Art for thought

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 9.59.16 AMIt was not planned, but we saw a lot of weird art this weekend. We started with a walk through the blustery November rains to A Triple Tour at the Conciergerie. François Pinault is a local billionaire and serious art collector, married to Salma Hayek. He wanted to open a museum to show case his art in Paris, but authorities made it so difficult that he ended up acquiring the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and creating a museum there instead. During our visit last spring, I realized that this was Paris’ loss.

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 9.58.36 AMA Triple Tour is Pinault’s first show in his home town and it is monumental in the sense that it is very, very large in scale. Keeping with the theme of the space (the prison that once housed Marie Antoinette), this show was all about imprisonment. People locked up in war zones, prejudice, poverty, insanity and disease. It is not a happy show and this is not beautiful art. It felt like a documentary of social Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 10.16.46 AMcommentary, more than an art exhibition. There was an incredibly moving film of asylum patients and a collection of elderly men in wheelchairs that many visitors thought were real. I can’t say I loved this art, but I could see that it is important art and I marveled at the luxury afforded to men like Pinault who can put on such a show.

After the show we headed across the Seine to the Marais, rue Vieille du Temple. It was not at all planned, but we ended up gallery hopping, visiting one contemporary art space after the other. At Yvan Lambert there was a 15 minute film of a peaceful wood and I loved the rest, but wondered why this was art. Across the street there was a show featuring a man named Erwin Olaf. I walked in the door, muttered, “weird Nazi art” and left, shaking my head. Next door, at the Mexican Cultural Center there was a collection of photos featuring Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It was a highlight of the day.

Even if you don’t like the art, it is fun to visit the galleries in this neighborhood because it takes you into some fascinating buildings and remote courtyards visitors rarely see. And sometimes you’ll stumble upon an interesting show, like the Cy Twombly exhibit at Karsten Greve.

But finding the galleries is not always obvious. I couldn’t find a decent map online to give you an easy link. Every now and again there is a map of all the art spaces available in the galleries, but for the most part, you just have to read the brass plaques at the arched doors, and if you see the word “galerie” walk on in.

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 9.59.57 AMThe is what I did at Galerie Perrotin on the rue de Turenne, a gallery I had never heard of before. Inside, there was a large Statue of Liberty, spinning on her side as the flames of her torch ate in to the wall. On the staircase landing there was a mini elevator, barely large enough for a shoe, with doors that would open and close. Fun, but a bit too conceptual for me.

Mr French headed out the back door and disappeared long enough that I decided to follow him into a converted workshop. An elder Chinese lady was floating through space, three manta rays pulling her reins through a flock of birds. In the next room a collection of older folks sat on couches and barca loungers, their heads replaced by large rocks. Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 9.59.43 AMAnd one odd looking man on a stool. I was marveling as the wax work that created the model’s skin. You could tell the age of the faceless guests by the quality of the skin on their hands. I leaned into to look at the one face int he work of art. “Wow, I declared to Mr French, this looks so real, I can see the skin m AHHHHHH!!!” I didn’t just see the skin move. The entire head turned towards me. The looking man was a dwarf who had been hired to sit as part of the show. If great art is supposed to make you feel something, it worked. I was feeling scared out of my wits!

Private Choice

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Last year I spent October feeding my soul at the major art fairs, like the FIAC. where I ran into the genitalia lady. The fairs are a blast, but after three seasons, I was looking for something different and I found it when Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris told me to about Private Choice, the brain child of the exceptional curator Nadia Candet.

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.23.11 PMThe exhibition is in a private home that was once the atelier of Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot. The building is still in her family and it is now a private home that is flooded with air and light, creating a haven of tranquility just steps away from bustling Paris. The space is so extraordinary that it inspired Madame Candet to use it as an exhibition space. She spent six months hunting down the perfect art, even commissioning a piece when she had a vision of how it could fill the space.

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 6.26.20 PMThis is a gallery, so everything is for sell, including the precious furniture that was brought in, the Sophie Calle designed dishware and the even the silverware, although I didn’t ask about the kitchen sink!!!

The art work is remarkable, too. In the first room my friend recognized a wall piece by Argentenian Julieta Hanono, while I was fascinated by a neon sculptures by Dominique Blais and we both stopped at a rug that spelled TROUBLE by Phillipe Cazal. An assistant had to clarify, that its was trouble, in the French sense, and not trouble by the English definition.

