Saturday, July 2, 2016

Paris 2016 - 16th Arr. - Museum of Modern Art, Palais Galliera, Palais Tokyo

On the day that we walked through the 16th arrondisement to see Art Nouveau houses, we continued north along the River Seine to tour two new museums that we had not visited on our previous trips to Paris–the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, a modern art museum located in the magnificent Palais de Tokyo building, and the Musée Galliera, a museum dedicated to the history of fashion.

Walking along the wide tree-lined boulevards of Avenue du Président Kennedy and Avenue de New York, which hug the right bank of the Seine, we passed by the Jardins du Trocadéro and Place du Trocadéro on one side and the Eiffel Tower on the other.  On our "Off-the-Beaten-Path" tour of Paris, it had become almost a badge of honour to not include any of the main tourist attractions in our itinerary.  But while we did not actually re-visit the Eiffel Tower, we could not resist taking multiple photos of this iconic structure when we passed by so close to it.  In honour of the Euro Cup Soccer Tournament being held in Paris, a large soccer ball was hung near the base of the tower.

The Palais Tokyo was built in 1937 for the Paris International Exhibition of Art and Technology.  Its east wing houses the Paris Museum of Modern Art while the west wing contains temporary exhibition space.  Its dramatic frontage features an enormous bas-relief by sculptor Alfred Janniot, whose works we saw in the Thirties Museum a few days earlier.  A large reflecting pool is flanked by a series of reclining nudes.

The permanent collection of the Paris Museum of Modern Art includes over 10,000 works of European and International art from the 20th century while temporary exhibitions rotate every six weeks.  The most impressive installation of the permanent collection is an enormous floor-to-ceiling fresco by Raoul Dufy called "La Fée Électricité" that encircles an entire room, spanning 600 metres.  The work was originally commissioned by the Electric company for the 1937 Exposition and conveys the history of electricity and its applications.  It was donated to the museum and installed in the Salle Dufy in 1964.

Chronologically from right to left, the lower half of the fresco depicts the portraits of 110 scientists and inventors who contributed to the development of electricity from classical times through to the 20th Century.  Also depicted are some of the inventions used to experiment with and conduct electricity.  The upper half of the mural incorporates imagery of mythology and allegories interacting with technology, as Olympian gods are connected to power station generators by Zeus' thunderbolt.

Two separate sections are each devoted entirely to the works of a famous 20th Century artist–one room for Henri Matisse and another for Robert Delauney.  Two versions of Matisse's masterpiece "La Danse" are on display featuring the iconic interlinked dancing figures that he is known for.  Considering the first one to be too colourful, decorative (and pink?), Matisse created a second version with paler shades of blues and greys.  Delauney's room illustrates the wide range of his styles, from his multi-coloured abstract circles that convey motion and rhythm, to a Cubism-styled painting of female nudes with images of Paris in the background that reminded me of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, to a stylized view of the Eiffel Tower from above.

Since we had seen similar works by Matisse and Delauney before in other galleries, it was more interesting to discover new French artists that we had not previously heard of.  I liked the style and tone of the war painting "Une Gare" (1922) by Marcel Gromaire, the colours and subtle cubic shapes of Auguste Herbin's "Femmes et Enfants" (1914) and the cartoon-like painting by Gaston Chaissac.  The Paris Museum of Modern Art did a good job of explaining and showing examples of different artistic styles that were prevalent through the 20th Century.  We learned that the Dada movement (1915-192x) promoted the use of assembled media such as collage, found objects and makeshift materials to interpret art, often in a humourous fashion, such as Marcel Duchamp's famous urinal sculpture.  For me, the best example of the Dada Style on display was Jean Crotti's "Le Clown" (1916) collage, made of lead wire, glass discs covered with coloured paper and glassed "eyes" that look like marbles.  Despite the high level of abstraction, I could actually envision a clown and his movements when I looked at this piece, although I'm not sure I would have been able to figure it out without the aid of the title of the work.

