I am sorry to be so late in reviewing Sophie Calle’s exhibition “Beau Doublé, Monsieur le Marquis!” at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (February 11 is the last day), but if you get a chance to go within the next a few days, please do. It’s worth it.
If not, go anyway. Housed in a beautiful Marais townhouse, the museum is like a cabinet of curiosities with its amazing historical collection of taxidermied animals, guns, paintings, sculpture, furniture and much more. Intriguing works by contemporary artists are woven into the collection in such a way that it sometimes takes a while to puzzle out what’s old and what’s new.
Calle is a kind of frustrated novelist and autobiographer who likes to tell her stories through her own photographs, illustrated by long texts hung next to them on the wall. For this exhibition, she shares the limelight with the sculptor Serena Carone and with the museum’s many beasts, objects and artworks, to wonderful effect.
Calle’s work is especially well adapted to this hunting and nature museum: she is something of a hunter herself – tracking strangers in the street for one of her pieces, and having herself tracked by a private detective for another – and because she herself owns taxidermied animals, some of which feature in the show.
The exhibition samples some of her earlier work, beginning with her 2003 exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, and also includes a few new works. It starts with her touching tribute to her deceased father. “The death of my father paralyzed me,” she said in an interview. “The person for whom I wanted to create art was longer there to see my work.” She was out of ideas. But humor is never far away with Calle. When she saw a promotional sign advising, “Pêchez des idées chez votre poissonnier,” she went to see her fishmonger, Sylvain, for help. He suggested that she try the salmon. The sign and a short video of her discussion with Sylvain can be seen in the show, along with a surprisingly beautiful tapestry of gutted fish by Carone.
In the next room is a striking installation by Carone consisting of a realistic, life-sized sculpture of a reclining woman hiding her face with a be-ringed hand and wearing a fabulously ornate dress, covered with sea creatures and flowers. She is surrounded by some of the museum’s once-alive denizens: a snarling tiger, an owl, a baby zebra, a giraffe, a peacock and a crow.
As you wend your way through the museum’s many rooms, filled with one fascinating artifact after another, keep an eye out for quaint little frames containing short texts by Calle. One, accompanied by a photo of Freud, tells the story of how her father sent her to see a doctor because he thought she had bad breath. He mistakenly sent her to a psychoanalyst, a profession he despised. When she told the doctor that there had been an error, he said, “Do you always do what your father tells you to do?” She became his patient.
The exhibition continues right up to the attic, where you will find two of Calle’s longer projects, one focusing on empty benches in public spaces and the other on personal ads. Make sure you leave enough time to be distracted along the way.