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 6.26.56 PMWe were already enthralled and had just scratched the surface! We went downstairs, then climbed upstairs. Diptyque candles scented the air, we were invited to a delicious tea. This wasn’t feeling like an art gallery, but more like an adventure at a friends home. Especially when we were invited to climb the floating staircase, sans banisters, up to the glass roofed bedroom and out on to the deck, where we stood there dreaming…. about art, about love and about dreams.

The gallery is open until Oct 28. Visits are free, but by reservation only. You can reserve your Private Choice visit on their site.

And the show goes on…

Alaïa Exhibition

Fashion week may be over, but it seems like I just can’t enough. Yesterday Mr French and I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon waiting in line at the Palais Galliera to see the first exhibition since the City of Paris’ Fashion museum closed its doors for renovation in 2009.

The city continued showing fashion at other venues, and I am still kicking myself for having missed the Balenciaga show, so I was not about to miss the first show back at the old digs. Especially when I heard that it would be all about Azzedine Alaïa.

AlaïaBorn in Algeria, Alaïa came to Paris to study sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He got a part time job sewing up dresses for women and before he knew it, he had found his passion. He credits much of his success with the fact that he never went to design school, but rather learned his metier by dressing women. As he says, “Women, women define fashion, I make clothes.”

And his clothes define a woman’s fantasy, of being held tightly, yet totally free. They are sexy, seductive and most importantly, flattering. Of course, all the dresses on display were cut to fit a size 0 model, but his prête à porter line is designed to highlight the roundness of the female form, and looks breathtaking on women who are too large for the catwalk.

Its a small show, with only 5 rooms in the Palais, featuring dresses that are easy to recognize as they had been worn by such stars as Grace Jones, Tina Turner and Rihanna. There is the black and white hound’s tooth dress that was designed in collaboration with France’s historic discount store Tati and at least 4 garments I wish I could have packed up into a suitcase to take home.

Its not very clear, but there is a 6th room at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, directly across the street. The continuation is in the salle Matisse, where some of the most astounding pieces of the collection seem to sway under the dancers painted by Matisse.

The crowd was just as fun as the show. A man who looked like my Turkish tailor bent forward to study the stitches, a boy with white running shoes and an athletic sweatshirt was busy sketching the designs in his notepad. A black hatted woman in a silk Prada coat, despite the threat of rain, another with gorgeous laser cut, patten leather jazz shoes.

Everyone lingered over the collection, savouring the details that put these garments on the fine line somewhere between fashion and art.



Under where? Under there!

I’ve got a thing for underwear. Especially when it is French and silky This is not a very well kept secret, so it was not at all surprising when my phone started ringing off the hook (my kids would NOT understand that expression, it probably belongs in a literary archive and not in this post) with calls from friends telling me about the La Mécanique des Dessous exhibit at the Union des Arts Décoratifs.

The title doesn’t sound half as sexy as the term lingèrie and that is because ever since around the 14th century underwear has been first and foremost all about foundations and support. Fans Shakespeare and Commedia dell’Arte are some of the few visitors to the show who will not be surprised to learn that once upon a time men wore reinforced structures called codpieces, to exaggerate their, hmmm…. manly prowess. For many,  seeing one hammered into a suit of armor is a highlight of this collection.

Screen shot 2013-08-19 at 5.32.41 PMProof positive that I’m not the only one who has reverence for foundations; the French take their undergarments very seriously and this exhibit is a celebration of the architectural creativity that has gone into making the perfect silhouette. I loved seeing the mechanical device that was used to lift those ridiculously wide skirts that Marie Antoinette and her friends would wear. I had always imagined them side stepping through doors, but the metal frames, called paniers, that held the skirts out could be lifted up with a string, allowing the skirt to fall flat ans the wearer to enter a room.

Screen shot 2013-08-19 at 5.32.50 PMOther highlights include seeing the metal frames that were used to support Queen Elizabeth style ruffs, modern day models that showed haw many of the under garments worked, a series of film clips featuring lingèrie scenes, vintage underwear ads, and an area for trying on corsets and crinolines. That is a lot of highlights for a relatively small show and I was not the only one who loved it. Attended with my friend Karen, who had brought along an article by fashion editor, Suzy Menkes that had been published earlier in the week. Not only had she loved it, but she had learned a bit herself.