Another large room was dedicated to the later-life works of Italian artist Giogirio de Chirico, whose earlier style of Metaphysical Art with its mysterious, dreamlike states and contrasting of light and shadow influenced such noted Surrealists as Salvador Dali and Max Ernst.  The works on display, which were donated by de Chirico's widow, represented his later "Neo-Metaphysical" stage, which many Surrealists considered to be a betrayal of the original principles which he promoted.  I looked up some of the earlier works and to my untrained eye, I couldn't really tell the difference.  Regardless, I found these pieces to be quite intriguing to try to interpret the strange combination of images.  His "Offerta a Giove" (Offering to Jupitor 1971) seems to have religious overtones, while "Retour d’Ulysse" (Return of Ulysses 1973) places Classical elements within an urban living room setting.  The "Soleil Levant sur la Place"  (Rising Sun on the Square 1976) implies that the sun is actually an artificial element powered by an electrical cord.

I always like sculptures in art museums and the Paris Museum of Modern Art had its share of  pop art including a giant pack of matchsticks.  There were also works by some artists familiar to us, such as Yves Klein's relief portrait in his signature florescent blue colour, A.R. Penck's bronze sculpture which might have been the same one we saw in the temporary sculpture show in Amsterdam last year, and a gothic-looking rendering of Notre Dame Cathedral by Niki de Saint Phalle, whose work we loved in the Nice Contemporary Art Museum.  I enjoyed being able to walk around the floor sculptures of a pitcher shaped like a foot standing next to a urinal, and through the sculpture of the giant spider.

The museum had a small collection of very interestingly designed furniture including some chairs covered in snake skin and an all metal desk made of zinc with bright red, laquer disks that rotate outwards to expose more table surface.  There were also more traditional examples of Art Deco furnishings.

When we bought our tickets for this museum, we did not understand that you paid one price to see the permanent collection, and then separate prices to see one or more of the temporary exhibits.  The sign indicating the options was in French and when the cashier pointed at one of them and asked if this is what we wanted, for expediency, we simply accepted. It turns out that we picked the Albert Marquet retrospective of French seascape paintings and Paula Modersohn-Becker's Portrait exhibit titled "Intensity of a Look" because all her subjects looked out at you with creepy, intense stares.  In retrospect, we would have done better just to see the permanent collection since it was so big that it took most of the day and we found those works more interesting than the temporary exhibits anyways.  It did not help that photos were not allowed in the temporary exhibits so I had to look some up on the Internet afterwards for memory sake.

The Palais Galliera has been the home to the Fashion Museum of Paris since 1977, but is only open during temporary exhibitions including recent shows featuring the Clothes of the 1950s, Influences of Foreign Designers, Works of the French Fashion House Lanvin, and the wardrobe of Élizabeth, Countess Greffulhe, a 19th century Paris fashion icon.  Luckily, the museum was open during our stay in Paris and was hosting the exhibit "An Anatomy of a Collection" which provided a wide retrospective of the museum's permanent collection, from the 18th century through to current day.  Some of the historic pieces on display included a corset worn by Marie Antoinette, a vest for future king Louis XVII, and a gorgeous muff made of lamb's wool belonging to princess Mathilde, decorated with of peacock feathers and ermine fur.

In terms of more recent pop culture, there was an elaborate fur collar worn by French stage and film actress Sarah Bernhardt during the Belle Epoque period (1898), the Christian Dior wedding dress of American film actress Geraldine Page (1965) designed by Yves Saint Laurent, a Givenchy day dress (1966) worn by always chic and stylish Audrey Hepburn, and pajama-styled evening wear worn by Tilda Swinton for the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.  I really like this idea of going out in one's comfy pajamas!

While it was fun looking at historic clothing and haute couture worn by celebrities, the real treat came when we got to the section that featured the wild and wacky designs that were presented on the runways of high-end fashion shows.  These included the synthetic hair "robe", the "shoe" hat that was co-created by Surrealist artist Salvador Dali and designer Elsa Schiaparelli, the mummy-like top made of white flowers, the dress with the gigantic image of a woman's face, and the cone dress that might have come out of singer Madonna's closet.  These pieces prove that a beautiful model really can wear anything.

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