111op's Weekend in Paris & London

Nov 20th, 2006, 02:02 PM
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111op's Weekend in Paris & London

I went to Paris and London over the weekend to see -- well -- a few art shows and caught up with some friends. This is the report.


I arrived at my hotel around 12:30 pm. Since my room wasn't available until 2 pm, I left my bag in the breakfast room and went out right afterwards. I was a little concerned that I wasn't given a receipt since the room was freely accessible to everyone, but I figured that the receptionist must know what to do.

The area around the Bourse was pretty deserted on a Saturday, but this was quite a nice day with a great deal of sunshine. I decided to walk over to the old National Library nearby. But first I stumbled upon Galerie Vivienne and Galerie Colbert. While I've been to Galerie Vivienne, a beautiful covered passage that houses many shops, including a famous wine store called Legrand Fils et Filles, I've never been to Galerie Colbert. I'm still unclear what this is -- but it seems to fall under the umbrella of the National Library ("pour les services d'entrées des documents imprimés et pour l'informatique (1985)"). Nearby is a restaurant called Le Grand Colbert. I looked inside and the interior looked ornate but inviting. I wonder what it'd be like to eat there.

For Mois de la Photo, the National Library staged an exhibition of photographs by Ronis, Doisneau and a couple of other photographers I've never heard of (Boubat, for one -- but I think he's quite famous), no doubt due to my own ignorance. Paris and its denizens are mostly the stars of this show. I didn't get very much out of it. The reading room was also illuminated, and I looked through the glass doors and admired the beautiful interior again. It took me a few moments to realize that all the shelves were empty.

I still hadn't done any of the items on my list, so I decided to make my way for the Marais. My strategy was to take the Metro for the Pyramides stop and get off at Pont Marie. I passed r. Therese, where my mom and I stayed during a trip in the summer of 2002. I was amused to pass by a Japanese noodles shop (Sapporo) that I remembered from my stay then and to see people waiting to get in. I tried to look for Hotel Therese, but I didn't find it. However a web search seems to suggest that the hotel is still going strongly. When we stayed there in 2002, it had just opened and it wasn't expensive, but it's nice to see that it's now earning nice reviews on TripAdvisor.

After leaving the Metro at Pont Marie, I had my first views of the Seine. So there I was -- in Paris again! I decided to wander over to Berthillon to get some ice-cream. I opted for four flavors -- marron glace (I think it was 0.20 euro extra), chocolate, gianduja orange, and a flavor I now forget (was it nougat -- I think it was -- and it was excellent). I've heard a lot about the gianduja orange flavor at Berthillon -- chocolate flavored with orange -- but I've never managed to try this in my previous trips. So I was glad that I succeeded this time. And it was very good indeed.

After Berthillon I walked towards the Marais, and I passed what I believed were the gardens for Hotel de Sens, one of the earliest, if not the earliest, medieval structures still standing in Paris. While the gardens were pretty forlorn, I was having a good time since the city was rather quiet. I saw a woman eating her lunch there. As I walked further north, I discovered that I had serendipitously ended up on r. de Fourcy, where the Maison Europeenne de la Photographie is located. Since there're a few shows there I wanted to see, I went inside.

First I headed for the show on Andre Kertesz. This was a small show organized around three important photos by Kertesz: Chez Mondrian, Fork, and one of the photos from the Distortion series called no. 6. Actually the last photo was one I was unfamiliar with. The Met and the Art Institute of Chicago lent vintage contact prints and it was interesting to compare these with other incarnations of these images (in books, other prints, etc.). In particular, Kertesz enjoyed a retrospective at Beaubourg-Pompidou in the 1970s and made exhibition prints that were on display. The print of the fork looked especially dirty with specks on the table surface that weren't present in the contact print. I wondered by Kertesz didn't bother reprinting this. Then to show that art perhaps can't be divorced from money, a few auction catalogues were on display and reminded the audience that Kertesz vintage prints have easily fetched six figures in recent auctions.

Next I quickly waded through the galleries devoted to a celebration of the photojournalism magazine VU and the basement galleries -- devoted to a selection of photographers who were short-listed for some photography prize.

