Monday, August 5, 2013

Paris (Day 2, Part 2) - Pompidou Centre

Pompidou Centre
As everyone knows, Paris was the hub of the art world for many decades. So traveling here means museums are going to be on your itinerary. This is where Jim and I ran into some problems. Jim is fine with museums and looking at art, but our opinions about art diverge a lot as we get into modern and contemporary works. Further, if left to my own devices, I could have happily spent all nine days gliding around the various Parisian museums and galleries, soaking up art. Jim is not interested in standing around all day looking at paintings.

Many say the secret of a successful relationship is compromise, and I suppose we were a model of this during our afternoon at Pompidou Centre. After cruising the modern art floor (probably too much time for Jim's taste), he was in no mood to check out the contemporary art floor. On my side, I would have spent much more time on the modern floor and then happily have tackled the contemporary stuff.  This is the inherent flaw in compromise. While everyone gets to influence the decision, the final decision doesn't make anyone really happy.

Personally, I think Jim and I should have seen this coming and planned for it. Just because we're a couple doesn't mean we do everything together. We're a couple, not Siamese twins! On a trip like this, why not have a day where we take off on separate trajectories? It certainly wouldn't have taken much thought to find something Jim would have enjoyed more than several hours of Matisse, Mondrian, and Braque. At the end of the day, we could meet at some great restaurant for dinner to regale each other with our adventures. So much better for everyone! Oh well, hindsight is 20-20.

Le Luxe I, 1907
Henri Matisse
Oil on canvas, 210 x 138 cm
If you're not a Matisse fanboy (or girl), I suggest you stop reading this post right now because I promise there is nothing of interest here for you.

I learned a great deal seeing some Matisse works in person. But then one always does learn more about art by seeing the real deal rather than pictures in a book or magazine. Photos often fail to get the colors exactly right, rarely convey the scale of the piece, and usually lose the texture of paint application. As a result, it's not wrong to say that a photo of a painting can be visually inaccurate.

The Matisse paintings at Pompidou Centre are an example of the inferior viewing experience provided by photographs of art. In photographs, Matisse's work takes on a solid, colorful appearance. Sort of like icons. The actual works are not this clean or simple. The colors are there, but the roughness of the brushstrokes are surprising if all you've seen are photos.

Matisse - like many modern artists - wasn't especially concerned about polish. Often, he wasn't even concerned about covering his entire canvas. You can see the lack of overt finesse in the way fields of color are sometimes not blended. There are also many places on his canvasses where brushstrokes were low on paint and leave most of the canvas or underlying color exposed. It appears Matisse made little attempt to hide these artifacts of his painting process.

I also wonder about how Matisse prepared his canvasses (or if he did). Standing before the actual works, you can see that some of the exposed areas are filthy. Not sure if that's due to a lack of priming or an issue with the history of the paintings. Also, in many works, Matisse's fields of color are cracked, which seems odd given the relative youth of these paintings. Not sure what that's all about, but it's interesting information to have in understanding the works and how they were made.

And this was just my experience with Matisse's works! The Pompidou's modern art floor had plenty of Cubism, Surrealism, Color Field, and installation works, including a Rothko and a Mitchell. Just too much to appreciate in a few short hours!

After we left the museum ('escaped' might be the word Jim would use), we went for dinner at a cafe just down the street. We were both dead tired by this point and were happy to relax with some wine and watch the world go by.
Jim enjoying a well-deserved meal and rest!

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