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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Paris Notes

Why I Love the French: Aside from the fact that they drink more espresso than should be humanly possible and smoke even while erratically driving motor scooters at high speed, I love the French because they teach tolerance and respect from an early age.

Case in point: while I was walking through the permanent collection at the Centre Pompidou, I crossed paths with a museum educator escorting a group of primary-school-aged children. He brought them into a gallery of portraits from early in the last century and sat them down smack dab in front of the most controversial of the lot—a painting of a transvestite drinking in a bar. I don’t have enough French to understand how he was talking about the work with the kids, but I loved the fact that he took them straight to the most charged work in the room and got down to business.

I can’t imagine the fallout that would have ensued if this scene had played out in the city in middle America where I grew up.

Maurizio Cattelan on a Roof at the Louvre: It’s not a self-portrait, but it’s as unmistakably Cattelan as a work can be. Sitting on a roof of one of the Louvre’s wings, near I.M. Pei’s glass pyramids, is a child-sized dummy mechanically banging a metal drum. With no interpretive context for the work and no explanatory signage, it’s drawing amused and puzzled stares from everyone waiting in line to enter the museum. With this placement, the work is getting as many eyeballs a day as the Mona Lisa gets.

They will let the poor kid come down from the roof next February.

Sounds and Lights at the Centre Pompidou: Sons & Lumières is the best show I saw that I won’t be writing about in a longer piece.

Curators Sophie DuPlaix and Marcella Lista have brought together 400 works from a side path to twentieth-century art history and organized them according to three historically-embedded, coherent themes: correspondences, imprints, and ruptures.

The show even closes with a two-work epilogue—Rodney Graham’s A Reverie Interrupted by the Police and Pierre Huyghe’s L’Expédition scintillante, a musical, Acte 2 “Untitled” (Light Box) (at left). Set, as it is, as the closer to this show, Huyghe’s work looks even better than it did when the Guggenheim exhibited it in New York on Huyghe’s receipt of the 2002 Hugo Boss Prize.

This show requires multiple visits to be able to write about competently. Since I only had a couple hours to spend with it, I won’t do it an injustice by saying anything other than this: it’s an exhibition that any curator would be proud to have assembled.

Hiroshi Sugimoto at the Cartier Foundation: Sugimoto is showing 19 photographs of old mathematical and mechanical models he found in the museum of the University of Tokyo. The works have the richly toned surface and conceptual coldness of all of his large-format pieces, but they lack the intrigue of most of his other work. Although the concept that Sugimoto has used to design the installation is somewhat specious, the installation itself for the stupendous gallery space in Jean Nouvel’s Cartier Foundation makes seeing the show there a memorable experience.

Update: The December 5 New York Times Magazine runs a portfolio of works included in this show.

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