Then I left for Hotel de Sully. I remembered that an exit at the end of the Sully courtyard led to Place des Vosges. So I decided to stop by and take a look. It was hard not to grimace at hearing "Pachabel's Canon." If street musicians aren't playing "Four Seasons," you can bet they must be playing "Pachabel's Canon." Both pieces are way overplayed. But it was such a nice day out that I let this cliche pass. And indeed I was enjoying the music even though I was standing rather far away.

I went to Sully for a show on the American photographer Joel Meyerowitz. Though I've heard of him, I'm not familiar with his work, and I decided that this would be a good opportunity to learn. All the photos were taken around 1970-1980, if I remember right. There were many street scenes that revealed the wit and irony of the photographer that recalled other American photographers -- among them Winogrand and Eggleston. I was quite mesmerized by some other photos devoid of people but infused with a subtle, warm, yet colorful glow. I wondered how he captured this romantic spirit and then realized that some of the photographs were displayed without protective covers and printed onto plexiglass. One striking photo was taken in moonlight, and the sky and the water were rather dark but yet shimmered gloriously and seductively. To me this was one perfect counterpart to Monet's seminal sunrise painting.

It was now past 3 pm. I decided to try for the Doisneau exhibition at Hotel de Ville. An NYT article warned that this show is very popular and there's a one-hour wait. I got in one line and quickly realized that it was the wrong one, so I got into another one that was still incredibly long. Finally after waiting for about ten minutes, I decided to skip this and go to the Left Bank.

I arrived at Pierre Marcolini and bought 1 kg of chocolates. Then I asked if I could borrrow the phone. To my surprise, they agreed. For whatever reason, Parisians seemed much friendlier on this trip, and whenever I spoke English, they spoke English with me. A friend and I were supposed to meet at 6 for Paris Photo at Carrousel de Louvre. I called to leave a message that we meet at 6:30 pm instead. Next I wandered off to a Left Bank gallery to see some Man Ray photos and then crossed Pont des Arts for the Right Bank.

Daylight was unfortunately fading, so I decided to make the best use of my day by walking. I crossed Palais Royal and Daniel Buren's columns and the gardens with the carefully and strictly trimmed trees. The modern sculptures by Rickey and Snelson blended with their settings magnificently.

Finally I reached my hotel to check in. First I ran over to look for my bag and panicked when it wasn't there. Fortunately it had not been stolen and had instead been moved to my room. I booked a single since there was a minimum 2-night day for a double (even though the price was the same), and they indeed gave me a single. However the room was much nicer than my usual ones at Tiquetonne. This was, after all, a 3* hotel.

It was now around 5 pm (where did all the time go?), and I left my chocolates and hurried out again.

Link for Kertesz Exhibition:

Next Up: More Paris
111op is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 02:07 PM
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111OP: did I miss the name of your hotel?
Dukey is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 02:14 PM
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I didn't mention it. It's Hotel Cyrnos on r. Montmartre. I think the address is 154 r. Montmartre.
111op is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 02:17 PM
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Thanks..would you stay there again?
Dukey is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 02:21 PM
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For that price -- which was (I think) 61 euros + booking fee on RatesToGo -- of course. The Tiquetonne location can't be beaten, but this one is very close to the Bourse subway stop.

WillTravel pointed this hotel out to me last year when I had to look for a hotel in Paris when Tiquetonne was booked. Since it was booked again, I went back to Cyrnos.

Thanks again, WillTravel!

I think the rack rate is over 100 euros. I'd probably look for an alternative if I had to pay that rate.

111op is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 02:56 PM
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Leaving my hotel, I made my way for agnes b. I didn't have much interest in shopping since this isn't sale season, but I need a new pair of jeans and I don't like Diesel's recent designs. A comedy of errors of sorts enused. No, the jeans are downstairs. No, they are upstairs. But I was told.... Finally I found them tried them. After much hesitation about whether to buy -- the jeans were made in Lithuania and I also wondered if I should try to buy enough for a VAT refund (mininum of 175 euros) -- I decided to buy the jeans and a shirt also.

I was running out of time since Atelier Brancusi was closing at 6 pm. I went to Atelier Brancusi a few years ago. This part of Beaubourg is free. My interest wasn't in the Brancusi sculptures. Rather I was interested in seeing Sugimoto's work based on mathematical surfaces. This was a really small show -- there were two photographs and two sculptures, if I remember right. In any case, I didn't have much time before I was due to meet my friend at 6:30, so I went over to the main museum.

