La Lune: Du Voyage Réel aux Voyages Imaginaires

Shine a Little Light

May 1, 2019By Heidi EllisonExhibitions
The Moon, Grand Palais Paris
“Private Moon” (2003-17), by Leonid Tishkov. © Léonid Tishkov

If you have been mooning around wondering why no one has ever staged an exhibition about that big cheese ball in the sky, your worries are over. The Grand Palais is holding a show called “The Moon: Real and Imaginary Journeys” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

The Moon, Grand Palais Paris
View of the exhibition, with Sylvie Fleury’s “First Spaceship on Venus” (2018) on the left, and a model of a space capsule on the right. © Rmn-Grand Palais 2019 / Photo Didier Plowy

The exhibition begins with a number of artifacts from that historic moment when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, which, to the world’s disappointment, turned out to be made of sterile stone and not Camembert after all. The astral body that had fascinated and frightened humanity throughout its existence – “a blank page on which Earthlings continuously write their own stories,” say the curators – was just a big rock orbiting the earth.  

We have here lots of paraphernalia the astronauts took into space with them, including Michael Collins’ surprisingly simple-looking plastic “intravehicular helmet”; a razor and Old Spice shaving cream; dehydrated beef hash for dinner; photos of the “Earthrise,” the moon surface and the moonwalkers taken from Apollo 11; and so on.

After this documentary foray into moon exploration, the exhibition turns to the “kaleidoscope” of interpretations of the moon in literature and art. 

Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury’s shiny pink “First Spaceship on Venus” (2018) sculpture is a comment on the severe shortage of women astronauts. South Africa’s William Kentridge chips in with one of his amusing and strangely engaging collage-like short films, “Journey to the Moon” (2003), a nice modern complement to excerpts from George Meliès’s wonderful 1902 fantasy film Un Voyage dans la Lune. 

The Moon, Grand Palais Paris
“Le Monde” (1931), by Man Ray. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Adagp Paris 2019

With his usual wry humor, the photographer Man Ray, when asked to create an ad for an electricity company, provided the moon with a light switch. 

We also get a scientific look at the moon as seen through telescopes by cartographers as early as the 17th century. Photographers started making a contribution to moon lore in the 19th century. 

The Moon, Grand Palais Paris
A Kwezi (Moon) mask from the Luba culture in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1900s. © Photo R. Asselberghs MRAC Tervuren

Just about anything related to the moon is fair game for this exhibition. It continues with contemporary installations, paintings from every era (the Romantics, of course, were very fond of atmospheric depictions of moonlight); artifacts from early civilizations like the Kwezi mask from the Congo pictured above (a little more explanation of why some of these pieces were included in the show would have been appreciated); and so on. 

The Moon, Grand Palais Paris
“Clair de Lune sur le Port de Boulogne” (1869), by Édouard Manet. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay)/Hervé Lewandowski

The photo at the top of the page is from Leonid Tiskov’s series “Private Moon” (2003-07), something we’d all like to have to shine a little light into our lives (though we might need Man Ray’s switch to turn it off for a while). In the meantime, you can go see “The Moon” at the Grand Palais or just look up into the night sky now and then.

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