Category Archives: Sculpture

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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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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Swan Fake

Quell, 2011 – Kate MccGwire

Photograph: Tessa Angus, Image courtesy of All Visual Arts

I discovered Kate MccGwire’s sculptures at the Maison Rouge as part of a group exhibition – Memoirs du Futur, which focuses on the art collection of Thomas Olbricht (on until the 15th hurry!).  Although an amazing show, it was a little gloomy and macabre so MccGwire’s sculptures were a breath of fresh air in comparison. Yet, I guess it depends how you look at them, from one perspective they are beautiful and dream-like, another they are disturbing and nightmarish.

To start with the beauty; as soon as saw ‘Quell’ I thought of swans gliding down the Norfolk Broads, close to where I grew up and where my family now lives. Bizarrely, when I read the label for the artwork I noticed that the artist is from the same area, further research found that her father was a boat builder and she was brought up on the river.

Other images that came to mind were the swans on the Serpentine in London which prompted fond memories of Sunday walks around Hyde park. Then, I remembered the bizarre Dutch swans of Amsterdam. In the middle of the night I watched around thirty of them parading and stretching out their plumage bathed in reflections of neon lighting. It was as if they’d learnt their moves from watching the nearby windows or they had inhaled the fumes of the neighbouring coffee shops (I myself had done neither I promise!)

So how about the disturbing qualities of the sculptures? Firstly, swans themselves. Although graceful, beautiful and mysterious birds you would never try and pet a swan. It could be an urban myth, but they are said to be able to break your arm, failing that I’m sure they’d try and peck you to death. Attempt to defend yourself and you’ll be in trouble with the Queen of England as apparently they are all her property (perhaps another urban myth).

However, you then realise that the creepiest thing about these sculptures is that they aren’t swans. These bodies don’t have heads; they are always stuck somewhere or tucked away. Why should there be a head anyway? Perhaps because our brain tells us from experience that it should be a swan? Maybe the bends and wriggles belong more to a serpent than a bird? This made me think of the worm scene in BeetleJuice, which isn’t difficult because as a teenager I watched this film about 100 times.

The biggest surprise about these works though is that the ‘swans’ are actually made of pigeons’ feathers. Although that doesn’t bother me, there are some who despise pigeons. People in the countryside shoot them and I’ve seen city-dwellers kick them mumbling ‘rats with wings’ under their breath. Pigeons are swans’ ugly, poor cousins. In London it used to be an attraction in Trafalgar Square to feed the pigeons and let them walk all over you as seen in this film (skip to 3min47) but now that they live on our discarded McDonald and kebab leftovers they are seen as dirty pests.

In an interview MccGwire once said how she is interested by the shift in perception that people experience when they find out that the feathers are from pigeons. Often they feel squeamish, despite the knowledge that the feathers are sanitized before use.

MccGwire first came up with idea of using feathers as an art material when she moved her studio to a river barge to get closer the nature she was studying. Next-door is a disused boatshed that pigeons had made a home. She started collecting their molted feathers, which was considered dangerous at the time because bird flu had just broken out. To supply her need for huge quantities of feathers she now works with a network of over 200 pigeon-racers and fanciers who send her feathers in molting season.

The move to feathers has been a turning point in her career as it has attracted the attention of global art collectors such as Charles Saatchi and her cabinet pieces and on-site installations have been exhibited all around the world.

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Princess Ooh la la

Princess X (right), Constantin Brancusi, 1916 – photo thanks to Geishaboy500

Paris is a weird city because although it’s generally very noisy due to tourists and traffic you can still manage to find a corner of tranquility if you know where to look. Despite being next-door to the Centre Pompidou the Atelier Brancusi feels like it’s in a small country village. Inside, all I could hear were chirping birds and a busker’s mandolin.

It is not the original location of Constantin Brancusi’s studios. They used to be based in the 15th arrondissement of the city until the building deteriorated and the contents were moved to outside the front of the Centre Pompidou. Then, when it became clear that the sculptures wouldn’t survive against the elements the decision was made to finally give them a home.

Although Brancusi was originally from Romania he decided to leave the contents of his studios to the people of France because his homeland’s communist government had shunned him. He gave the collection to France on the condition that it was displayed exactly as he’d left it on the day of his death.

Brancusi moved to Paris in his twenties to study at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts. He later worked in Rodin’s workshop but left after two months as he felt he needed to find his own direction. Examples of his two most famous sculptures The Kiss, 1908 and Bird in Space, 1919 can be seen in the collection, but my favourite piece was Princess X, simply because it made me smile. Brancusi obviously had a sense of humour.

The sculpture was originally exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants (a regular exhibition organised for artists not supported by France’s official academy for painting and sculpture) in 1920 but was quickly replaced after complaints that it was pornographic. The title, ‘Princess X’ refers to Princess Marie Bonaparte, a direct descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte. She was a psychoanalyst and a close friend of Sigmund Freud, her most famous research was based on women’s ability to have an orgasm, hence the sexual form of Brancusi’s sculpture.

