky but unfortunately and inexplicably, only produced her for several years despite good sales.  One plausible (but denied) reason was that wheelchair Becky did not fit into any of the other accessories like the Playhouse or car.  Since 2009, Mattel has developed new Barbies to represent different ethnicities, including 14 different faces, 8 skin tones, 18 eye colours and 23 shades of hair colour, as well as through the use of cultural wardrobe, makeup, accessories and hairstyles.  Some of the dolls don't actually look much like the ethnicity that Mattel was aiming for, since the same basic faces were reused and just tinted with different skin tones and given different hair.
Long criticized for creating an unrealistic, unhealthy body type for girls to aspire to, in 2016, Mattel continued its quest to stay relevant with their customer base by introducing Barbies with new body types including tall, petite, and curvy/heavyset.  I guess each of these new body types will require their own set of clothes as well since the clothes for original Barbie will not fit.  This generates even more sales opportunities for Mattel.

Where Mattel really excelled in fueling the imaginations and sparks of possibility of Barbie's young owners is in her depiction in a myriad of careers and professions that evolved in step with the social norms of the working woman over the decades.  Starting with tradition roles of the 1960s such as homemaker, babysitter, stewardess, nurse or cheerleader, Barbie moves into roles where she is the athlete as opposed to cheering on the male athlete, and then moves further into typically male dominated roles such as fireman, Canadian Mountie, and even President of the USA.  Her many careers spanned the fields of Education, Medicine, Military and Law Enforcement, Politics, Public Service, Science and Engineering, Transportation, Arts, Sports and more.  Through it all, Barbie is always pert, cute and impeccably dressed.

The Barbie product line consists of much more than just the dolls.  Barbie's innumerable accessories include multiple homes and apartments, and vehicles including different models of cars, a camper trailer, bicycle, motor scooter, jeep, golf cart and even a horse and carriage made for a princess.  There is furniture to fit the various homes, cookware and every conceivable type of sports equipment including skis, a tennis racquet, kayak, jet ski, paddle boat, swimming pool and more.

The next section of the exhibit showed the manufacturing process for the dolls, starting from hand-drawn sketches through to 3-D renderings of prototypes through to the final product.  We see samples of heads and hair strands, fabrics and patterns for the wardrobe.  The goal is to achieve the mass production of a product that meets the functionality and safety standards required for a child's toy, as well as the sophistication and elegance expected of a collector's item.

The design and manufacturing processes continue through the creation of the packaging, which plays a central role in the marketing of the product by highlighting the doll and any accessories that come with it, including more wardrobe, purses, or jewelry.  Unique packaging is designed to reflect the contents of specialty dolls.  The "Barbie Lagerfeld" is dressed in black and white, taking inspiration from designer Karl Lagenfeld's signature style, and its packaging emulates this look.

Elaborate sets are created "to-scale" in order to showcase the Barbies for photo shoots and publicity videos.  These sets are also used at toy fairs and Barbie conventions and exhibitions like this one.  Lars Auvinen, an award winning set designer for product advertisements, TV commercials and trade shows, specializes in creating these Barbie sets.

My favourite part of this incredible exhibit is the section that illustrates how art and pop culture are reflected through the use of Barbie's image.  Artists use Barbie as a muse for their works in all sorts of different ways. Chloé Ruchon created a pink foozeball machine using Barbies as the players and called it "Barbie Foot".  Shortly before his death, Andy Warhol applied his iconic pop-art rendering techniques to create Barbie's portrait.  Olivier Rebufa also creates sets to pose his Barbies within, photographs them, then hilariously integrates his own image into his photos.

Pop culture is reflected through Barbie-like dolls created in the image of comic book characters Television characters, movie characters, iconic actors and musical artists. On display were figurines representing characters from Star Trek, the Justice League (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman), Mad Men, The Hunger Games, My Fair Lady, Grease, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind among many others.  Real life renderings were made of singers Elvis Presley and Diana Ross, and actresses Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.

The marketing of Barbie has always stayed current with changes in technology, originally using TV advertisements to show the dolls in action.  Today, Barbie is heavily represented within social media, with her own Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts (@barbiestyle) which are used to communicate with her fans.  With all her careers, I was thinking that I would not be surprised if Barbie had a LinkedIn account, and you know what?  She does!!