When I discovered that Yves Klein would get a retrospective in Paris, I was quite excited. Klein died of a heart attack when he was 34 but had many interesting ideas about art. He patented a shade of blue called IKB (International Klein Blue) and used it obsessively in his artwork. Often he'd attach dyed sponges to his paintings. He also staged performances and used nude female models to apply paint to his canvases. The show exhibited some of his fire paintings, made by scorch marks from fire, and these were new to me. In the end, I thought that many of these works didn't seem to age particularly well and that Klein's ideas were more interesting than the results, so I found this a little disappointing. But maybe I just didn't give the show the time that it deserved.

I was running quite late, so I had to skip the rest of the museum. Though part of the museum is being renovated, some works from the collection were being displayed on Level 4, where one could also find the Vija Celmins drawings I really wanted to see. Though there was a note on my ticket that it wasn't good for reentry, when I asked on Level 4, I was told that I could in fact return later.

Finally I arrived at Paris Photo at 6:50, and my friend had already been waiting for 20 minutes. Paris Photo is, I believe, an annual event. Mois de la Photo, however, takes place every other year. We looked around rather aimlessly. I was surprised to see little work by the heavy German hitters (I'm thinking of the Duesseldorf School led by Andreas Gursky), but there was some work by Candida Hoefer. I wasn't too surprised by this because she has a show at the Louvre currently.

We happened upon a book launch of Karl Lagerfeld's new work, and B told me that Lagerfeld came to the show discreetly when I was buying my ticket. So I missed Karl Lagerfeld!

Soon it was nearly 8 pm when Paris Photo would close. B was incredulous that I wanted to go back to Beaubourg. Well that's nothing new. I need to max out my sightseeing time, and I had to go back to see the Vija Celmins drawings. I had my doubts about whether I could reenter the museum, and to my surprise, I passed the initial checkpoint, so B chose to wait for me. I headed to Level 4, where I was simply waved through. I was glad that I didn't have to spend money on another ticket.

I've seen Celmins's work on ocean surfaces, night skies, spider webs many times. She seems to be able to find infinite variations in these themes with her fascinating gradations of gray and black. She also drew other objects hyperrealistically -- the show featured a drawing of an envelope sent to her, down to the creases and the handwriting of the envelope. Since I was already on Level 4, I figured that I might as well see what the museum chose to display from its permanent collection. Even though I had very limited time, I was glad that I made an effort. I saw two seminal films by the influential artist Bruce Nauman that I've read about before. There was also a film by Chuck Close called "Bob," where a man's face was filmed in extreme close-up. I also quickly glanced on a set of prints by Barnett Newman called "Canto."

Since my friend had already been waiting for half an hour and I had a reservation for the Titian exhibition at Musee du Luxembourg for 9 pm, we had to leave.


Paris Photo

Vija Celmins

Next Up: Titian exhibition and last of Paris
111op is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 05:00 PM
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I was pretty nervous about making the Titian exhibition at 9 pm. A month ago, I arrived at a concert about 10 minutes late in Berlin, and the box office had closed and I couldn't get in. I was again cutting it quite close. We arrived at 9:10 pm and the cashier would apparently have closed in just another five minutes. But there was no line, and my friend got in without a reservation.

The Titian exhibition received a well written and comprehensive review in NYT, but unfortunately this is now a premium article. I'm interested in shows like these for a couple of reasons. I always look at labels to see where the paintings come from, and I get progressively more excited when the list is varied. For the Titian show, the Vatican Museums, Uffizi, Vienna, Detroit, among many other museums, all sent paintings. A few came from the Capodimonte in Naples -- not surprisingly, as this show was first seen there. For whatever reason, I tend to find Titian's male portraits more captivating than the female ones. The men seem to have more varied poses and expressions, whereas the women seem more subdued. But the portrait of "Judith with the Head of Holofernes" from Detroit is a noteworthy exception. As Alan Riding writes in his Times review, Titian managed to capture "her ecstasy at decapitating Holofernes," yet she "is no less sensual." And Isabella d'Este, upon seeing her portrait sent from Vienna for this show, purportedly said that "even at 20, she was not that beautiful."