Brancusi was successful in his lifetime and expanded his studios several times. Yet despite his prosperity Brancusi continued to dress like a Romanian peasant. His roots were important to him, he was part of a community of Romanian intellectuals in Paris, influenced by Romanian folk stories and mythology and often entertained his guests by playing them traditional songs on his violin or cooking them recipes handed down the generations. The circle of friends that got to enjoy these treats included Picasso, Duchamp and Man Ray.

Brancusi died in 1957 at the age of 81 and was buried in Paris’ Montparnasse Cemetery, a sculpture of ‘Le Baiser’ or ‘The Kiss’ marks his grave.

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Wing man

Bryan McCormack, When Joris Ivens Meets Hraesvelgr, 2010

I’ve passed this sculpture several times, it’s at the top of a steep hill and I’m always happy to see it, but at 12 metres high it’s a little too tall to hug. The hill is in Domaine National St. Cloud, a beautiful heritage park that was one of the places Louis XVI hid during the French revolution, Marie Antoinette’s rose garden is still there. Its lakes, topiary and fountains is like something out of Alice in Wonderland, but the view of Paris in the distance brings you back to reality. Due to its location on the outskirts of the city it’s always very quiet which makes you feel, like Alice a bit of an intruder.

The sculpture is by Irish artist Bryan McCormack, I couldn’t find much information about him other than that he was born in 1972. However, the commissioning of this sculpture was obviously very important as it was inaugurated by the Minister of Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand (also nephew of the ex-President François Mitterand), along with the first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

Perhaps it is the subject of the work that made it so prestigious. Joris Ivens, who is referred to in the title of the piece is a Dutch film-maker, and in Paris cinema is like a religion. In England someone would ask you, “have you seen that new film with Kirsten Dunst in it?” in Paris they would say, “have you caught the latest Lars von Trier?” It’s not even about snobbery, it just seems to be ingrained into the culture, like a taste for wine and strong cheese that other cultures can take or leave.

Joris Ivens directed over 80 films between 1912 and 1988 and continually re-visited the theme of wind. This sculpture refers specifically to the 1966 film, ‘Pour le Mistral’. The Mistral is the name of a powerful and mysterious wind that blows around the coast of the South-East of France in cities like Marseille, Nice and Cannes. Located along the Mediterranean Sea, these are hot cities in the summer but a pleasant day can disappear in a few minutes when the Mistral sets in. Ivens was often nicknamed the “Flying Dutchman”, another reference to wind as it relates back mythology of a rebel ship that is forever doomed to sail the sea’s high winds.

The other name mentioned in the title, Hraesvelgr, is that of the Nordic wind giant from Norse mythology often represented holding a globe with wings on his back. Half-man, half-bird, Hraesvelgr could not fly himself but by flapping his wings he would send his children, ‘the winds’ around the world on his behalf. McCormack’s sculpture features strong fabric wings held up by flexible cable so that they can move along with the wind, harmonising with the trees around it.

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Tortoise power

Rachid Khimoune – 1000 Tortues (1000 Tortoises)

As cheesy as it sounds, I love looking at the Eiffel Tower. Yet, I’ve never made it up there as a few years ago a ride on the London Eye with a hyperactive three year-old triggered my fear of heights. I resent that child for the affect he’s had, but I mustn’t hold a grudge. For one thing, I don’t know him, and for another, I’m an adult, so I have to act like a grown-up apparently – a grown-up with vertigo.

Anyway, grudges and phobias aside, I am in love with the Eiffel Tower. Despite constantly being bombarded by images of it and being offered miniature versions of it ‘5 for 1 Euro’ every two seconds, I never get sick of it. Each time I see it I smile to myself as it reminds me of where I live. It gives me a few minutes of contemplation about the surrealness of it.

Last weekend I took the scenic route to meet a friend which involved a stroll through the Champs des Mars, you know the big green bit at the front. It’s the best spot for laughing with/at tourists who are pretending to push the ‘Iron Lady’ over. As I got past the queues at the feet of the tower and politely declined a swarm of souvenir sellers and con-artists, I noticed there was more people than usual gathered around the Trocadero. Naturally inquisitive, I decided to take a closer look.

As I drew closer I saw a sea of white blobs. Tortoises! If you’ve read any of my earlier Artsharks blogs you’ll know that I have serious soft spot for animal-themed artwork. But this was not just one tortoise, it was hundreds, ‘1000 Tortoises’ to be exact.

The artist behind the project Rachid Khimoune, has been responsible for a number of major, successful public art installations in France. Most famously, the installation close to the Bibliothèque Nationale (National Library) ‘Les Enfants du Monde’ (The Children of the World). Born in France with parents from Algeria, Khimoune embraces the role of the artist as a global citizen, using art as a universal language.

Later, when I got home and calmed down, I did a bit of research about these tortoises. My excitement turned to sad reflection as I discovered that the tortoises’ shells were in fact the helmets of American, Russian and German soldiers who died in WWII.

It shows how far we’ve come when the helmets of dead soldiers from nations who were once enemies, can be displayed together so casually.  Yet, sadly it’s not just a reminder of past mistakes but an echo from those quiet wars that continue everyday, based on (arguably) weaker excuses. Like modern wars, Khimoune’s tortoises creep along slowly and quietly, a powerful representation of the myth that is ‘peacetime’.

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