Finally, a word about the Union. It is the other museum in the Louvre Palace. Very few people even know there IS another museum in the Louvre, but there is and it is the national Decorative Arts museum, featuring furniture, jewelery and design from across the ages. It would be hard to find a more central location and unlike the Louvre Museum, it is open Tuesday, which is kind of a bonus.

ps photos were not allowed, so these ones are dark and elusive, teasing you like lingèrie should!

La Vie Romantique…

I can’t speak for every French man, I’ve only dated a few, but living with my French man has been somewhat, dare I say très, romantique….. Not that he should get all the credit for it. I mean, how hard can it be to make a girl’s heart swoon when the stage set is on a café terasse, a flûte of champagne on the table, cobbled stones lay below and a church is lit in the background? And if he’s really luck a jazz band will set up, providing the perfect sound track, leaving very little work for him to do in the wooing department. Occasionally he goes a little bit further, offering me romantic cards calling me his dear, his bunny, his cabbage and his flea. Or coming home with a blue heart shape album of Elvis Presley songs that you can listen to on my Facebook page.

It’s a lovely rêverie, but the Musée de la Vie Romantique isn’t about that kind of romantic, its about the Romanticism cultural movement of the 19th century. It is the movement that brought us artistic geniuses like Beethoven, Liszt, Turner and Constable. In France, Géricault, Delacroix, Chopin, de Musset and George Sand were all part of this era, and the museum is dedicated to them. Particularly to Madame George Sand who wrote over thirty novels and whose collection of art and artifacts fills two rooms.

As an idea, Romanticism was a revolt against Industiralization and confining social norms, in practice it inspired everything from politics to the arts to the sciences. As far as home decor was concerned, this was a very dark period, with rich, deep colors in a conflicting patterns filling rooms to suffocation. And they had odd habits, like making jewelery out of human hair. It is all very normal with a slight tinge of the horrific. It is not surprising that this period inspired works like Dracula and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Outside the museum guests can enjoy tea or a light snack under white parasols in the rose encircled gardens, reminding one of the more contemporary definition of Romantic….

ps, Impromptu is a great movie about George Sand and her torrid relationship with Chopin.

Fashion as art

A blogger I admire very much, Denise, writes about her life in Bolton, which includes frequent visits to Paris. She’ll write about cycling with our mutual friend Jane, going off to the races with her beloved husband Michael, or savouring peaceful moments on her own.

A year ago today Denise wrote about an exhibit at the Centre Pompidou honoring the artist Gerhard Richter. She tells the story of seeing one of his paintings and having it touch her very soul. I was so jealous when I read that. I love art, frequent museums and exhibitions regularly enough to be considered a junkie, and yet I had never felt moved to tears over art.

Until last week. And many would even consider it art. I was at the Haute Couture exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville, a free exhibit featuring one of Paris’ most important industries. The show began upstairs with pattern samples and sketch books. There was a series of photos featuring the hands of famous designers, including Mme Coco.

It was lovely, and informative, but the real goods were downstairs where Haute Couture dresses from the studios of every major designer, from Frederick Worth, who founded Haute Coutre in the 1850’s to today’s Jean-Paul Gualtier. The masterpieces of houses that did not survive the death of their designer like Poiret, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli were all on display. Icons of modern style like Courrèges, Balanciaga, and Alaïa were there, as well.

And it was all so beautiful, the sumptuous folds, stunning bead work, masterful pleats. These men and women had a away with fabric and they knew (or know) how to show off a woman’s body, curves and all, to its very best.

And there, between a Dior and a Grès, my eyes began to sting and the tears to spill at the tremendous beauty of it all.


She’s back…

I am back here in Paris and absolutely thrilled to have E back home with me for the summer. Also thrilled to have Mr French back from a business trip in China. And lucky to have Em back at home. She had been in London for a week, interning for an international law practice on Bond Street by day and savouring the eye candy that is men’s fashion week by night. She went backstage at the Hackett show and to a private party thrown by Net-a-Porter, running into folks like Lily Allen and Samuel Jackson, who was rather surprised by their reaction which inspired him to cry, “Stop shaking, girls!” She had so much fun that I really am lucky she returned.