Riding thinks that the portrait of Pietro Aretino (from the Uffizi) is a masterpiece. I guess I'm more likely to agree with Aretino, who complained that it looked unfinished. Evidently Titian's technique changed as he aged -- and his early work frequently seems more refined and captivating to me. In particular, I'm thinking of a painting like "The Concert," housed in the Pitti Palace, which I saw in DC a few months ago in a show on early Venetian Renaissance painting. But about thirty years separate the two paintings, and yet another 30 would pass before Titian would paint his Pieta (left unfinished) at Accademia in Venice. Like his teacher Bellini, Titian lived a long, productive life. Just as Titian changed, undoubtedly my tastes would develop and change, and this is why these art shows are always challenging and thought provoking for me. There's always something to learn and to ponder.

So finally my sightseeing in Paris had come to a close. There were no more museums, no more art shows. My friend suggested that we have dinner nearby, and we stumbled upon a restaurant that looked quite popular. I think it was La Bastide Odeon, which specializes in Provencal cuisine. I found this a little pricey -- I think the menu was about 38 euros per person -- but it was late and we didn't want to look any further (and I left the Routard guidebook I brought at the hotel). Also the fact that it was busy was a good sign. So we settled in, and my friend had a glass of Givry. I started with rabbit wrapped in pastry (when it arrived, my friend exclaimed, "That's a spring roll!") and he had artichokes. Then I had some fish, and we both thought that the portion was pathetic. Just a few bites and it was gone. My friend had scallops that came with "lard grillé." I was shocked that he would be eating grilled lard, but he assured me that it was bacon. Finally my dessert was a sorbet in a vanilla sauce with clementine oranges, and his was a quince tart.

The bill arrived, and I didn't bother looking at it as my friend wanted to treat me. I felt guilty that he took me out to dinner and paid for my Paris Photo ticket. But I did bring him a present -- which unfortunately he had no need for (but for a good reason!). And as he said, I'd treated him many times, including lunch at Le Cinq. So I guess he does owe me. Laugh.

When we left the restaurant, it started to rain. I was thankful that it didn't rain earlier, and the weather was in fact perfect. We took the train and then went our separate ways.

I returned to the hotel past midnight, and the lights weren't working. I went down to reception and explained, and it turned out that they had turned off a power switch. Then I pondered my nightlife options, and I figured that I'd try out a place nearby. Unfortunately it was closed, so I had to return to the hotel to look at my maps again. Then I went out again to a place that I was pretty sure would be open. After breathing lots of second-hand smoke (what else is new?), I finally left and slept at 3 am.

I set my alarm for 6 am, but I got up and discovered that I had shut off my alarm clock. Not a good sign, I thought. My clock was still showing NY time, and it took me a few sleepy moments to figure out that it was 7 am. I told myself, no, this can't be -- I've an 8 am train to take. The clock must be wrong, as it was still dark outside. I called reception, and no one answered. Then I remembered that the elevator showed the time also, and I went out to check it. Make no mistake, it was 6:50 am.

So I hurriedly packed the rest of my stuff and rushed off to check out (without showering -- apologies to all who'd come into contact with me later that day). I knew that a last-minute one-way ticket to London would cost about $300, and I wasn't about to miss my train -- especially since I once paid about $300 for the next flight to Berlin from Paris when I missed my flight. The night clerk, a jovial Frenchman, convinced me that I should try walking to Gare du Nord. It will take you ten minutes, he said. My plan was to take the Metro, but since I'd have to switch trains and they run less frequently on Sundays, I figured walking wasn't a bad option even though it was still drizzling. I could always run, I thought.

Fortunately I only had to walk a few short blocks before I spotted a cab. The cab driver spoke perfect English as well. I was gripped with fear when I noticed that he had turned off the meter and waited for another turn before he headed towards the station. Shouldn't you have turned, I asked? He explained to me that he wasn't allowed to do so earlier, and there was a minimum charge of 5.50 euros for taxis in Paris. Since I vaguely remember this during a previous trip, I was satisfied with his explanation.

The Eurostar office wasn't even open yet. It'd open at 7:20 am. I picked up my ticket and bought pain au chocolat (I was given -- and I guess, charged for -- two) and water from Paul. I really had plenty of time (the train would depart at 8:07 am -- not 8 am -- why was I rushing really?). Since I bought my ticket late, first class was actually the cheapest option, and I had completely forgotten that this privilege comes with breakfast. So I ate a lot that morning.

