Category Archives: Painting

Autumnal art fest

‘Slick’ by Kate MccGwire (photo copyright of the artist)

It’s freezing outside which means there are only two places to be in Paris, drinking hot chocolate in a café or in a gallery taking in some art. So far this autumn, I’ve been trying to do as much of both as possible.

Firstly, British artist Kate MccGwire came to town and held her first Paris solo show at La Galerie Particulière in the Marais area. I went along to the vernissage (posh French word for opening night) and met the artist herself, which sounds lovely, if you take the torrential rain, me forgetting my umbrella and getting completely lost out of the equation. I even got introduced her mum and my running eye-liner and dripping hair fitted in quite well with her dark, mysterious feathered sculptures. You can read my interview with Kate MccGwire for Art Wednesday here. Her next show ‘Lure’ opens in London on November 23rd at the All Visual Arts Gallery.

A few nights after ‘The Museum of Everything’, an exhibition that’s touring the world opened at a new gallery near SaintGermaindes-Prés,Chalet Society’ which is an old school that has been stripped bare. It’s a huge place that’s easy to get lost in, so perfect as an art gallery. The opening night was impressive. It was a huge party fuelled by vodka cocktails and a buffet fit for a queen. Normally, at these kinds of events it’s the done thing to act vey nonchalant about the whole thing, as if your life is like this everyday. However, the cocktails were working wonders. Everyone was tucking into the buffet like aunties at a wedding. The fun was soundtracked by DJs and live music or if people needed a bit of ‘me time’ there was a silent disco on hand.

Then I almost completely arted myself out at FIAC, Paris’ annual contemporary art fair where just under 200 galleries squash themselves into the Grand Palais. I went along to watch the super-rich casually pick out a 30,000 Euro paintings in the same way I would choose a bottle of shower gel. It was an intense hit of contemporary art and even if that’s not your cup of tea, the people-watching provides hours of entertainment.

Next door to FIAC was the Bohèmes (Bohemians) exhibition at the Grand Palais which is on until January 14th.  It’s a beginner’s guide to Bohemia, basically a concept that started off as a glamourisation of the ‘gypsy’ lifestyle and was later used to describe the depressive, drugged up life of a typical Parisian artist living in a dingy rooftop studio at the end of the 1800s.  I was more interested in the first part of the exhibition which focused on traveller communities and the misconceptions around their lifestyle which still exists today, thanks to crap TV shows like ‘My big fat gypsy wedding’ but there’s quite a few gems to discover in the second part too (I don’t want to spoil the surprise!)

Most recently, I took a look at ‘Lost in Paradise’ an exhibition at Loft Sévigné in Le Marais which explores spirituality in contemporary art. It’s a great exhibition but really heavy, raising a lot of questions about religion from different perspectives which nobody will ever agree on. I was lucky enough to get a tour, which resulted in someone getting so hot under the collar they left. All art should have that affect.

So now I have an art-shaped whole in my heart and am trying to work out what to see next.

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Confession: Why I turned my back on Richter

Gerhard Richter, “Betty”, 1988, huile sur toile, 102x72cm, Saint-Louis Art Museum Gerhard Richter 2012
© Gerhard Richter 2012

Going to the Centre Pompidou’s Gerhard Richter exhibition was like a therapy session or some kind of expelling of demons. This sounds a little melodramatic but since I was twenty, hearing the name ‘Gerhard Richter’ has caused dark clouds to gather above my head. It all began during the time when my head was full of thoughts of parties, non-suitable boys and baked beans, in other words when I was a student. In my History of Art seminar I was given Gerhard Richter as the topic for a presentation.

Gerhard Richter is widely recognised as the best living German painter and my History of Art teacher, who was German and widely recognised as one of the best in what she did, was obviously looking forward to someone doing justice to her national treasure.

During this time my life was particularly chaotic. Holding down a part-time job in a late bar and studying isn’t easy, even for organised people, but for the kind of person who prioritised watching the soap ‘Neighbours’ twice a day (the second time a repeat) over going to library, there was no hope.

