IT WAS THE WEEK BEFORE FIAC and tout de Paris was calm. Without much fanfarebut in the presence of the Instagramming French president Emmanuel Macronthe Picasso Museum took the lead by opening “Picasso 1932: An Erotic Year.”
Imagine Donald Trump showing support for a museum! (Or a museum inviting him to see pictures that he wasn’t in.)
Macron picked the right show. Though limited to one year, and basically one subjectamourthis has to be the most resonant exhibition on view in Paris. You think you’ve seen enough Picasso?
Trust me, you haven’t.
“I’ve never seen a lot of this!” agreed one guest, FIAC director Jennifer Flay. A number of paintings and drawings here are seldom, if ever, shown to the public. There are stunning examples of Picasso’s post-Cubist, post-neoclassical periods, including a crucifixion that is pure B&D. (Another has brushwork associated more with Cy Twombly or Joan Mitchell than Picasso, whose technique emerged more clearly than I’d ever seen it. “Maybe it’s the lighting,” suggested dealer Daniele Balice.)
Paris is a city that loves art, though probably not more than fashion.
If you’re the richest man in the country, and your name is Bernard Arnault, you run with both.
First, you build an empire of luxury-goods companies (LVMH) and then create a foundation, in the corporate name of Louis Vuitton, for a private art collection that you house on public land in a building designed by Frank Gehry.
Because you can.
You can also haul in treasures from other, more historic collections to show your friends. Last fall, when the Shchukin Collection from Russia went on view in the glassy Gehry blimp, the Louis Vuitton Foundation was the toast of Paris, maybe all of Europe.
Art works! It breathes humanity into money.
Last Monday, when “Being Modern: MoMA in Paris” settled into its temporary quarters, MoMA director Glenn Lowry was on hand to shepherd it. “Our largest audience is French,” Lowry told me, adding that the show was an opportunity for the museum to give something back.
To a well-funded private museum?
“MoMA’s collection is also private,” noted Quentin Bajac, the French-born photography curator, who organized this cross-disciplinary sampler with Lowry. “The foundation has given us a platform in Paris that’s unique,” the latter said. “No other venue would have permitted a show like this.” I’m guessing that no other venue could afford it, either.
“In France, we don’t respect money,” said LVF director Suzanne Pagé, a refrain I would hear repeated over succeeding days by several other natives. “It’s a cliché, this notion of money,” Pagé said. “We consider only the work. And we never sell.”
I have to say that it was pretty weird to see Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse and one of Brancusi’s Bird in Spaces in a below-ground environment, even if it actually does give each plenty of room. Initially, the introductory gallery felt very coals-to-Newcastle, especially considering the origins of some of the works, and particularly Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, which anyone in Paris can see at the Pompidou any day of the week.
Then again, Parisians who have never been to MoMA might welcome the chance to see art that hasn’t been on native soil in six decades, or that has never appeared here at all.
“If you don’t know what happened before,” Pagé observed, “you can’t break the rules. And all of these artists have been rule-breakers.”
From there, what could I do but dive into the Pompidou, mostly to catch the David Hockney retrospective soon to depart for the Met, where it will be half the sizeand possibly stronger for the edit.
If Frieze Week in London was replete with exhibitions by American artists, it is even more remarkable to find the house-proud French putting out the welcome mat for our institutions.
MoMA isn’t the only one. “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist” at the Grand Palais started out at the Art Institute of Chicago. And the Whitney Museum has provided the Musée Maillol, strangely, with an exhibition of Pop art.
Even the weather in Paris has been welcoming. The trees say it’s autumn but the thermometer remains in late summerperfect for the dedicated flâneur. I spent a couple of satisfying afternoons in the Marais visiting galleries (and avoiding spirit-crushing news from the US) and diving into a wowser of a retrospective for the House of Dior at the Louvre’s Decorative Arts Museum, an overcrowded and overheated experience that was nevertheless enthralling, especially whenever the designs of John Galliano came into view.
The French also like to give out prizes. The Prix Meurice, for example, is given annually to an emerging artist. Now in its tenth year, the jury (including Palais de Tokyo director Jean de Loisy, fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, and Montpellier Museum of Contemporary Art director Nicolas Bourriaud) went to Morgan Courtois, who exhibited easily the most distinctive work, a sculpture that looked something like a diseased stalk of corn. “It has a fragrance,” the artist told me, encouraging me to take a whiff.