I also managed to sleep on most of the train ride. The train pulled into Waterloo at 10 am. I left my bags at the now familiar luggage office, bought a one-day Travelcard for zones 1-6 (good for Heathrow later that day, and this is now 7.40 pounds!) and set off for a few hours of adventure in London.

Links to Titian's paintings



Frommer's Link for La Bastide Odeon:


Next Up: A Few Hours in London
111op is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 05:46 PM
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Fabulous trip report as usual!
Fabulous trip too, she sighs enviously

My daughter is there right now, spent the day with Michael Osman..I will send her this in case she needs ideas
Scarlett is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 05:49 PM
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Thanks. How long is she staying for?
111op is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 05:53 PM
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I arrived at Tate Modern a few minutes before my friend arrived at the appointed time of 10:30 am. We wanted to get on Carsten Holler's slides. There was already a line, and after a short wait, we were told that we could get on the Level 5 slides at 1 pm or try the other ones at 11:30 am. We opted for the next highest ones -- the Level 4 slides -- even though I had joked that 4 sounds like "death" in Chinese. So much for superstition when time is of the essence.

We then went to see the retrospective on Fischli & Weiss.

Around 11:30 am, we got in line for the slides. My friend went down first. Not surprisingly I had trouble initially, being terribly uncoordinated. Since we were given protective off-white fabric to sit on (with pockets for our shoes), I found it awkward to straighten my legs. And the slides were slippery. Also I was hiding the Fischli-Weiss catalogue in my sweater and was afraid that it would slip out and hit someone. While my friend was waiting in line I decided that I didn't want to waste a minute and went to the bookstore, and I didn't want to waste time checking my catalogue.

But finally I was able to position myself to slide down.

And off I went. Very quickly. And rather dangerously. By the time I slid out, my right palm was dark since I was trying to slow myself down.

I had sent my friend an e-mail about the lines for the slides before I went to London, and he couldn't understand why they'd be so popular. Rather dismissively, he said, I've been on a slide before! So have all of us, of course. We both understood the novelty factor of slides in a museum like the Tate Modern, but this is truly an experience. I'm not sure if I'd call it fun though. I also wondered if a project like this could be realized in America. Somehow I doubt it. The potential for lawsuits would simply be too great. And it was clear that we needed the protective gear the museum provided -- like the elbow guards.

Right before I left for London, I learned that the coming weekend was the weekend when the RCA Secret postcards went on sale. I first learned about the postcards about three years from reading an NYT article (unfortunately, a premium one again). The author of the article describes the excitement and intrigue in trying to find a bargain in art with this sale: "When I became an art historian, my mother decided that my only hope for financial security was to stumble on a Rembrandt at a garage sale. Last weekend was my chance." This sale is wildly popular and people start camping days before the show to vie for the chance at first pick -- this year, the rules changed, and the first 50 spots are raffled off. The postcards are signed only at the back, and you can't be completely sure if you're buying artwork by a student or by a superstar like Damien Hirst, but they are all priced the same. I even thought about trying to be in London when the sale was happening. Finally I decided that it'd be too much hassle to change my plans, but I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was about.

My guidebook didn't list RCA in its index, so we had to ask around in Tate Modern where the college is. Finally we found out that it's near Royal Albert Hall. Since time was short and we'd still need to walk a fair amount from the closest tube station, when we spotted a cab outside the museum, we took it.

That was one expensive, 22 pound cab ride. The fare was probably higher than it should be since our driver had a little trouble locating RCA (I thought London cab drivers know everything!). My friend offered to share the cost, but I figured that I was the one who wanted to take the cab, so I should pay for it. We both agreed that it was a relaxing way to travel in London. It was pleasant to chat and catch up during the cab ride.

I didn't have time to see all 2500 postcards carefully. There was a list of participating artists at the college (I don't think it's available online), and after glancing at it, I decided that maybe this wasn't really such a bargain after all. But I may still send my friend a list if he decides to go to the sale this weekend.

