Art in Paris

I went to the Pompidou Center, an amazing (and huge!) modern art museum. I checked in my backpack, which felt amazing, and went exploring. I tend to visit museums like I’m on a treasure hunt. I go pretty quickly, waiting for something that will catch me, and hoping to discover something new that will change my world. It’s remarkably successful 🙂
This time I discovered Simon Hantaï. They had a whole special exhibit on him, which was massive. It was chronologically ordered, so his early work was first… I was initially unimpressed. Vaguely surrealist, not particularly interesting.
Then he started using little animal skulls, and I perked up a little, but it still wasn’t earth-shaking.
Then he did a bunch of repetitive-patterned large-scale paintings created over long periods of time. These weren’t great to look at, but some of his process started to interest me. There was this one massive pair of paintings (each about 10-15′ square) being exhibited side-by-side for the first time ever… he had created them both at the same time over a period of months, but one he worked on every morning and the other he worked on every evening. They were somewhat interesting.
Then I turned a corner, and… wow. He had made this total break with his existing process (in the late 60s I think?) and started crumpling up and knotting these massive canvases, and only painting the parts he could see. Then he’d open them up and restretch them. It sounds boring, but it was… amazing. They’re huge, and the colors are incredible, and they maintain some of the crumpled texture so they aren’t flat, and they just sort of… explode off the wall. They look natural, and organic, but also dramatic and very very aesthetically conscious. Some are like looking into a wall of jungle with dappled sunlight between the leaves, some look like sunshine on water, some look like cloudscapes…. in all cases there’s a nagging sense that something has been captured and illuminated, and you just need to look a little bit longer, and the sun will break through and you’ll be able see through the leaves/water/clouds to what’s on the other side. It’s intense.
I didn’t even keep going for awhile. I picked this one painting and sat down in front of it and I think I may have said out loud “You. Hi. We’re going to be friends.” I must have stayed there for close to half an hour, before I finally stood up, shook myself off, and kept going. The rest of his work was equally fascinating, but I didn’t linger as long with any of it. There was a little room that was showing video footage of him working, and I was interested in that but it was so crowded I couldn’t get in. I went through the rest of the exhibit, and then strolled through a big Lichtenstein exhibit they were having. Then I went back to visit my painting friend again, and stayed about fifteen minutes, then went through the rest of the exhibit a second time. There had just been some sort of medical emergency, so most of it had been closed and they were only just reopening it — brilliant, because it meant it was completely empty! I got to be the first one in the video room, so I watched footage of the artist for awhile. It was AWESOME. He’d knot and paint and re-knot and paint, for ages, then he’d flatten them out with this big concrete roller, and then he’d spread them out — lots of them — in his garden/orchard and let them dry in the sun. His darling little blond daughter would run across them as she was picking flowers. It was positively idyllic.
After I finished my second trip through his exhibit I went through part of the next floor down, but at that point I was so exhausted that I couldn’t think straight. I found an outdoor sculpture garden with a reflecting pool up near the roof, so I went and laid down on the concrete in the sun next to the pool for about an hour or so. I dozed a little, and read a little, and looked out over the city. After that I felt so much better that I was able to finish the museum, which had some really great stuff and was arranged beautifully.
Then I went and met the girl who checked me in to the apartment where I was staying. She was so sweet and pleasant! The apartment was great — on the top (6th) floor of an old building just down the street from the Hotel de Ville in the center of town. It was small but cozy (although the elevator was SO small that the other girl and I were practically cuddling), with a skylight over the bed that opened. It was a bit stuffy but when I opened the big front window and the skylight it got a lovely breeze.
The girl who checked me in also walked me to the nearest grocery store, where I bought cheese and wine to go with my bread. It was passable but unexciting — certainly not a cheese shop. Then I went back, relaxed, fell asleep, and woke up early to catch a train to my next stop: Edinburgh!


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