Everything was left to the last minute and there I was the day before the presentation madly making photocopies. I took my messy piles paper home, spread them all over my bedroom floor and made myself a strong coffee. I was going to stay up all night if I had to and do Mr. Gerhard Richter justice.

That’s how it happens in films anyway. In reality, caffeine and I are not really great friends. What started as hyperactivity turned to the inability to concentrate on ‘Ema (Nude on a Staircase)’ the painting all the books said was a pivotal piece, for more than 30 seconds. Why is she walking down the stairs? Why is she nude? The night was a cycle of periods of blind panic, followed by ‘I can do this’ pet talks to myself. Then, “it all makes sense now”, followed by, “I don’t understand anything” the grand finale was a caffeine-induced migraine.

I did my presentation the next day, needs to say it was a huge pile of dog poo. My fellow students visibly cringed, my very serious and organised teacher (she even matched her hair scrunchy to her outfit) looked like I’d just taken a Gerhard Richter painting and set fire to it.  Afterwards, nobody asked any questions because it was clear I had learnt nothing about the artist, so I slumped off home to bed.

Luckily it was not a waste. It taught me many valuable lessons, which I took into grown-up-hood. Since entering the world of work and surviving four years in the battlefield of PR I can now say I’m completely clean of my disorganised habits and I know my limits when it comes to caffeine. I’ve almost gone the other way, I get really annoyed with my colleagues if they don’t get back to me on time or don’t communicate properly. I live my life in blocks of time and I’ve even considered coordinating my hair scrunchy with my clothes.

Whenever I slack off or feel like being lazy I think of the sick feeling I had in my stomach when I did that presentation and I roll my sleeves up. However, it didn’t happened overnight, and it’s taken me a long time to be able to appreciate a Gerhard Richter painting again.

When I heard that a Richter retrospective was taking place at the Centre Pompidou, I knew that it was time for me to face my demons. The exhibition was incredible and I completely fell in love with his work, hallelujah I’m cured! I’m even going to see top Art Historian T.J.Clark do a presentation on Richter’s work this week.

I hope he’s prepared!

Gerhard Richter, ‘Panorama’ is on at the Centre Pompidou until September 24th, see it quick before it’s gone!

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Must-sees of the summer

La Chambre à Air event in the basement of the Palais de Tokyo, 30/06/12

The last few months have been a little chaotic for reasons I won’t bore you with, so blogging has slipped down to the bottom of my priorities. But worry not, there’s still been a bit of time for art.

For a start, I’ve squeezed in three visits to the Palais de Tokyo. As well as ‘Intense Proximité’ its Trienniale, which is on until August 26th it now hosts regular free events and happenings most of which are free. Its café has also got a massive open-air space where you can sit and gaze at the Seine and the Eiffel Tower, making it a very cool place to just hang out. To top it off the actual museum space is now HUGE (increased from 7,000 to 22,000 square metres).

Not content with completely transforming the museum, the director of the Palais de Tokyo, Jean de Loisy has also curated Les Maitres du Disordre (The Masters of Disorder) a magical mystery tour through shamanist rituals and its influence on contemporary art. The exhibition is at the Musée Quai Branly, across the river from the Palais de Tokyo.

Next door to the Palais de Tokyo is the Musée d’art Moderne where I saw the much talked about Robert Crumb exhibition. The reason why it’s so hyped, is firstly the French love comics. Pop into the ‘Bande Dessinée’ (comic book) section of any large Paris book shop and you’ll understand the extend of the worship. But comics here aren’t just about kids’ characters and superheroes, there are beautifully illustrated comics and graphic novels on every aspect of life and fantasy.

I then went from the thunder-thighed obsessions of crumb, to Helmut Newton’s perfectly formed supermodels (on until July 30th). It was a great exhibition but after seeing all those perfect bodies I felt like going on a diet.

Last but not least, I saw the Berthe Morisot exhibition at the Musée Marmottan. It’s apparently not very hip place to hang out, (I was the youngest person there), but this means there are less people so you get to see Impressionist paintings that rival the Musée D’Orsay, but with the space and time to appreciate them properly. Although today Impressionism seems very safe, Berthe Morisot herself was actually very cool, like some kind of 19th Century rock goddess (see picture below).

