Warning: this is going to be a long post.
I wandered around the Beaubourg area for a little while, actually getting lost since I got off métro Les Halles (stupid Google Maps) and ended up walking through Forum des Halles, a huge mall, and then another 10 minutes or so to get to Centre Pompidou.
I never realized how big the Centre Pompidou was, because I had only ever seen it from the side or from far away. If I were to think logically though, it makes sense: it has a huge library (Bibliothèque publique d’information), IRCAM, a center for music and acoustic research, and on top of that the Musée National d’Art Moderne, the largest modern art museum in Europe.
Anyway, I got in for free (yay for being and 18 year-old with French nationality!), like I do for most museums, although I didn’t get to see the “bonus” exhibitions, which had something to do with objects and surrealism. Not a huge loss, though, I still got to go to the top and get a great view of Paris. And it’s not like I would’ve been able to see all of the museum anyway.
Too bad it was rainy. If I had gone on Sunday, this would have looked amazing.
I’ll be honest, for the most part, when I’m in these museums I’m really confused. With older-style paintings I can appreciate the attention to detail and the huge scale even if I don’t understand all the historical allusions, but most of the time with modern art (which this museum was full of), I’m not sure if I’m supposed to just appreciate the colors or if there is some deeper meaning.
For example, one of the more modern pieces of artwork was simply 3 large blank canvasses (that, or painted completely white), placed side by side. I didn’t go check the artist or the year, but I wasn’t sure if I was missing out on something or if that really was all there was to it. There was also another work of art that was literally 5 sheets of paper, individually framed, with purple dots and slashes in rows that looked like a printed text document from afar, but did not actually say anything. I didn’t get any photos of those, even though they were allowed, because it was really crowded, but they seriously messed with my mind. Art… I guess?
Anyway, I began the tour on the 5th floor with the “older” part of the exhibition (1905-1970), and the best part about this museum was that it wasn’t solely French/European artists. I saw some artwork from Japanese and Chinese painters, and quite a few from American artists as well. The museum was laid out in such a way that you walked from room to room, starting with art from the early 1900s and progressing through time.
One of the first paintings that I thought was interesting was from Robert Delaunay, who began the Orphism movement in art (emphasis on colors and geometry), which as a math/science person I think is pretty sick. This was one of his earlier works (1910) – there’s more of him later.
Even here you can see the emphasis on shapes, and an almost Cubist-like style. Orphism is also known as Orphic cubism, as it originated there.
By an American artist (at least, he was born and died there in 1871 and 1956 respectively), this was one of those pieces that kind of made me freeze because I didn’t get it. Seriously, it looks like a 4 year old could paint this (Mr. Feininger was 45!)… but what do I know, right?
Then things got a bit more interesting with two slightly more “futuristic” paintings done in the 1910s: George Yakoulov’s Sulky, which is a horse that also looks like a machine (btw: Happy Year of the Horse, everyone!), and Luigi Russolo’s Automobile in corsa. I really liked Russolo’s painting because of all the colors and layers he puts in to emphasize the idea of motion, of high speed. He belonged to a group of artists called the Futurists, who were fascinated by modernity and progress.
There was more in the 1910s that discussed the ideas of industrialization, maybe something to do with the rush to build weapons and ships in WWI. I particularly liked Wladmir Baranoff Rossiné’s La Forge, which depicts how hard these people worked day in and day out. The lack of faces suggest to me how dehumanized it’s all become, and the color scheme too suggests it’s more machine than man at this point.
Another one that I didn’t get at all but at least thought was really cool was Fernand Léger’s La Noce, which was painted in a Cubist style but with more color. According to the little blurb along the painting, it depicts a procession of guests at a wedding, although I really see robots. 🙂
During this time period, things began getting more abstract as artists began focusing more on colors. I saw Francis Picabia’s Udnie (a made up word), which is inspired by a dance show he saw while on a boat, Frantisek Kupka’s Compliment, and Natalia S. Gontcharova’s La Lampe électrique, all of which have a strong emphasis on different colors and.
Interesting note: the blurb on the side says that this painting tries to capture the momentary blindness we feel when we suddenly turn on the lightbulb with the purple and black lines. Must say, I’ve never seen it quite like this though.
There’s a lot more emphasis on pure colors and shapes in the 1930s with the Delaunays (the couple that I talked about before, who “founded” Orphic Cubism).