So what does a travel weary, jetlagged couple do for a fun day on the town? Why, we went to an art show. Quel surprise, n’est-ce pas. And this was no ordinary art show, but the Dynamo exhibition at the Grand Palais.

Exhibits at the GP (yes, I wrote that. no, its not the jetlag. I go there so often we’re on a nickname basis these days) are so popular that I will not go  without pre-purchased tickets. So I bought them online in the morning for the same afternoon. Which is a really boring detail, but could be really helpful if you’d like to go.

And I do recommend going to this show. Dynamo celebrates a century of light and movement in art. Wading through the waiting hoards, we passed an undulating neon white display and were immediately in an alcove with works by one of my favorite contemporary artists, Anish Kapoor. Take your time and walk through the alcove. The play on light and perception is destablizing while the play on sound inspires a child-like wonder.

Speaking of kids, there was a merry-go-round of mirrored slats that they couldn’t get enough of and an artsy fun house, as well as a large square of hanging blue rubber strands many of them mistook for a playground. It has been raining in Paris for months now and the local kids seemed to be suffering from a severe case of cabin fever. They were out of control.


There were some works by the neon specialist Carlos Cruz-Diez, including the room I had first seen at the Neon exhibit at the Maison Rouge. Agam, an Israeli who creates kinetic works, an Alexander Calder mobile and the most remarkable optical illusion of orange stickers in the mosaic tiled balcony. By the time we left, I didn’t know if my head was spinning from all the fantastic art we had seen, or if the jetlag was having its way with me…


Through the looking glass

Yesterday I felt like Alice. I spent all day in a meeting at the other worldly Hotel de Rothschild in the swanky 8th arrondisement, surrounded by fashionistas from across the globe. I saw stilettos so tall, the front sole was on a 2 inch platform. I saw the classic Chanel bag in about 16 different variations, and every shade of black known to man on every chic fabric wearable, including plastic.

I read a text message from Mr French in my mad dash home to make dinner for Em, who was celebrating because she had her second article published in The Girls Guide to Paris. The text popped up just as was posting the above link on FB, tweeting it, and using every venue available to me to promote me kid shamelessly. It said, “cocktail tonight… gardens in the Grand Palais, we’ll leave at 8pm.”

At the appointed hour, I headed downstairs, hopped into his car and we were off through the pouring rain. It was coming down in sheets when we arrived 15 minutes later and there was a traffic snarl with cops everywhere. What to do? Use the valet parking at the Mini Palais restaurant, of course! Which meant I had to lie to the valet parker and tell him we had reservations for the evening. I am only sharing this little detail because confessing it makes me feel like maybe I won’t burn in hell for not telling the truth!

Alice sized mushrooms!Hopping over puddles in my 3 inch high heels was something of a challenge, and Mr French had a good laugh over the meandering path I had to take. But we made it.

Shaking the rain off my shoulders I looked in wonder at the garden that had sprouted inside this glass domed monument. A bamboo forest grew in one corner, a 1000 yr old olive tree in another. There was a fantastical treehouse spiraling up from the middle of the room and a larger than life, a Barbie pink mansion to the far right. In the middle was a corral or artist decorated bicycles and a sprawling field full of picnic scenes and mini Fiat cars. There was some photography and beautiful watercolors by a man from Lyon, Vincent Jeannerot. A Monet style water lily garden, larger than life mushroom composters, plated chandeliers, Bijoux pine trees and countless other organic treasures that really did turn the place into a Wonderland!

Polly in Paris!!

Its The Art of Gardening at the Grand Palais until June 3, with a supplementary show in the Tuileries Gardens and it was a spectacular breath of fresh air in Paris!


The water changes everything. Light is refracted, reflections magnified. Movement becomes vertical, as well as horizontal. Sound is absorbed. Winding, narrow alley ways create architectural canyons, with a peacefully comforting uniformity. The regular drum of passing cars is replaced by irregular bursts of sound. You are not in a city or in the country, you are somewhere else. Somewhere wonderful.

Mr French and I arrived early Friday morning. “Its much more dramatic arriving by train,’ he informed me. I nodded naively, having only ever arrived by bus after a short flight from Paris. We grabbed our bags and headed out the door to the quais in the pouring rain. It was the first time that either of us would be arriving by water taxi. The rain stopped and chipper captain greeted us from his vintage, wood trimmed motor boat, shooing us from the front deck into the back of the boat where the roof top slid open, allowing us to stand and enjoy the breathtaking view.

