Tuesday, June 17, 2014

France 2014: Road to Nice - Part 2

With only one and a half days in Nice, we tried to pack in as much as we could. So on day one, after walking from the Promenade Des Arts down to the beach, across the Promenade Des Anglais to the Old Town, then the docks and back again, we decided to end the day with a visit to the Nice Museum of Modern Art and Contemporary Art (MAMAC).  I think we would have skipped it if we didn't have to go back to retrieve our car, which was parked right next to the museum.   I'm so glad we did visited MAMAC, since it is one of the best museums of current art that I've ever been to, with an excellent collection, free admission and photos allowed without flash.  I was enthralled right from the start with all the giant sculptures on display out in the atrium.

Although MAMAC did have artworks from the typical names that you think of in relation contemporary art, such as Andy Warhol, Roy Litchenstein, Robert Indiana, Robert Rauschenberg or Claes Oldenburg, the representation was rather sparse with only one or two lesser known pieces per artist.

What the museum did have (as a museum in France should) was a large collection of works from French artists that I had not heard of before, but who are probably very famous within the French art world.  There was Arman, who we saw already in the Picasso Museum in Antibes, back with more of his "accumulation" style of art.  This time instead of stringed instruments, he had deconstructed and reassembled parts from tubas, trombones and saxophones.  A second piece titled "Vénus aux ongles rouges" (Venus with the red nails) was a creepy plastic see-through sculpture of a woman's torso, filled with scarlet red finger nails on female hands.  Alain Jacquet's dot-matrix tribute to Manet's famous painting Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe, replicated the iconic poses of the central figures exactly, but dressed (or undressed as in the case of the female in the foreground) the characters in contemporary clothing.  Pierre Pinoncelli's homage recreated Marcel Duchamp's urinal sculpture, but added his own signature to the cryptic "R.Mutt" that Duchamp signed on the original,  then pushed the already scandalous subject matter even further by adding a yellow tinting to the base of his urinal.  The artist going only by his first name of César was known for his compression art including full-sized crushed cars like the one on display in the museum.

One of my other favourite pieces was a photograph by Amsterdam artist Laurence Aëgerter, who took a well-known 16th century painting of Gabrielle d'Estrées (consort to King Henry IV) and her sister which hangs in the Louvre, and created contemporary art by showing a modern-day tourist admiring it.  A sculpture by Nice native Robert Malaval should have been called "One Hand Washes the Other", since this is exactly what it depicts.  I found American pop artist James Rosenquist's work titled "Big Bo" interesting since the man in the picture seems so cool and almost dangerous in his dark shades, and yet the pink colour clashes against this image.  Or maybe the message is "Real men wear pink".  Always partial to large-scale art, I was drawn to another American pop artist, Tom Wesselmann's "Still Life" depicting a giant-sized rotary telephone, light switch and smouldering cigarette in an ashtray.

One of the highlights for me was the elaborate and elegant evening gown with an incredibly long train, that was made completely out of blue plastic water bottles.  Created by Enrica Borghi and titled "Vestito Blu", the dress looked amazing from afar, and then even more amazing up close where you could examine how it was constructed.

MAMAC had several wings dedicated to specific artists including Yves Klein, who was known for works using his personal signature blue colour (sort of like the blue in the water bottle dress).

The wing dedicated to French sculptor and painter Niki de Saint Phalle caught our attention due to her fantastical, yet whimsical and vibrantly colourful paintings and sculptures.  Reading her biography, we realized that she was the artist who created the Miles Davis sculpture in front of the Hotel Negresco that we saw earlier in the day on the Promenade Des Anglais.  Many of her works depicted large bodied women in various active poses.

One piece in particular reminded us of a sculpture called "Le Thé chez Angelina" which we saw last year in the Mumok museum in Vienna.  Sure enough, when we researched it later, we confirmed that it was by Niki de Saint-Phalle.

In addition to sculptures and artwork, Saint-Phalle also created architectural pieces that were heavily influenced by Antonio Gaudi, whose work she experienced when she visited Barcelona in the 1950s.  Like Gaudi, she started to
use unusual materials and found objects as structural elements in her sculpture and architecture. You can certainly see the similarities to Park Guell in her installations.

Not only are there wonderful art pieces in the Nice Museum of Modern Art and Contemporary Art, but the building itself is beautiful to behold.  Each staircase leading up to the next level is artistically decorated including a colourful one designed by David Tremlett.  I remember thinking that the stairs were so beautiful that they could be a work of art–turns out they were.  The outdoor rooftop terrace looks down on the glass facades of the building's towers, which are covered with large art installations.  Four curved bridges lead you around the terrace, providing a panoramic view of the city.

There is also an outdoor garden with more art, including a gigantic 26 metre-high sculpture called "Tête carrée" (The Square Head) by Sasha Sosno depicting a human head encased in a block.  Only the chin and neck of the person is revealed, allowing the viewer to imagine the rest of the face.

This was a very long day, and we were completely exhausted by the end, but it was worth it, as it turned out to be one of the highlights of our Nice visit.  I'm glad that I tricked Rich into going to the museum by arranging our car to be parked right next to it... but shhh, don't tell him!

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