Barbie was initially designed to be a fashion model and she definitely has the wardrobe to support that goal. Since Oscar De la Renta first designed for Barbie in 1985, she has been dressed by noted designers such as Miu Miu, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, and Moschino.  Limited edition collectors' dolls were dressed in designs by Karl Lagerfled, Burberry, Christian Lacroix, Jean-Paul Gaultier and others.  Designers have also dressed real-life models in clothes inspired by ones that Barbie might wear.  The walls of a large room that needs to be seen to be believed is covered from floor to ceiling with over 7000 pieces of miniature clothing including dresses, skirts, pants, blouses, tops, jackets, shoes, hats, bags and jewelry that are sorted by shades and colours.  Barbie's clothing followed the trends of the decades, from the mini skirt to tie-dye hippie prints to power suits to jeggings and so on.

A rotating fashion runway showed off more Barbies dressed in designer fashions.  It is jolting to think that Barbie owns more beautiful outfits than any regular person could ever imagine or hope for.   In some respects, you could say that this is as much a second fashion exhibit as it is a toy exhibit.

Through the 5+ decades since her creation, Barbie has acted both as a mirror of social change and as a cultural icon that influenced the world around her.  Known around the world, her likeness or persona has been featured in books, TV shows, movies, video games, and art pieces, while her brand has been used to sell apparel, cosmetics, and accessories.  This amazing exhibit did an excellent job at illustrating Barbie's importance and legacy and confirming that she has been so much more than just a toy.

The graphic arts / advertising exhibit was called "Caricature Posters from 1850-1918" and marked a period in time when the poster was not considered an art form but rather functioned as a medium for advertising and political satire.  There was not much English description available for the posters.  So while the advertising ones were straight forward and easy to discern with products such as Nil Cigarettes, Remington typewriters and Michelin Tires, the political posters were harder to understand without more context regarding French history.

After having toured three fabulous exhibits at the Museum of Decorative Arts, and after reading about previous exhibits, we definitely plan to return from for another visit on our next trip to Paris.  I just wished that this museum resided in our home city so that we could go regularly and not miss the next upcoming show.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Paris 2016 - Breguet Museum, Museum of Decorative Arts (Permanent Collection)

The day that Rich and I spent in the 1st Arrondissement became a "tit for tat" affair as we traded off on visiting museums or seeing exhibits that were mostly of interest to just one of us.  In exchange for my spending time at the Breguet Watch Museum as well as the Arts and Metiers Museum to look at airplanes on a previous day, Rich would join me in checking out exhibits featuring the "History of Barbie" and  "Haute Couture" at the Museum of Decorative Arts.  It seemed like a fair compromise.

The House of Breguet is a Swiss maker of luxury watches founded in 1775 by Abraham-Louis Breguet and is one of the oldest surviving watching-making establishments.  Wrist watches, first produced in 1810, remain their main product but Breguet also manufactures cuff links, women's jewelry and writing instruments.  The Breguet Museum opened in 2000 and is housed on the second floor of the Breguet boutique in 6 Place Vendôme, near swanky commercial street Rue de Rivoli.  In addition to over 100 pieces of Breguet works including pocket watches, wrist watches, travel clocks, marine chronometers and military watches, the museum also contains an archive of production registers, sales ledgers, repair books, letters from clients and technical notes written by A.L. and his son.

In addition to the trademark styles including the coin-edge cases, decoratively engraved dials and iconic blue "pomme" hands, two additional features uniquely identify a Breguet watch. To prevent forgery, a secret signature is etched into the dial which can only be seen under certain light conditions.  Also each watch is engraved with a unique production number that identifies its origin and sales provenance.  These numbers are sequential throughout all models of watches, although the sales person did say that the numbers have been reset several times throughout the centuries.  From the detailed sales ledgers, it is confirmed that famous historic figures were Breguet customers, including Napoleon Bonaparte (1798) who took 2 repeating watches and a repeating carriage clock with him on his campaign in Egypt, and Queen Marie-Antoinette (1782) who received watch #2.  One of the original machines used for fine, precision engraving is on display in the museum.  Similar machines are still used by expert technicians today.

My favourite watch in the Breguet Paris museum collection is #2290, an Art Deco watch with a brushed yellow-gold case, and a silver fluted rotating dial that spins a stylized arrow to positionally indicate the minutes on the numberless chapter ring.  There is no hour "hand" but rather, a tiny almost unreadable window at the top of the arrow displays the hour.  Sold in 1930, this is a watch that I would consider "all flash and no function" since it is beautiful but I would have trouble using it to tell the time.  I also liked #180, a small gold ring watch sold in 1836 to a Russian prince for 5500 francs.  It has the usual blue steel Breguet hands, roman numerals on the chapter ring, a seconds sub-dial and an alarm function.  Rich liked #21122, a Chronograph Type XX "fly-back" wristwatch with a polished stainless steel case, black dial and revolving bezel, luminescent numbers and hands. It is a French military pilot watch first designed in the 1950s. This particular watch was sold in 1975 to the Royal Moroccan Air Force.  Finally, it was quite exciting to see watch #1, the oldest surviving self-winding watch made in 1782.  It is a perpetual pocket watch with a gold case, enamel dial and has the words "invented, perfected and made by Breguet" engraved on it.