Our chauffeur had a brief errand to run on the island of Murano, and asked if we’d mind a detour. We were thrilled with the free ride and our unexpected stop at a boatyard. Pulling up to the dock of the hotel was luxurious experience and within minutes we were ready to hit the town.

First stop, the Punta della Dogana, the large warehouse space that houses the phenominal contempory art collection of François Pineault (CEO of the Gucci Group, now known as Kering). Getting there would require a long walk or a quick trip by vaporetto. Knowning Mr French and his inability to get from point A to point B without stopping at every other church, museum, and shop window and knowing Venise, with its plethora of churches, museums, and shop windows, I insisted on boating it. We didn’t have tickets, or any idea how to acquire tickets, so we just walked on and hoped for the best. Turns out, local authorities rarely check for tickets and we could have gotten free rides our entire trip.

The museum was closed until June 1. So we hopped on another vaporetto to check out the Fortuny Museum, featuring the fabrics of the Art Deco artist. The museum was closed until June 1. We walked a few blocks back towards the canal when the Plazzo Grassi, the second Pineault museum WAS open. A huge palazzo that belonged to the Fiat family before being acquired by the Gucci gang, the Grassi is gorgeous. For the first time ever, the museum was displaying the work of a single artist; Rudolf Stingel. The artist commissioned a ginormour oriental carpet and used to cover all the walls and floor of the entire palace. The effect was mesmerizing, and like it or not, it was art.

Our quest for art had left us both famished, which made us both a tad grumpy and we got lost looking for our next destination. Just when we started to bicker we came upon a square with a restaurant that had several tables under large white parasols. Mr French grumbled that it looked like a horrid tourist trap. While my stomach was doing sumersaults of joy. We had stumbled upon Aquapazza, one of my top favorite restaurants on the planet. Mr French was somewhat skeptical of my enthusiasm, but was quickly seduced by the fries courgete flowers with a light-as-air ricotta stuffing, while the linguine with lobster was just as good I had remembered. Italians are not known for their dessert, and coming from Paris, we often head straight for the espresso, but this was Aquapazza, where they have fruit gelati served in their original shells;  from chestnuts to walnuts, medlars to strawberries, it is all simply divine and served with a frost encrusted bottle of house-made limoncello.

We spent the rest of the afternoon meandering the medieval labyrinth of the city, ending our evening over bellinis at the mythic, historic, Harrry’s Bar.

A hymn…

Rich blue sapphires, golden topazes, apple red rubies…. No, I did not go jewelry shopping this weekend, rather I spent a lovely hour (or so) with a fairly dense crowd at the Musée du Senat in the Luxembourg gardens diving into the sumptuous colors at the Chagall exhibit.

I like Chagall. I am aware that he is not for everyone. Upside down chickens and flying musicians do not reflect classical realism, nor modern abstract purity and it all requires a willing suspension of disbelief. But I love his gem stone palette, and I find his fantastical characters, often dancing, kissing, playing music absolutely delightful. His work has been known to make my make heart do a little jig. I suspect I am not the only one and that this is perhaps why he was chosen to paint the ceiling at the Opera Garnier. His stained glass windows adds the perfect counterpoint of colorful light to the cold grey stones at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Reims, making it my favorite cathedral in France.

The Musée du Senat is small, which makes this show easy to digest, and as the work is shown chronologically, you get a very good sense of the artist’s evolution, which really highlighted his genius, as his style changed little throughout his career. You start to understand the context in which he worked; the village where he was born, the war that raged through Europe, his exile. But most of all, you gradually begin to notice that the driving factor of his art, the underlying theme of it all, is love. Love for his homeland, his wife Bella and of life in general. You don’t need the written explanations on the walls to understand that Chagall was focused his attention on the magic in life. And a visit to this show is a great little uplifting moment in the sun, to quote an inscription from the show, “A hymn to light and life…..”

NOTE – I just spoke to a colleague from NYC who was not impressed with the show. Not one bit. When I asked why she said that these were not his best works. She has a point. The show really is like a sweet little hymn, and not at all a profound symphony of the great master’s works. 

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