So about fifteen minutes later, I announced that I had to get going. My friend was surprised that I wouldn't be eating lunch with him. But I've two more museums to go to! I felt guilty since his birthday was coming up. Instead I left him a box of chocolates and promised that I'd buy him a meal the next time.

I next went to Tate Britain to see the Holbein exhibition, which I'll write more about separately. I took another cab, and this cost 14 pounds. I managed to spend about 40 minutes there, and I had to leave around 2:30 pm since I had a reservation for the 2:30 pm slot for the Velasquez exhibition at the National Gallery.

Finally I decided that I had spent enough money on cabs (and I was nearly out of cash). I took the tube and arrived at the museum at 2:50 pm. I picked up my ticket, and I actually had until 3 pm to enter the exhibition. I left the museum around 3:45 pm for my 8 pm flight from Heathrow. Since I wasn't sure how tight security at Heathrow was, I didn't want to cut it too close.

But first I called another friend after retrieving my bag from Waterloo from a pay phone. It seemed indecent not to call a close friend to chat -- even if briefly -- before I left central London. We spent about fifteen minutes chatting, and I was surprised that I could talk so long for 50p. I guess calling a land line instead of a mobile phone makes all the difference!


Tate Modern Slides

RCA Secret Postcards

2003 NYT Article -- "Wish You Were Sol LeWitt"


Next Up: Fischli & Weiss, Velasquez
111op is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 05:59 PM
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She will be there most of this week, then on to Brussels then back to Amsterdam..
From the little text messages I am getting, she is having a great time and happy the weather is staying good.
Thanks again for posting this excellent report, I am going to look at the Tate Modern.
Scarlett is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 06:06 PM
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I've been amazed by how nice the weather was. Actually it's also been very warm in NYC. I read that it's the El Nino effect we're having.

Your daughter is very fortunate to be there right now. I've never gone to Europe at this time of the year before this weekend, and I'm glad I did. Few tourists, friendly locals, nice experience.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

111op is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 06:09 PM
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Fischli & Weiss

These two artists are so famous that I've heard of them but have seen very little of their work.

The Tate Modern organizes its exhibitions intelligently, and it's always a pleasure. Each show comes with a pamphlet that details the exhibits in each room and explains the ideas behind them. Even without purchasing a catalogue, one can get a good sense for what the artists are up to.

The book Fischli & Weiss: Flowers and Questions -- A Retrospective is not really a catalogue in the strict sense. Rather it's a compendium of essays by various people on the work by the pair, some of which can be seen in the retrospective.

In her essay, Tacita Dean summarizes the spirit of this pair well:

But this confluence of cultural pretensions and cultural detritus is where Fischli/Weiss find their work. Nothing delights them more than deflating the majestic or elevating the quotidian, playing with our social signifiers, realigning them, redescribing them. Their material is our rubbish, our platitudes and our banalities, which they transmit like alchemists.

Specifically, she writes about a piece called son et lumiere, also exhibited at the Tate Modern, where the pair constructed a simple sound and light show out of a wobbly turnable and a projection device that projects green light onto a plastic cup. As the turntable rotates, the light projected on the wall changes. Fischli/Weiss has reduced the son et lumiere of grandiose summer light spectacles into something simple but no less captivating.

This same underlying principle applies to their other work. The first room displayed sculptures of the mundane, but it was only when I read the pamphlet that I realized that the pair used rubber for this work. Other sculptures were fashioned out of polyurethane and even clay. A series of clay sculptures was especially humorous. While they looked very ordinary, the accompanying labels were frequently humorous and at times simply hilarious. One showed a couple lying peacefully in bed and tucked in under a blanket. This is meant to depict Einstein's parents moments after their son, "the genius Albert", was born.

This retrospective is a great testament to the pair's fecund imagination, wit and ingenuity. Humorous, yet thougtful.


Forty-six paintings are on view in this exhibition, spanning the artist's career. An accompany catalogue simply called Velazquez (by Dawson Carr with four co-authors) comes with essays that charts the influences on and the technique of this extraordinary painter -- someone whom Manet called "the painter of painters."