Of course, no visit to a watch store would be complete without Rich trying on some watches that are of interest to him.  He tried on a fly-back chronograph type 20, which is a direct descendant of the Chronograph XX that we saw earlier in the museum.  After sitting and waiting for another half hour as Rich tried on and discussed watches with the sales agent, I had earned my due and we were ready to go to the Museum of Decorative Arts.

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is a museum of decorative arts and design with a collection spanning from the 12th century through the 21st century.  The permanent collection primarily consists of French furnishings, interior design items including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, glassware, tapestries and wallpaper, while rotating temporary exhibits showcase selected items from the museum's vast collection of toys, fashion and graphic arts/advertising.  The museum is huge, spanning two long blocks along Rue de Rivoli, with 3 main floors and 6 partial floors of exhibition space for the permanent collection and temporary shows, along with 2 lower floors for the restaurant, boutique, library, workshop space, cloak room and an auditorium for lectures and panel discussions.

Given that we spent the morning at the Breguet museum and did not arrive at the Decorative Arts Museum until nearly noon, there was no way that we were going to be able to see the whole thing, so we had to prioritize.  We would check out the major temporary exhibits on fashion, toys and graphic arts which we paid specifically for, and then see as much of the permanent collection as there was time for.  The temporary exhibits that we toured were some of the most interesting and best curated shows that we have ever encountered.  There is so much to talk about in regards to them that I have moved this discussion to the next blog.

After thoroughly touring the temporary exhibits, we were finally ready for the permanent collection, which is split into eras and centuries for the earlier years (middle ages-renaissance, 17-18th centuries, 19th century), followed by the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, and finally by decades for the rest of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries.  Since we had visited quite a few castles and palaces during our travels over the past few years, we were less interested in seeing more decor from these older periods. We decided that we would start in the 20th and 21st centuries and then see how much time we had left for the rest.  We thought that we would start in the 2000s and then work chronologically backwards.

On the 2000s floor, I was really taken by the highly impractical but very cool looking Rhinoceros secretary desk made of wood, leather, and steel, then wrapped with brass.  Created by Françis-Xavier Lalanne, side panels open to reveal a desk and plenty of storage areas.  But what surprised me was that this piece was made in 1966, not in the 2000s!?!  Did we not understand how the permanent collection was laid out?  Regardless it was a very interesting piece.  Apparently, Lalanne and his artist wife Claude are both inspired by the animal theme.  In addition to the rhino desk, François-Xavier also designed sheep seats, a hippopotamus bath and a gorilla fireplace, which are not part of the museum's collection, but I found images of them on the Internet.  I find these pieces so much fun.

Claude created a coffee table made of bronze and brass using crocodile motifs for the sides and legs.  This piece was fittingly created in 2003, so perhaps the rhino desk is also here as a comparison of the works between husband and wife.  Another fascinating work that is firmly rooted in the Internet age of the 2000s is the cherry veneer "Real Time" grandfather clock by Maarten Baas, made in 2009.  There are no physical hands on this clocks but instead, it appears as if the hour and minute hands are drawn on the clock face with a marker.  As we watched, we realized that the clock face is actually a video screen that plays a 12-hour-long video.  At every minute, the actor on the video uses a cloth to wipe out the old time, and then applies the marker to draw in the new time.   This was so entertaining that we stood and watched the video for a couple of minutes.

Several examples of furniture in the 1980s-1990s floor are much more concerned about design over function. I could not figure out how to sit on Philippe Starck's cast aluminum stool (1990), which definitely did not look comfortable.  Only about 1/3 of Rod Arad's woven stainless steel mesh chaise papardelle seems usable to sit in, as the long rippled coils along the floor appear to be more sculptural than functional.  Marc Newson's circular black Mystery Clock (1989) not only has no physical hands but it does not even have any numbers or markings indicating the hours or minutes.  Instead, two magnetically-propelled white spherical markers rotate around two concentric circles moulded on the front, acting as the "hands" of the clock.  The Mystery Clock is aptly named since it would be a mystery to even realize that this is a clock, let alone trying to tell what time it is.  The main exhibit on this floor features Italian architect and designer Gaetano Pesce's vibrant table and chairs (1980) and the giant vase (2006), made of molded polyester resin and rigid epoxy polyurethane foam.  Sitting on a large brightly painted resin platform, the pieces seem more like they are part of some large sculptural artwork rather than individual items of furniture.