During the week, there were dinners in private homes that saw Americans banding together at separate left-bank parties given by artist Alexander May and Young Kim, where MoMA curator Stuart Comer was the guest of honor. Dinner at Beaucoup following the opening of Adam McEwen’s “Ice Ice Baby” at Galerie Art: Concept was more of a family affair. His new paintings of man-made disasters on kitchen spongewith fetching graphite attachments, like a toilet plunger and a hula-hoopbrought all three of his sisters. (The siblings’ grandfather went down on the Titanic.)
It also drew family friends, like the expat Bruno Schmidt and Carmel Johnson, rarely seen in New York since the days of Club 57, the performance cabaret cofounded by Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf in the late 1970s. (It will reappear later this month, on Halloween, in its own retrospective at MoMA.)
By the weekend, other galleries started gearing up for the increasingly visible FIAC influx. Emmanuel Perrotin mounted a double-header for Julio Le Parc and Daniel Arsham. Chantal Crousel presented her third solo with Haegue Yang, whose sculptures turn natural materials otherworldly.
And for his first show in Paris with Almine Rech, George Condo brought both new paintings and canvases he made while living here in the 1980s, when Bernard Ruiz-Picasso (Rech’s other half) began collecting them.
For the dinner at their apartment, in a building that reminded me of One Sutton Place South, Ruiz-Picasso thoughtfully placed paintings and sculptures by Condo around the salon, where dealers Simon Lee and Per Skarstedt gathered for cocktails with everyone’s favorite charity auctioneer, Simon de Pury; collector and Cahiers d’Art publisher Staffan Ahrenberg; Pompidou curator Didier Ottinger; and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris director Fabrice Hergott.
“You can see everything on YouTube,” Condo enthused. “Everything!” Recently he watched a film of Glenn Gould speaking extemporaneously about Bach. “He was brilliant,” Condo said. “He wanted to stay behind the times. I do too. I don’t want to be ahead of my time. I never did.”
Ruiz-Picasso, however, had a different perspective. “Artists create our future,” he said.
Compared to New York or London, Paris is a small town. Is it always like this?
Sunday afternoon, the choreographer William Forsythe was the center of attention for VIP guests invited to munch on fish tacos and sliders at the afternoon opening of his “Choreographic Objects” in Gagosian’s hangar of a gallery at Le Bourget airport.
During a twenty-one-minute sequence, two robots waved enormous black silk sails through the yawning space, furling and unfurling their banners in a duet that had them almost touching and then scooting apart, only to catch each other’s rhythm and move together, then resting. “We spent a lot of time negotiating with the air,” Forsythe said, adding that he had the assistance of his son, an AI genius, on the robots’ programs.
More humanmake that superhumanwas Alignigung, a confounding slo-mo video that showed two dancers (the tattooed Rauf “Rubber Legs” Yasit and the porcelain-skinned Riley Watts) knotting up together in near-fetal position and rolling across the screen like a flower whose petals never quite open, without once coming apart. “You think you know everything two bodies can do,” Forsythe told Serpentine Gallery artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist. “And then you don’t.”
And you think you know the calendar until you enter “Camille Henrot: Days Are Dogs,” the third artist-curated Carte Blanche exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo. Though the show includes six other artists Henrot chose, her painting, sculpture, and videos dominate the massive galleries in a restless profusion of installations organized according to the seven days that humankind imposes to form a weekonly here they don’t appear in chronological order.
Avery Singer contributed seven paintings that start the show, leading into Saturday, Henrot’s immersive new 3-D follow-up to Grosse Fatigue, the video that won her a Silver Lion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Saturday features baptismal ceremonies that heal and delude revivalist practitioners, as well as scrolling news feeds of all the horrible events that took place around the world on Saturdays over the past year.
Though the exhibition was shot through with a dark, forbidding, or melancholy toneyou have to get to Thursday to reach a lighter passagethe size and complexity were mightily impressive. “I think it’s great that a woman did all of this,” said a proud Helene Winer, cofounder of Metro Pictures, which cohosted a buffet dinner with Kamel Mennour and Johann König at Alléno, a restaurant in a park off the Place de la Concorde. “It’s also a great moment for Camille to have done it in Paris, where all of her old friends can see what she’s been up to.” A glance at her table showed her surrounded by attractive men.
The party also drew other artists from each gallery, including Cindy Sherman, Tatiana Trouvé, and Katharine Grosse, and a couple hundred other peoplecollectors, curators, and the six other artists’ dealers all gearing up for FIAC week by imbibing champagne, chowing down on paella and pastries, and negotiating the air of Paris.
Outside, the Eiffel Tower sparkled over the Seine and all seemed right with the world, even though headlines from home said otherwise.
Funny thing, though. Suddenly I had no idea what day it was.
Were we getting ahead of our time, or watching it run out?