Michael Kimmelman reviewed this show for the Times recently. It echoes many of the sentiments expressed in the catalogue. In a way, Velasquez was well ahead of his time and, in my view, could be regarded as the first impressionist. As Dawson Carr writes in the catalogue on Velasquez's late style in "Philip IV in Brown and Silver," "the limited range of colours was applied with apparently unsystematic squiggles, dashes and daubs of paint, but from a few paces back, these coalesce into a brilliant impression of sparkling, plush fabric." Velasquez "was aware of the power of the eye to blend and complete that which is suggested to it." (p. 36)

According to the catalogue, the National Gallery owns nine paintings by Velasquez and Britain houses eighteen paintings. London, after Madrid, is the best city for his work, as some paintings can be found in the Aspley House in Duke Wellington's collection.

Speaking of the Aspley House, my favorite painting in the entire show is a portrait of Pope Innocent X. This painting is related to a very similar one in Rome in Doria Pamphilj. In the Rome portrait, Velasquez followed the time-honored tradition of seated papal portraits (after Raphael), but the seat is missing in the London portrait. The catalogue suggests that the London portrait could be a copy in Velasquez's hand, but one can't establish chronology for certain. Still the likeness of the Pope seems remarkable and the portrait is truly captivating. Francis Bacon is reputed to be "obsessed" by this painting and thinks that "it's one of the greatest portraits that has ever been made." (p. 110)

Velasquez is of course also well known for his royal portraits. Apart from those of the King, Velasquez painted portraits of the royal family, including two ill-fated heirs and three women who shared a certain likeness. One woman portrayed was Queen Maria of Austria. She was initially promised to Philip IV's son Baltasar Carlos (who died), and instead she married Philip IV. Now -- get this -- she was also his niece. Yet another woman, Infanta Maria Teresa, was portrayed by Velasquez. She was the daughter of Philip IV and his first wife (he had to remarry because an heir died). Her similarity to her stepmother "was the cause of frequent confusion... (even for such a brilliant connoisseur as Justi)" (p. 230). She married Louis XIV of France. Then finally, there was the Infanta Magarita (also star of "Las Meninas") who was born to the King and his second, Austrian wife. The portrait of the Infanta in a blue dress is in the show at the National Gallery.

An exhibition on Velasquez would be sadly incomplete without the loans by Prado. One painting lent is one of the first mythological paintings called "The Forge of Vulcan." It was nice to see this again, as I saw it in Madrid in August. What caught my eye is the white jug on the shelf, where Velasquez showed his dazzling mastery of still life. Of course Prado couldn't send everything. It didn't send "Las Meninas" (which I believe is never allowed to leave the museum) or "The Spinners (Fable of Arachne)." In this painting, Velasquez showed that he was still interested in how best to depict reality and to depict motion and movement. The spinning wheel in this painting is impressive and is foreshadowed by the early work in the colaescing egg whites in the painting lent by the National Gallery of Scotland.

In the early paintings that open the show, Velazquez demonstrated his affinity for people from all classes of society -- like Caravaggio -- in a series of bodegones (I think this is translated as a "kitchen secne"). Other religious paintings round out the show.


Kimmelman's NYT review

Doria Pamphilj Pope Innocent X

111op is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 07:29 PM
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Thanks 111op. I always love your trip reports. Though the wear me out!
indytravel is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 08:47 PM
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I went to Paris and London this past February. By myself, it was great to spend as much time in museums as I wanted. Also to wander here and there, at my whim. Thank you for reminding me of that feeling of freedom.
travelgirl2 is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 10:09 PM
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Fascinating post. Enjoyed reading. So very glad you accidently posted in US forum. Thanks.
elnap29 is offline  
Nov 21st, 2006, 05:01 AM
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These opportunities to drop by Europe as you do...what gifts?! Great report.
Thanks. Next time I go, I'm going to do some "art" homework...you know so much!
SuzieC is offline  
Nov 21st, 2006, 01:41 PM
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Thanks. I do always feel like I need a real vacation after going overseas. But at least the pace in Paris was pretty slow at first. I even got some ice-cream!

I do feel very fortunate to live in NYC where Europe is so accessible with so many direct flights. Flying there is not much more difficult than flyign to the West Coast.

I do feel guilty about spending the money, but then, my hotels are usually quite cheap, and I usually only splurge on a few meals. It's not like I've cash to burn, of course. Plus I don't really travel domestically these days. I figured that I'm enjoying myself, so if I can go, why not?
111op is offline  
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