The Museum of Decorative Art's collection is much larger than what can be shown on the exhibition floors, which means that there is a frequent rotation of what is currently on display.  Looking at the promotional pamphlets at the museum as well as the online listing of the collection on their website, I noticed other interesting pieces that I would have loved to see in person.  In the 1980s-1990s floor alone, I wish they had displayed the whimsical, brightly painted polyester chair (1981) and lamp (1993) by Niki de Saint Phalle, the Whippet dog chair (1998) by Radi Designers and the terracotta coffee table with skulls (1998) by Pierre Bayle.

The 1960s-1970s floor is all about the chairs.  Looking down from the floors above, you can see a myriad of chairs, stools and arm chairs of different colours, shapes, styles and materials.  A few of the chairs stood out for me. Verner Panton's V-shaped "Cornet K1" (1958) was made of chrome steel and latex foam covered with a striking deep blue fabric. Frank Gehry's Easy Edges chair (1972) was made of laminated corrugated cardboard glued together in alternate directions to give it strength.  Christian Daninos' Bulle chair (1968) consists of a spherical base made of plexiglass, with a stainless steel rim and a removable fabric cushion that comes in various colours. I wonder if you could buy extra cushions in different shades? A version of Olivier Mourque's red futuristic Djinn lounge chair (1964) made of bent steel tubing, foam and a jersey cover, was used in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Vietnamese engineer Quasar Khanh invented inflatable furniture made from durable Polyvinylchloride (PVC) and metal including this lounge chair (1968) that looks like it is ready for the beach.

The main attraction of the 1950s floor is Antoine Philippon's expansive multi-functional audio-visual console (1959) featuring a built-in TV with a swivel stand with the chassis and speakers located within the base cabinet, a record player turntable and bar.  Made of post-formed flexible laminate, chrome steel, brass and cherry wood, the three sections of the console put together spanned 12 feet in length and was quite impressive to see.  This piece seemed several decades ahead of its time in terms of design.

The 1940s floor was a bit perplexing since most of the pieces in the main exhibit were from either before or after this decade.  Artist Janine Janet created most of the artwork appearing in this display, including the two sculptures of a King and Queen whose bodies and heads were made of wood while the details of their hair, crowns, eyes and the decorations on their "clothing" were rendered using different lengths of nails.  Her four-paneled blue screen with the nautical theme was created in 1967 while her three other sculptures were all created in the 60s to 70s.  So why all of this showed up on the 1940s floor is beyond me. Only the table with the ornate wrought-iron legs on which the artwork sat was created in the 1943 by Gilbert Poillerat.

While the decades from 2000 through 1940 were represented by a relatively small amount of space and relatively few items on display, the Art Deco and Art Nouveau exhibits were significantly more substantial.  This was great for us since these are our two favourite decorative time periods.

The highlight of the Art Deco floor was the presentation of several rooms from the Parisian mansion of French haute couture fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin, who founded the Lanvin fashion house and perfume company.  In 1925, she collaborated with French designer Armand-Albert Rateau to redesign her home including all of the furnishings.  When the residence was demolished in 1965, the living room, boudoir, bedroom and bathroom were recreated intact in the Museum of Decorative Arts.  Although it was all behind glass, we were able to get quite a good view of some of the rooms.  The walls of the boudoir, which connects the bedroom to a terrace, are painted "Lanvin Blue", the signature colour of the Lanvin product line. The room also has a diamond-patterned marble floor, black marble fireplace and marble columns topped with gilded stucco carvings of pheasants.  I was most impressed with the gorgeous bathroom with the stucco alcove with the elaborate flora and fauna carving above the bathtub featuring a stag and a doe in a forest.  The sconces, lamps and mirrors are decorated with bronze fittings carved in the shape of pheasants, daisies and pine cones.  The toilet lids feature a leopard-skin (or giraffe?) pattern for a whimsical touch.  Although these rooms were on the Art Deco floor, much of Rateau's designs seemed inspired by Art Nouveau themes as well.

To get a better look at the bedroom as well as see more details of the other rooms, 360 degree webcam views allow you to move around each room and zoom in on areas to get a closer look.  The signature colour is featured again in this room with the walls, curtains and linens covered with Lanvin Blue silk decorated with white daisies, roses and palm patterns along the bottom.  Even the coverings of the chaise chairs match the colour of the rest of the room.

