MERLE SCHIPPER

PARIS IN THE SPRING,
TRA-LA
TRA-LA


Normally after a columnist has made a trip to another city we discourage them from writing about the sights they saw unless they can relate it to a point they want to make, or it's clearly relevant to what's happening right here. Of course, looking through this month's issue you couldn't possibly miss the fact that the L.A. International brings the world to Los Angeles this summer. So when Merle Schipper told us a few months ago that she'd be combing the Paris scene during the spring. . .well, we couldn't say "no" to the following account. Have a good trip.--Ed. 

Fernand Leger, "Composition a
l'aloes #3", o/c, 97 x 130 cm, 1935

Charley Tooroop, "Cinq Paysans de Zelande", o/c, 100 x 125 cm, 1930.

 

Kurt Seligmann, "Un Dimanche",
o/c, 80.5 x 64.5 cm, 1938.

Having recently returned from an all-too-brief visit to Paris, what else could be better to write about? Even though things are not quite what they used to be, historical landmarks now competing with sparkling new construction that is the outcome of the latticework of cranes that patterned the Paris sky during the '70s and '80s (this time I found only one at work; no more room?), the unique and unparalleled quality of that city prevails unabashed.

Indeed, Paris seems much bigger than before. Much of the new construction tends away from the central city, and whole new communities are rising up around the suburban perimeter. Getting around, which used to be a snap, has become rather complicated. Now the Metro goes beyond the city into the banlieu, familiar lines renamed for their new terminals, so that both ticketing and tranferring have become somewhat perplexing.

There are some things about Paris that are probably not new but which I have only recently discovered. Like the absence of clocks in the public domain. Not even horlogerie windows have clocks. My friend Jacqueline, an expert on both the history of Paris and its lore, said that there used to be clocks everywhere, but the local powers got tired of having them repaired. Even Metro stations are now sans clocks. Most shocking of all is the Charles de Gaulle airport. The employee I questioned was even more irritated by their absence than I was.

The standout among structures that are new is the Bibliothéque Nationale, now being completed in the 13th arrondissement (city district), where it overlooks the River Seine in an area that can still be viewed as landscape, at least for now. Who knows, like the Centre Pompadou it will probably be surrounded by hot-dog stands once it opens.

Designed by architect Dominique Perrault, the building encloses a garden on all four sides, each corner capped by a glass tower resembling an open book. A stunning edifice, it is filled with light, that fact alone a most welcome change from its dreary predecessor--and undoubtedly one very good reason why any Parisian who can read wears glasses. The new edifice, with its red-carpeted interior, promises comfort, indeed luxury, with armchairs, at least those in the lobby, inviting rest. I would not expect that of those in the study spaces, but then I didn't try them out.

Planned to hold 300,000 volumes, including an exhaustive collection on art and art history, it is expected to open by next summer, and will be served by a new Metro line. Before long, however, you won't have to go there to use it. Just log on to the Web site at http://www.bnf.fr.

But art is what I was going to tell you about here, and the season was reaching its conclusion. Accrochages (group shows) prevailed for the most part in the galleries that fan out over the city, so there was lots to see, even if it wasn't quite up to what you'll find at the height of the season. Then, too, you have to know how to find out about them, which is not so easy. There is no equivalent of ArtScene to offer you an overall picture, so you must depend on the several different sheets of listings that are published by the various associations and which can be picked up in the member galleries. Locating all of them is tricky, as is finding the shows you want to see. As always, at least one of them appeared when there was no time left to go!

Exhibitions included work by a few American artists, among them Lucas Samaras and Ed Paschke, the latter at Darthea Speyer, who tends to favor Chicago artists. Erika Rothenberg was showing at a new gallery, Praz/de la Vallade, with work that was seen in L.A. recently at Rosamond Felsen. Praz/de la Vallade is a sparkling new space, one of a string that opened in April to form a gallery street at the Chevaleret Metro stop in the 13th arrondissement, and creating something like a straight-lined Bergamot Station. The focus tends toward younger artists, and it is already on its way to becoming a gathering place, with a café in the midst that is doing a lively business.

Elsewhere I managed to peek in at Lucien Durand, also on the Left Bank, with a show of women photographers that included Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman, as well as Bertrand Lavier at Denise René, and Léonor Fini (whose career began while still in her teens and continued into her 90s) at Galerie Dionne. Across the Seine, along Rue Jacques Callot, Templon showed Malcolm Morley, Lelong had Sean Scully's new work, the late Martin Kippenberger was on view at Sylvana Lorenz, and Niki de Saint-Phalle and her late husband, the great kinetic assemblagist Jean Tinguely were featured at JGM.

With all that is much newer, the Centre Georges-Pompidou is on its way to becoming a period piece. No longer viewed as an oddity, it is an acknowledged lynchpin of the scene--even though people rightfully continue to deplore the escalator that slowly rises to the main entrance across the building's face. Inside, a huge Fernand Léger retrospective opened as I was about to depart. The press preview combined with the members' opening was almost too crowded to see the art. Just like everywhere else, people group in front of the work on the walls to enjoy chit-chat. That was in the morning. In the evening, another so-called vernissage took place, for which people lined up around the block and the space inside was even more jammed than earlier.

On another floor at the Pompidou was held Made in Paris, consisting of work drawn from the collection--not greatly exciting selections unfortunately. But it was interesting to me for what I saw as the Parisness of it, to wit, the touch of decorativeness that seemed to prevail overall. Both shows continue until September, when the structure will temporarily close for renovation and repair.

The Louvre was on strike, not an unusual situation in Paris, but over at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris was the huge Années 30 en Europe: Le Temps Menaçant, 1929-1939, in its final days. Dealing with the decade that began with Jeudi Noir--the onset of the Depression--and ended with the German invasion of Poland that set off World War II, it presented all of the prevailing movements and styles of the period. Including both propaganda art and design added up to too much for a single visit.

Although the near six-pound catalogue is probably nowhere near a record, the show invited what has to be the longest hike to be taken in a Paris museum, as well as work in countries not associated with major trends. In many cases their most important artists, for example the Catalonian Picasso or the Dutch-born Piet Mondrian, had long departed from their native homeland. Others, among them Kurt Seligmann, Yves Tanguy and the already once expatriated Mondrian, emigrated to the United States during the War.

Along with examples of abstraction--especially that relating to the Abstract/Concrete movement that began in 1929, and Surrealism, much of the art here is drawn from European museums, and has never been exhibited in America. There were a good many commanding works by artists who are little known or unknown at home, among them the Polish sculptor Katarzyna Kobro, an abstractionist whose studio was detroyed by the Nazis, and Dutch Social Realist Charley Toorop. Her name aside, Toorop was a woman, and one among a substantial circle of like-minded artists from the low countries. Much of the work related to the history of the period. The Spanish Civil War, Fascism in Italy and Naziism in Germany, along with what in England was called the "Pink Decade," which referred to the mobilization of artists, scientists, and writers who united against fascism.

Années was the highlight among the attractions encountered on this visit. As usual, there was not enough time to cover everything on my list. Next time, hopefully in the early fall when the 1997-98 season opens, I will be there for a deeper look.