Yet despite seeing some of the best exhibitions in town my hunger has not been satisfied, as the last few weeks has seen a whole wave of new exhibitions opening, which I ambitiously plan to see before La Rentrée (September) comes around. So, to make sure I don’t forget any I’ve put together a list of ‘must see’ shows. If there’s anything I’ve forgotten, let me know!

Ending July

La Promenade, Galerie Paul Frèches until July 13th

Ellsworth Kelly, Galerie Marian Goodman, until July 13th

Artemesia, at Musee Maillol until July 15th

Rêves de laque, Le Japon de Shibata Zeshin, Musée Cernuschi until July 15th

Oeuvres de la collection Züst, Centre Culturel Suisse, until July 15th

Guillaume Bresson, Thomas Lerooy, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, until July 21st

Through my Window, Photography by Ahae at the Jardin de Tuileries, until July 23rd

Le Crépuscule des Pharaons, Musée Jaquemart-André until July 23rd

Claude Parent, Galerie Yvon Lambert, until July 28th

Yutaka Takanashi, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, until July 29th

Le Mont Fuji n’existe pas, Frac Ile-de-France / Le Plateau, until July 29th

Olav Westphalen, Galerie Vallois, until July 31st

Running through the summer

Tim Burton L’exposition, Cinémathèque Francaise until August 5th

Multiversités creative, Centre Pompidou, until August 6th

Anne-Flore Cabanis, Connexions, 104 (CENTQUATRE) until August 8th

Construire, déconstruire, reconstruire : le corps utopique, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris until August 19th

Sur la Route de Jack Kerouac, L’épopée, de l’écrit à l’écran, Musée des lettres et Manuscrits, until August 19th

Misia: Reine de Paris, Musée d’Orsay, until September 9th

Turbulences, Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton, until September 16th

Wim Delvoye, Musée du Louvre, until September 17th

Gerhard Richter, Panorama, Centre Pompidou until September 17th

Laurent Grasso, Jeu de Paume, until September 23rd

Louis Soutter, The Tremor of Modernity and Didier Vermeiren, sculptures – photographies, Maison Rouge, until September 23rd

Situation(s) [48°47 34 N / 2°23 14 E], MAC/VAL, June 30th until September 23rd

Alice Springs, Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) until November 4th

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Pins and needles

Desperate to avoid another social network hungrily eating at my time, I did everything I could to avoid the colourful world of Pinterest. But I love pictures and I have no self-discipline, so it’s started. Here’s a link to my first board (let’s face it the first of many boards) of my favourite living artists, these are the artists I follow the works of like a crazy stalker, leaching on them for their inspiration and enlightenment. Tell me if you think there’s anyone I’ve missed.

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Driven to Abstraction


“Pliage”, 1971, Oil on canvas 140cm x 90cm by André-Pierre Arnal at Galerie de l’Europe

Exhibition: Supports/Surface, etc until September 30th

At the exhibition openings I usually go to the guests are normally there to drink the free wine, I’ve never been to an opening where the guests actually have enough spare cash to buy one of the paintings, well there was one but that’s another story. The other thing that was strange about this opening was that everybody had really dressed up, this might surprise you but in Paris it’s not often you see high-heels, matching handbags and eye make-up. Generally everyone seems to stick to one of two looks, ‘casual’ or ‘classic’. As the bling started to add up I came to realise this might be quite a special occasion.

Understandably, I felt a little out of place at first but was quickly made to feel at ease by a warm welcome from the artist himself who was keen to explain his work and the ideas behind it. The stereotype of the shy, tortured artist is definitely a myth, especially in Paris. André-Pierre Arnal is a fiery but friendly Mediterranean. He started painting in 1961, driven by what he describes as a “rage of expression”.

