Egon Schiele and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Fondation Louis Vitton

Wow. Yesterday, I approached and entered the Centre Pompidou and encountered no waiting. Today was a different matter. Today was cloudy, misting rain and bout 40 degrees. I went to the end of the line. I asked the attendant if I was in the correct line, and how long would the wait be? She replied respectively, yes and 3 hours. Well, I decided to stick it out. With an oatmeal raisin cliff bar in my pocket, I could endure anything! I suspected it would be crowded as the show closes in two days.

A few observations immediately came to mind for me as I waited: 1. Yesterday, by the end of my tour, I was pretty convinced that non-conceptual painting is no longer a priority, and 2. Gee, there are a lot of people here today standing in line to see two dead artists who put a lot of emphasis on physical process. 3. If one is going to have to stand in the cold with toes going numb, at least it is nice to experience the riveting and inventive architecture of Frank Gehry. My wait to get to the x-ray scanners was about an hour.

Once inside, I headed for the information desk and then to the galleries. In terms of  crowds, this was pretty much the same as the Picasso show I saw last week. Inside of these galleries, one is still not safe from pick-pocket thieves. Not only is it a challenge to simply see the work, one also has the regular patron who has to extend that cell phone camera into the line of vision; it is fascinating to see how inept people are with their cell phones – mostly bad framing. In blockbuster exhibitions of the past, one only had to content with perfume cacophony. Now, we get see how the Pixel 3 competes with the Samsung Edge. Oh, and generally there is a work of art at the other end, a guard, and an alarm beeping. Aesthetic experiences have changed.

With all of that being said, Schiele was quite the draftsman. He was dynamite the the contour line and so confident in his practice, that he could even nail things with a blind-contour line.  He was sensitive not only to the forms, but to the attitudes and postures of his sitters, including himself. He strikes me as kind of frail, maybe sometimes less than secure, and he was being honest to allow these revelations to come forward.  For whatever proportional distortions come forward in his figures, there is a lovely accuracy in his observations. I am really happy for the amount of attention given to his drawing in this show.

For Basquiat, the power of the mark, the relationships to individualized handwriting, the juxtaposition of bold symbolic images with larger passages of expressionist paint, and sheer scale of his work delivers a raw and powerful effect. He works with larger themes of minority issues, relationships with religion, mythologies and cultural mores. His transition from NYC street graffiti to large canvasses make a lot of sense and the decade of the 1980s (with the context of Neo-expressionism) was perfect for him to emerge. He built on and fused the traditions of Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly. I could probably go back and look at this exhaustive show over and over and find new things revealed. There is no way you can leave without be confronted with questions of economic and societal unfairness. The big question since this work was made in the 1980s is, “have we really made any improvements in terms of equal opportunity for all?” By taking it off the street walls and delivering it to an art audience, the right people might at least be seeing the message. It is possible that it carries more weight when the audience has to shell out 16 euro to see the message.

Lastly, this is one of those museum experiences where the museum itself is a work of art. So I have included some pictures of Frank Gehry’s innovation of space. It is big, it is grand, and it is very organic. Once inside, the structure allows for the transition of all of that vast space, down to the most sensitive Egon Schiele line. A couple of works commissioned for the space that enhance the organic theme are the oversized rose by Iza Gensken  and the layered garden piece by Adrian Villar Rojas.  Thanks Paris, for taking these risks to elevate the human spirit through art and architecture.

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