On the topic of color, there was also a painting that for some reason was in the same section as these two but was painted in the 1950s:
You can see how the style has developed in 30 short years. Starting in the bottom right (and I just noticed this, it goes from a triangle to a square all the way up to a twelve-sided polygon (dodecahedron?), and then goes back down. The shapes are nearly perfect.
There was some international art too. I saw some pretty well-known American artists, one of whom I had actually heard of (Georgia O’Keeffe)!
This was inspired by Lake George, where she lived in the 1920s. It’s meant to capture that moment of a sunset/sunrise when the sky and water merge in color, but I really would have just seen pretty colors if it weren’t for the blurb to the right.
ALthough this painter had no date it was obtained/found in 1924. Louise Janin (the artist) lived in San Francisco but was influenced by mythology in the Far East because her family collected that kind of stuff. Being Chinese, it was kind of strange to see Asian-style art painted so well by a non-Asian person.
Speaking of Asians, there was a painting by Takanori Oguiss (a Japanese painter) in a thoroughly un-Asian style.
Oguiss lived in Paris for a long time, and based most of his works on different parts of France.
In the 1940s there was also an anti-fascist movement (WWII!) where artists started protesting through their art. This is one that I thought was pretty cool (at first because for some weird reason it reminded me of Orwell’s Animal Farm, and later because I kind of understood it).
For this, Picabia referred to a 1937 collage by a German artist (Self Portrait with a Mask – Erwin Blumenfeld), and reinterpreted the hands. In the original the uphold the head; in this one they are doing the Fascist salute.
A gigantic work (it had its own room because it filled the whole thing up) that I saw was a work by Matta, a Chilean-born artist that was part of the Surrealists. This either depicts some futuristic sci-fi world, or the world at war. I’m not sure, but in both cases the people look like they’re in pain.
I then reached the final part of the upstairs exhibition, the 1960s, which had moving art with motors and mirrors and sound to create illusions. (This is where I saw the work that looks like purple writing on paper.)
Very different from what we saw before, and a long way from Orphic cubism
Hossein Zenderoudi, an Iranian artist, helped develop modern art in Iran. His focus was on art that was universal and whole. “People are the same everywhere in the world, and everyone can read my work.” – Charles Hossein Zenderoudi
and this exceedingly cool “ad” campaign:
I’m not sure if you can see in the picture, but the idea of this project was to write political slogans on symbolic objects. like a Coca-cola bottle, and put them back into circulation so that they would be read by the people. I wonder how bad the Coke in those bottles taste.
I then went downstairs to the even more modern art, which I skimmed through because it was getting late and I was getting tired and hungry (and sleepy, now).
This is a series of 52 ink drawings that for the most part focus on parts of the human body, especially blood. The top two paintings in the far-right column are the capillaries in hands, row 2 column 1 is a picture of the capillaries in the face, and column 2 row 3 is a heart. Hopefully the photo quality is good enough that by clicking on it you can see what I’m talking about.
The two ink drawings above come from the same series, Les Marionnettes (The Puppets), although I fail to see the connection. from the beginning to the end, there was a progression of peoples’ blank faces being outlined by hair. Only, if you look closely, you realize that the hair isn’t really hair, and with each picture in the series the hair grows and it becomes less and less like hair and more and more like buildings and ladders and people. Clever concept.
I’m showing this one because I love how sarcastic the artist is.
Not sure if this is true, but according to some of the tourists that were looking at this, after painting this the artist shot a gun at the painting (hence the bullet-sized holes).
And that concludes it! Near the end there was also a room filled with colors, a metal ball and triangle on the inside, and different shades of glass on the outside. Viewing the room through different angles would yield a slightly different-looking room (because if the color on the wall is what you’re looking through then they cancel out). I didn’t see any patterns though, but I took it from this angle because in the reflection off the ball, you can see the differently colored panels.
Of course, I couldn’t leave without checking the souvenir shop, even if I wasn’t going to buy anything. I came across this gem from Barbara Kruger in fridge-magnet edition:
Thanks, Barbara Kruger. Thanks.
Anyway, that’s how I spent my Wednesday off. This Sunday I might be going to Chinatown to see some late Chinese New Year celebrations, but I’m not 100% sure because it’s going be really crowded and the timing is quite weird (9AM – 1PM, when I’m going to be sleeping, skyping home, and working out). It might be fun to see the aftermath, though.
Good night, and till next time!