Shamefully, I didn’t know much about Arnal or his work before the exhibition and finding out more revealed why everyone had made such an effort. The starting block for his career was his involvement in the Supports/Surface movement. In existence from 1969 to 1972, the movement’s manifesto was to create art that focused exclusively on the materials themselves, forbidding references to anything outside this. The artwork had to be autonomous of anything outside it such as the personality of the artist and the time in which it was created. The aim of this was to free the work of the interpretations or dreams of the viewer. The Centre Pompidou has a room dedicated to the Supports/Surface movement on the fourth floor if you want to find out more.

Much of Arnal’s work in the exhibition achieved the objectives of the Supports/Surface movement. His pictures are striking and memorable but they didn’t spark off anything in my imagination. This wasn’t just because the were abstract shapes, even when looking at Rothko, the king of abstract, images such as a sunset, window or green flat landscape often flash into your head. Yet with Arnal….nope nothing.

Instead, your brain takes a different route, it starts analysing how these pictures are made, doing mental gymnastics in order to re-construct what you see in front of you, unpeeling layer upon layer of paint, examining the thickness of the paper or cotton it is painted on. This meditative process almost convinces you that you were the artist.

(Image – © 2011 André-Pierre Arnal – Galerie de l’Europe, September 2011 All Rights Reserved)

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Nothing Toulouse


La dépouille du Minotaure en habit d
arlequin (The Minotaur’s body dressed as a harlequin) Pablo Picasso, 1936

When I hear the sentence, “one of the world’s greatest…” my eyes generally glaze over, followed by an attack of involuntary yawning, but the thing is, Picasso really was great. Firstly, he could paint. Secondly, he was involved in starting a whole new art movement, Cubism. Thirdly, he was a right character, which is the most important thing if you want to go down in history as a legend.

In every big museum I’ve ever visited in Europe there’s been a Picasso. It’s a must-have must-see, but unlike many of the greats, his work is so varied that every work I’ve seen has been very different. This probably has something to do with the fact he produced thousands of works. It was not only a result of hard work, but the fact that he lived until he was 91.

I recently spent a couple of days in Toulouse as part of my holiday (go there it’s great!) and would’ve been a little disappointed if there wasn’t a Picasso or two to see, especially as the town is so influenced by Spanish culture. I thought I had been there, done that and got the T-shirt when I saw Guernica in Madrid, but I was speechless when I saw this beauty. It’s gigantic, 10 metres high and more than 12 metres across. I felt like a mouse, just look at the size of the woman’s head in the picture compared to the Minotaur’s!

Just to give you a bit of an explanation about the scene, a Minotaur is a creature from Greek Mythology that has the head of a bull and the body of a man; it was adopted as the symbol of the Surrealist movement, which Picasso was close to. In this case the man is dressed as a Harlequin, traditionally an important character in French theatre, which is significant as the painting was commissioned as the stage curtain for Romain Rolland’s play Le 14 juillet, written to be performed on France’s national day. I get the feeling that this curtain was a bit of a show-stealer. I’m not sure anyone would’ve been actually watching the play.

The work is on display at Les Abattoirs, Toulouse’s main contemporary art space, named after its previous function. Don’t be put off by the name though; it’s a great museum with architecture similar to the Musée D’Orsay and a collection of mainly French artists, many from the region. Also, abattoirs have an important place in art history as the French Impressionists and Expressionists often visited Paris’ main slaughterhouses in the Villette district to paint haunches of blood-red meat. Now the abattoirs of La Villette have been converted into a centre for arts that includes a gallery, concert venues and a canal-side park.

Picasso, who had previously hung it in his studios, donated the stage curtain to the city of Toulouse in 1965, but sadly it is now only shown to the public for part of the year due to its fragility.

This post also appears on Artsharks

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Bonjour Paris!


As well as blogging about the art I’ve seen on my adventures around Paris, I’m now also writing reviews of contemporary art exhibitions in the city as Arts Editor at Large for online travel magazine BonjourParis.com. So far my reviews include a photojournalism exhibition by Jane Evelyn Atwood at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie and Paris-Delhi-Bombay, a group exhibition exploring artists’ perceptions of India at Centre Pompidou. Please go and say bonjour!

Image: Pierre et Gilles, Hanuman, 2010

Courtesy of Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris

©ADAGP Paris, 2011

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