I read about how this building is designed and functions before I went, so my initiation should have gone well, and for the most part it did. First things first, there is a system of exterior escalators that takes one up to the various levels. But first, one must go inside to get the ticket?…Yes. After the ticket booth, one goes back through a controlled exit to the exterior magical tube. In some ways it reminded me of a plastic habitat system my brother had for his pet hamster when I was growing up. I finally got to the the Musée national d’ art moderne, submitted my ticket, and I was IN. Things got easier from this point on. All of the guide books point out that it is one of the largest comprehensive collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. It is big. It has a lot of space. Nevertheless, a great deal of the collection is in storage. For this blog, I’m knocking it all down to ten pieces. Given another visit, I might very well pick differently but here it goes:
- Initial impressions are always fresh, so I enjoyed some Derain, Modigliani, and then she-bang, really hit it off with this wall of Matisse. The one on the left is such a perfect setup for one of my painting heroes, Richard Diebenkorn (I might add, they did not show a Diebenkorn, so this is as close as I got, today). The color in this work simply sings beautiful melodies and harmonies. The structure is impeccable and the paint quality is delicious. And the goldfish are alive, which is miraculous.
- One of Wassily Kandinsky‘s Improvisations. He made this work after his Blue Rider Period and it represents a period where expressionism takes off into something more spiritual in his art. He is a fascinating artist who started out in Russia. Once he got to the Bauhaus in Germany his ideas became more structured. This one represents a sweet spot in his career in terms of expressive mark making, color, and pure abstraction that is analogous to music.
- Georges Braque Still Life, is one of the best I have ever seen. Turns the world into multiple vantage points and reminds me of collage, even though it is painted. It’s also very dark, and I like very dark. Its also pretty cool to think that one use to be able to paint this kind of subject matter and not be raked over the coals by some post-modernist critic.
- Picasso: How do you pick a Picasso? I suspect that the museum curators think the same thing. This one seemed alive for me. I’ve never seen it before. It has the cubism style, great color, and bold shape. The mirror is a nice touch.
- Cy Twombly: Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus. The painting is large. The painting is epic. The painting is economical. Okay, he was from Lexington, Virginia (so I am biased) and evolved into a European and ultimately an international art star. There is nothing else that looks like his work, but he was likely the only person who ever understood it; the rest of us simply want to. He was clearly influenced by history and the classics. In the process, he transformed those ideas into a new and highly individualized form of painting/drawing.
- Claude Rutault: Please simply make my painting the same color as your wall. It’s your choice.
- Sol Lewitt: To start, if you are suffering from gallery fatigue, you might just accidentally miss this one, even though it commands an entire wall. Here are the instructions; now, do it yourself. Lewitt sends the gallery a very specific diagram, and specifies the exact colors and the brand of pencil. Gallery assistants become critical in the execution of the work. The artist insists that the concept remains primary through this process.
- Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs. The chair is the signifier. The definition of the word is the signified, the whole is the sign. By confronting the actual object with its representation and definition, it’s reduced to its concept alone; it is a chair. This is the stuff that even Plato loved to argue about!
- Christian Boltanski, La vie impossible de C. B. “We will never realize quite clearly enough what a shameful thing death is…I decided to harness myself to…preserving oneself whole, keeping a trace of all moments of our lives…” Interesting installation about both life and death. It was definitely dark in there.
- Maya Dunietz, Thicket. Composer and Sound artist from Tel Aviv. Instead of one headset separating the listener from the rest of the world, this artist reverses the process by using numerous headsets to create a soundscape. I might add that the visual impact was impressive as well.
As I wrap this blog up for today, I want to say that I am blown away by the ambition demonstrated by so many artists, even the ones I chose not to blog about including: Guston, Close, Marden, deKooning, Klein, Savu, Nauman, Duchamp, Mitchell….The list goes on and on. One thing I felt about this collection is that it has a different European emphasis than what I am accustomed to in the United States. It was a refreshing narrative.