Two other pieces by Armand Rateau  were on display outside of the Jeanne Lanvin rooms.  There was a beautiful folding screen (1921) made of lacquer and gilded wood that sat in Jeanne Lanvin's dining room (which was not recreated).  There was also a bronze chaise lounge with a flower pattern on the seat and carved fawns for the legs, that used to sit on Lanvin's terrace.  In another area on the floor, I was quite taken with the Art Deco silver tea set (1930) by Jean Tétard with the ivory handles and the rosewood tray.

Another interesting piece in the Deco collection is the office-library, created by Pierre Chareau for the pavilion of the Société des Artistes Decorators at the International Exhibition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925.  Made of beechwood with a palm veneer, the library has shelving for books, and a circular dome supported by two poles with moveable slats that open and close in a fan shape to modulate the amount of light let into the space.

My favourite piece on the floor was the Jacques Gruber Stained Glass Screen (1930) with the black and silver industrial design.  A chair made of bent chrome steel by Le Corbusier (1928) currently sits in front of it.  I also liked the mahogany cabinet (1912) by Paul Iribe lined with with green leather and decorated with ebony buttons and garlands (that again seemed more Art Nouveau than Deco to me), the overlapping triangular slats on the Louis Sorel table (1910) that reminded me of Pierre Chareau's library office, Pierre Legrain's (1925) oak grandfather clock with brass dials, and Michel Roux Spitz's sleek administrator's desk (1930) with the complementary beige couch which was designed for the Salon des Artistes Decorateurs, but later became his personal desk in his office.  I find this furniture so beautiful and would love to have any of these items in my home.

As much as the Art Deco furnishings and decorative items are sleek and elegant, the items on the Art Nouveau floor are flowery and ornate.  Compare the gilded silver, ivory and agate Art Nouveau tea set embellished with flower carvings (1889) by Lucien Falize and Germaine Bapst or the curvy earthenware and polychrome teapot (1884) by Emile Galle to the smooth, shiny Tétard Art Deco tea set that I admired previously. Galle also created a gorgeous Japonism-styled vase (1893) with a flower-petal shaped neck and bluish-purple irises painted on its body.  We saw many other Art Nouveau vases featuring the common images of flowers, plants, foilage, insects and animals.  A beautiful stained glass window (1894) titled "Spring Flower" by Eugène Grasset was presented at the Salon of the National Society of Fine Arts in the architecture section.

There were multiple pieces of bedroom and dining room furniture by Hector Guimard, the architect/designer whose mansions we visited on an earlier tour of Art Nouveau homes in the 16th arrondissement.  Many of these pieces were installed in the Hotel Nozal which was also designed by Guimard.  It is interesting to note that some of the ornamentations used on the furniture were also used by Guimard on the façades of his buildings.

The most impressive piece is the piano (1900) with the elaborate sculpted wood figures carved by François-Rupert Carabin decorating the front and both sides of the instrument.  The piano has an interesting history and provenance as well.  Donated to the Museum of Decorative Arts in 1938, it went missing during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II and was not found again until 1981 when it showed up for auction.  After lengthy negotiations with the current "owner", the piano was returned to the museum.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we had finished our tour of 20th Century decor.  We were exhausted and starving as we had not even taken the time to pause for lunch.  So we decided that we could not manage seeing the earlier centuries on this visit and would have to defer that until our next trip.  However we did want to stop quickly into the Jewelry exhibit, which contained a rotating display of the museum's jewelry collection.  The small room contained case after case of vintage broaches, necklaces, bracelets, hair combs, earrings, pendants and stick pins made from gold, silver and precious gems.

All in all, this was an excellent museum that requires at least a full day if not more to thoroughly explore.  We never made it to any of the collection earlier than 1920, missed at least one other recreation of an apartment and did not get to the exhibits in the Church Nave at all. We definitely plan to return, and next time, perhaps we will get an audio guide to learn more about these beautiful items of decorative art. 

We could not be on Rue de Rivoli and not stop by at our favourite place in Paris to get hot chocolate.  We first discovered Angelina Tearoom on our first trip to Paris and fell in love with the deep rich flavours of the hot chocolate and the beautiful presentation of the whipped cream.  Since then, every repeat trip to Paris involved a repeat visit, if not to dine in the tearoom, then at least to buy a tin of the hot chocolate powder to take home.  This year we came in July and the weather was much too warm to be drinking hot chocolate so we settled for our souvenir tin.  This was the only concession to the goal of our "Off-the-Beaten-Path" Paris vacation, which was to see all new things on this trip and not returning to any spot that we had been to before on previous visits.