Musee d’Art Moderne
The Musee d’Art Moderne is located in the Palais of Tokyo, which was built in 1937 for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology. Although awkwardly organized (with numbered galleries often not aligned with the time periods or artistic styles that they represent), is still a gem. It generally offers significant numbers of pieces that represent key styles and important artists.
The museum begins with a very small, but very symbolic display of African masks and art, which was such an inspiration for many of the early 20th-century artists and less directly, for those that came thereafter. Galleries, which are labeled as if they should generally be chronological around schools of art, are only inconsistently so.
The Cubist galleries, as would be expected, focus largely on Picasso and Braque and included (after seeing his death portrait of his close friend Carlos Casagemas at the Picasso Museum), this museum had a picture of his burial (which, unlike the portrait, actually is in the shades that predominate in the artist’s subsequent Blue Period, but also includes some very Chagall-like images). The museum also has a number of cubist pictures from other contemporary artists who experimented, but did not commit as deeply as Picasso and Braque to the Cubist style. These included Legar, Roussault, Lipshitz and even Chagall.
The Cubist galleries were followed by others that focused on contemporaneous artists and those who were influenced by varying combinations of Cubism and Matisse’s Fauvism, These include:
- A broad range of artists (the so-called School of Paris), some of whom had little in common other than that they were foreign-born, worked in Paris and some felt diverted attention and patronage from native French artists. These included Chagall, Modigliani, Dongen and a number of others)
- Those influenced largely by Matisse such as Dufy (who was generally a Fauvist), and Roussault (whose color-centric works combined Fauvist and Expressionist influences);
- Nabists, especially Bonnard and Vuillard, who combined Japanese techniques with contrasting color palette in their depictions of contemporary scenes;
Subsequent schools include, in greatly airing depth, profiles of schools including Surrealism (academic and illusionist) from the late 1920s to the 40s and Abstractionism (some geometric, primarily spontaneous) in the late 1940s through the 50s.
Smaller sections of galleries are, as in the larger Pompidou Center, devoted to a number of less influential subsequent periods. These include Dada (about 1916 through the 20s), New Realism (mid 1950s) and Fluxus.
Other galleries are dedicated to individual artists of whom the museum have particularly strong collections, which provides good opportunities to trace the evolution of these artists’ work. One of the most interesting for us was one dedicated to Georgio de Chirico, whose work over his long career ranged from realist to surreal, to metaphysical—often blurring temporal and spatial boundaries.
The museum also had a couple galleries devoted to Paris-modern-style decorative arts and furniture designs of the 1920s and 30s, as well as a number of other galleries devoted to various subsequent French arts.
The most massive, and one of the most engaging of all pieces in the exhibit was an entire convex-shaped room devoted to a 60×10-meter mural created by Fauvist-inspired Raoul Dufy in 1937 under commission by an electricity consortium for the Palais de la Lumière et de l’Electricité. This beautiful piece, named “The Electricity Fairy”, celebrates electricity by portraying the history of electricity, the scientists and inventors who made it possible, the wonders it had created to date and the what it may hold for the future. It is almost worth making a trip to the museum for this painting alone.
Better yet, if you can wait till October (which we could not), you can see all of this in addition to a temporary Andy Warhol exhibit.
National Museum of Asian Art
The large, Musee Guimet provides large samples of Asian art from virtually every country in the region, with particularly strong representation of China, Japan, India and Cambodia. Although the collection is wonderful, and the transition from one country’s art to the next is generally quite clear, the museum has little text (especially in English) that interprets trends or explains the unique influences that characterize the art of each country or region. Even the free audioguide provided relatively little such information. While people who truly understand such art (such as the friend who so highly recommended the museum) could explain the unique approach and contributions of this museum, we can provide only an impressionistic overview. (For more of our understanding of Asian art from each of these countries (except India, which we unfortunately last visited before we began this blog), see the “Asia” section of ActiveBoomerAdventures.com.)
The exhibition begins in India, which is certainly appropriate since it is the cradle of both Buddhism and Hinduism, two of the region’s most important religions (at least till the emergence of Islam). Its highlights are primarily representations of divinities. These include sandstone carvings, such as those that portray the smooth, graceful lines of their dress, and a wonderful bronze cast of a dancing shiva.
The India gallery leads to those of southeast Asia, where the Khmer art of Cambodia is the star. In fact, the massive, seven-headed stone sculpture of Angkor Wat’s Naga is the focal point and highlight of the entire museum. It is mounted high above all the other works in a tall room, is the first piece that catches your eye as you enter the galleries, and can be viewed from multiple angles from balconies and viewing ports from upper floors. (For an overview of our own two-day guided bike tour of Angkor Wat and other of neighboring temples, see the posts from our 2014 trip.)
The remainder of the Ground Floor traced art from other countries of southeast Asia, from Vietnam and Indonesia, through Thailand and Myanmar.
The First Floor delves much more deeply into the art of India, with highlights of neighboring central-Asian countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The floor ends with some ancient Chinese art (especially early bronzes and jade carvings) and then some of our favorites, ancient Chinese funerary objects which were made to be buried with deceased nobles. Although these almost mass-produced objects are not actually considered to be art, some are indeed beautiful and also say much about ancient society (before burials were replaced by Buddhist practices), especially cremation. This can be especially seen in the graceful figures of Tang Dynasty women polo players—an era when women were given more freedom to pursue activities that had previously been reserved for men.
The Second Floor focuses primarily on Classical Chinese arts, generally from the 14th through 17th centuries—especially Ming, blue and white and polychrome porcelains, and Chinese carvings. It then moves through Korean art (especially Celadon pottery).
It then provides a few impressive samples of Tibetan (deeply Buddhist) and Nepalese (focused especially on the convergence of Buddhist and Hindu images) religious art and provides a wonderful example of an Afghan stupa.
The Third Floor galleries begin with later Chinese porcelains (especially 19th-century Qing Dynasty), lacquer and furniture.
Japanese art is also well represented, especially graceful lines of its early wood carvings, its 6th-century move into Buddhism and human representations, expressive theater masks, exquisite lacquer work, etchings, screens and scrolls.
The centerpiece of the Third and Fourth Floors is the huge lacquer rotunda, with its library and a space in which French industrialist, collector and museum founder, Emile Guimet, invited an exotic dancer and courtesan–whom he gave the name Mata Hari—to perform an exotic, scantily-class dance in front of a select audience. The woman, who was later found to be a WWI German spy, was a big hit!