A Collection of Exhibitions

March 30, 2009By Heidi EllisonArchive


Three cheerful new exhibitions in Paris – “The Jazz Century,” “Warhol’s Wide World” and “Alexander Calder: The Parisian Years” – provide an artful antidote to these morose collect

Three cheerful new exhibitions in Paris – “The Jazz Century,” “Warhol’s Wide World” and “Alexander Calder: The Parisian Years” – provide an artful antidote to these morose times.

“The Jazz Century,” an ambitious multidisciplinary exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly, is sheer delight. All about cultural and artistic mixing, it sets out to trace the history of jazz and show how the music interacted with other art forms throughout the 20th century through visual and graphic arts, recordings, film and video. Its backbone is a timeline that snakes along through the show with videos, photos, posters and texts providing an overview of the history of jazz, from earlier influences through its latest incarnations and interpretations. Off to the sides are rooms that expand on such themes as the Jazz Age, swing, bebop, West Coast jazz and free jazz.

Beautifully laid out and displayed, the exhibition includes some wonderful jazz-influenced paintings, such as William Johnson’s “Jitterbugs II (c. 1941), Jackson Pollock’s “Watery Paths,” Nicolas de Staël’s “Les Musiciens, Souvenirs de Sidney Bechet” (1953) and Jean Michel Basquiat’s “King Zulu” (1986). Henri Matisse’s famed paper cutouts for the book “Jazz” are also on show, along with some marvelous drawings by Larry Rivers and lots of fabulous poster art and album covers by such brilliant graphic artists as Winold Reiss. That’s just a tiny sampling of the some 1,000 exhibits in this show. Film and video clips and recordings bring the music to vibrant life, so plan to spend a good amount of time being entertained.

“Le Grand Monde d’Andy Warhol” at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais offers another kind of entertainment, purely visual but highly colorful. While most of the pieces here are familiar (many overly familiar), some break away from the pope of Pop Art’s formulaic silkscreened quadruple portraits of famous people, among them the “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century” (1980) and a portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat posed like Michelangelo’s “David.”

While this show gives us some glimpses behind the superficial layers of Warhol’s works – it includes, for example, a film of him actually painting (something one wondered if he ever really did) and the original Polaroids that many of the “icon” portraits were based on – Warhol still remains a mystery, a shell lacking in flesh and blood, resisting analysis, but that seems to be exactly what he wanted: he is quoted in the exhibition as saying “Vacant, vacuous Hollywood was everything I ever wanted to mold my life into. Plastic. White on white.” He succeeded all too well, but you have to admire a man who not only made superficiality his goal but also made a fortune from it without ever really revealing to what extent he was mocking the system or buying into it.

Another show, “Warhol TV” at the Maison Rouge, focuses on the artist’s witty excursions into another realm of superficiality, television. The conditions aren’t always ideal for watching these videos, however, since there are few or no seats for many of them, and it is often hard to hear the soundtrack. A touching film of his funeral makes you wonder if perhaps there wasn’t something more to the man than met the eye. (While youre at the Maison Rouge, take the time to see the show of amusing, mesmerizing videos by artist Mika Rottenberg).

More fun is to be had at the Centre Pompidou’s “Alexander Calder: Les Années Parisiennes, 1926-33” (recently shown at the Whitney Museum in New York). Who could resist Calder’s cunning “Circus,” with its droll, naive little figures presented both in real life and in performance on film, manipulated by the ringmaster, Calder himself. As charming as the circus is, however, some of the other works are more intriguing. In addition to many of his cunningly caricatural wire portraits (which he described as “drawing in space”) of friends and acquaintances, there are more ambitious wire compositions depicting, for example, fish swimming in an aquarium, Romulus and Remus suckling the mother wolf, and two pigs mating.

We are also treated to some intriguing and sophisticated works from the artist’s Paris years including lovely, delicate abstract sculptures, some of them motorized (unfortunately, they are not moving in the show, but a few films show them in action). While there are none of the famous mobiles, which Calder started making in 1931, we can see in these works how he was moving in that direction with his finely balanced sculptures and airy wire constructions.

One of the surprises in this show is a collection of paintings by Calder, whom we think of primarily as a sculptor. After a visit to Mondrian’s studio in 1930, he was inspired to take up painting for a time and produced some handsome abstract works. This show, too, is beautifully displayed and provides a moment of delightful diversion in the company of an artist who never lost the playful spirit of his childhood.

Heidi Ellison

Musée du Quai Branly: 206 or 208, rue de l’Université, or 27, 37 or 51, quai Branly, 75007 Paris. Métro: Alma Marceau. RER: Pont de l’Alma. Tel.: 01 56 61 70 00. Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Admission: €7 (this exhibition only),10 (temporary exhibitions and permanent collection). Through June 28. www.quaibranly.fr

Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais: 3, avenue du Général Eisenhower, 75008 Paris. Métro: Champs-Elysées Clemenceau. Tel.: 01 44 13 17 17. Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Admission: €11. Through July 13. www.rmn.fr

La Maison Rouge: 10, boulevard de la Bastille, 75012 Paris. Métro: Quai de la Rapée or Bastille. Tel.: 40 01 08 81. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (until 9 p.m. on Thursday. Admission: €7. Through May 3. www.lamaisonrouge.org

Centre Pompidou: 19, rue Beaubourg, 75004 Paris. Tel.: 01 44 78 12 33. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Métro: Rambuteau. Admission: €10-12. Through July 20. www.centrepompidou.fr/

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