conquering the Centre Pompidou in Paris

Centre Pompidou front entrance

Centre Pompidou logo (the size of my hand) embedded in cobblestones of plaza

We visited the Centre Pompidou several times.  With just the right bustling vibe, it feels like the center of town to me even if not geographically the center of Paris.  I was really attracted to this neighborhood.  I kept wanting to go back to it and wander the streets. And we did. 

Riding the escalators up each floor along the exterior frame of the building gives a wonderful peek over the tops of buildings across the city.  The motion feels appropriate with the setting. 

On one of the balconies of Centre Pompidou

 Basilique du Sacre-Coeur at Montmartre in the distance

Jugglers, entertainers and passerbys dashing around the plaza at the entrance. 


We spent one visit to the museum in the Edvard Munch exhibit.  Munch is most known for painting The Scream (1890s) which is not there, but I don't think the exhibit needed it.  This exhibition, called The Modern Eye, runs until the first week of January 2012 and demonstrates the variety in the artist's work including his experimentation with photography in the early 1900s.  I was really glad to see his photographs.  While not as layered, expressive and well, obviously painterly, as his paintings, and well after his break from the current trend of Impressionism, they  show his effort to use photography as another medium for probing the psyche. Self-portrait after self-portrait trying to capture an image of  anxiety or an image of the tortured soul.  Munch made so many sensitive paintings in his pursuit of making the soul visible. He returned to the same setting to paint and repaint similar scenes.  He revisits girls on bridges repeatedly; figures flow like thick water, into ground, into sky.  One red-headed figure of a girl felt so present, you could feel her longing; she made me think of my red-headed niece for the rest of the day.   

Another day we spent combing the collection. Because it's a European museum, logically there are more samples of European artists in their collection than we  see in the U.S. I found this refreshing. The Pompidou's collection has great range, and for me it was such a pleasure to see pieces by so many avant-garde artists, Fluxus artists, and so on.  They have Plight, a Joseph Beuys installation of a pair of rooms lined with felt and a grand piano in it, that for all the pictures you ever see, standing in the room and feeling that installation can take your breath away. (They also have Infiltration Homogen for Grand Piano (1966), a piano wrapped in industrial felt, which pairs with the room installation quite well.)

Mmm, and works by Andre Breton and Piero Manzoni. 

Piero Manzoni, Achrome, 1959

I discovered a few artists new to me, including this sculptor, Dorothea Tanning.  

Dorothea Tanning, de quel amour, 1970
I could go back tomorrow and spend more hours.   I could spend days.

The first times we visited the museum, we always went up an escalator on the left side. According to the museum pamphlets it seemed all exhibits were reached by going that direction. One day, we ventured up the right escalator to see the small exhibit by the artist who won this year's Marcel Duchamp award, Cyprien Gaillard.  I couldn't clearly tell by the signage that any more exhibitions were up that side of the museum or particularly, how to get to them.   

Except, I saw a modest sign on a wall that said Yayoi Kusama. The polka dot artist! 

I thought there might be a little room of her paintings or a video behind that wall.  When I headed that way with my regular museum pass, I was turned away by the ticket taker. She didn't say much but I couldn't understand her French anyway. (Surprisingly, this didn't happen very often to me, by the way.  I usually got the gist of whatever French communications I had.) Anyway, wanting to see what else was up the escalator on the right side, I went to the main counter and bought more special collection tickets, this time asking specifically for Yayoi. It was our last day and I am so glad that I was so determined.  More than I even imagined, there was a whole half floor of art hiding over there.  It was a Yayoi Kusama retrospective! 
Yayoi Kusama
No. B. 62, detail, by Yayoi Kusama, from m.ariii's photostream
Many paintings, sculptures and installations were on display spanning her career.  I have only seen documentation of Kusama's work - never had I seen it in person.  The textures of the various obsessive mark-making and layers of materials are impressive.  Even though obsessive, her training comes through in the sense of pattern and strong use of form to command the eye.

When walking through one of her famous polka dot room installations, with mirrored walls and red and white inflated polka dot sculptures, I stood in the far corner to take it all in.  A french woman squealed at me in French.  I started with my clumsy, "Je ne sais pas..." to explain I don't speak French.  She quickly said in English, "You are part of the art!  You are an artiste!"  I looked down at my red sweater and a long black scarf with white polka dots.  We all laughed.

Here is a 2008 video clip of the same installation on display in La Villette, France.

The Yayoi Kusama exhibit is on view until January 9th of 2012.  (I didn't see this next piece from Gagosian while in Paris, but it's a good sample of Kusama's inflatable sculptures.  They really fill up the room.)

We never figured out how to get to a couple of floors of the museum where there is a public reference library (according to the website) and what looked like a vending machine cafe.  Plus verandas with sculpture outside that I couldn't get near. As fond as I am of libraries, it seemed fine to miss some things this time. Although, not knowing how to get around to those spaces, but seeing them through glass walls and locked glass doors, bugged the shit out of me.  You can imagine my nose pressed to glass!

It's hard to tell by Pompidou's website what exhibits cost what.  We bought some three day passes (you can get 2 day, 5 day or whatever you want) good at many museums around Paris at a vending machine in the lobby, but special exhibitions cost extra.  That's fine by me, I recognize these exhibits usually cost museums a fortune to rent the work from their home museums, have the art shipped and so on, but next time I plan to ask more questions about special exhibits when I buy tickets so I don't miss anything!

Gagosian Gallery
Centre Pompidou 

*NOTE: I only have a couple of snaps for my notes because the Pompidou allows visitors to take photos of their collection but not borrowed works, like the Kusama show.  

Be sure to watch for Yayoi Kusama and Joseph Beuys features in my coming Being an Artist posts. 

Finally, this (akayheartsyou) person's fun little travel video of Paris that I found on YouTube gives a couple of glimpses of clever art installations at the Pompidou. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Chariot du Monde (apr├Ęs Manzoni) / World´s shopping cart (after Manzoni)