Wednesday, January 21, 2009
As I understand it, no one understood it when Renzo Piano and his architecture partner unveiled the Centre Georges Pompidou in the late 1970s. It is a reversed building, with the entrails outside, encased in large brightly colored tubes. It is unexpected and ungainly, but it does have an amazing escalator that staircases up on the outside to provide the very best view I have had of the city. And the place works once you get within. Good lighting and expansive rooms for the permanent collection of mid-to-late 20th century art and for special exhibitions too. For me, somewhere between 2 and 2 1/2 hours in a museum—any museum—fills me up. So the nice thing about this trip is that I can pop in, have a look around, a survey of sorts, then plan for a return visit. First nice piece to catch my eye was a Willem De Kooning, very representative of his work, which is what I call “orderly abstract”. I always view him with pleasure.
Today at the Pompidou I was taken by some verbiage accompanying an exhibit of works assembled by a single collector by the name of Daniel Cordier. So often something is lost in translation, but the paragraph in English fixed below the French which introduces this exhibit really grabbed me, and so I took the time to transcribe it. Here it is:
“There are many ways of approaching art. The philosopher and the dealer, the critic and the historian, the curator and the amateur art lover, all have their ways of looking, ways of seeing. This collection is the fruit of happenstance, what connects the objects being only the enjoyment they brought to one single art lover. It reflects the ungovernable disorder of pleasure. There is a paradox in exhibiting in a museum what is in principle incompatible with it, giving a place to the workings of spontaneous fancy in the space of historical classification. Can such an institution as this deal with a time bomb that ignores its rules and threatens to undermine its principles? Can the truant eye triumph over the rigors of historical science? That is for you to see.”
The exhibit consisted of all sorts of things, 3-D art and paintings and drawings and found objects, old pieces from Africa and some flat art by Jean Dubuffet. It doesn’t matter what filled the rooms. What filled me was the “fruit of happenstance” and the musing about the “truant eye”. That line of thinking perfectly captures my emotions as I reflect on how I have gone about gathering art, assembling a collection of music, building my little libraries of things that matter to me. In fact, it becomes a reflection more cosmically, of how I live life, choose friends, spend time. “The ungovernable disorder of pleasure.” What a great phrase.
Maybe the best thing on the Pompidou grounds is the studio of Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian sculptor whose technique produced so many delicate and elegant pieces. There are no rough edges here, be the medium marble, wood, or a metal finished with a lustrous sheen. Piano’s challenge was to recreate the space as Brancusi lived in it, with the finished pieces carefully placed about to create what amounts to a single image from a room full of individual pieces. Apparently the sculptor became so taken with the relationship of the objects to one another that for a time he refused to sell any of his works lest it disrupt the integrity of the whole. It is one thing to see two or three of these pieces in a museum. It is really something to see four contiguous rooms under one roof.
Tonight I joined Nancy Machiah at a concert presented by her friend Itai Daniel, an accomplished composer and pianist who is quite well known in certain Parisian music circles. The concert, presented by the Paris Kol Arta Ensemble, was held in a beautiful synagogue on Rue Copernic and consisted mostly of original works by Itai. We had a quick conversation during the reception which followed and we want to visit again as soon as we can find a time to do so. I want to know more about his compositional style and I want to come away with one of his CDs too.
Nancy and I dined afterwards in the cute Brasserie Stella, she ordering entrecote, while I had my first choucroute in many moons. Of note is that tonight I had my first Metro ride, slipping along underground from the St. Paul station near the Ile Saint Louis to the Place Charles de Gaulle at the Arc de Triomphe, about a 12 minute ride which cost about one euro, which beats both the 75 minute walk and the 12 euro, 20-minute taxi ride. Oh how savvy, the old boy!