Under a regime of what might be called “torture tourism,” prompted by the constraints of limited time, we bought a four day ticket to an array of Paris’ museums, for, if one crams things, a discount. Our first use was to visit the Concierge, formerly a prison for none other than that Marie, as well as others headed for a beheading in the Terror. It was crammed with a film-oriented exhibition of historical movies done in Paris. Yet another exhibition mounted by people who apparently also lost their heads, so absent was their “work” from anything compelling. Mainly we were biding time until the chapel adjacent, the Sainte Chapelle, opened. Curiously while living in Paris a year and a half, and rather an architecture buff particularly appreciative of Gothic engineering, I’d never been to it. Habitual poverty incurs some dubious habits, which persist in me today. The chapel is a stunning work of thin stone columns, held only by gravity, rising to an arched ceiling, and illuminated with brilliant (even on a gray day as was ours) stained-glass sheathing. A really delicate and wonderful work of engineering.
We then strolled on, towards the Pompidou, stopping for a lunch along the way. Paris is a wonderful city for walking, almost anywhere. When I lived here, in 1997-9, I spent endless hours walking – usually with daughter Clara in a carriage, going from Belleville all the way to the Left Bank or Opera. At that time Belleville was a mixed neighborhood of Arab and Asian people, and frankly not many French, though now I understand it’s become a chic place for young people. The usual low-rent area becoming colonized by artists, followed, once-safe, by the professional hipwasie.
We then strolled to the Beaubourg Center, a vast museum of modern and contemporary art housed in a Richard Rogers/Renzo Piano building, a scandalous place when built owing to its hyper-modern style plunked in the midst of a traditional area of Paris. Immediately after opening it became a justifiable tourist magnet and developed as a successful social gathering point, obliterating the criticism. We took in the permanent collection, housed on two massive floors, a compendium of modern art from Kandinsky and Picasso and on through to contemporary work. It is a good collection, but to my increasingly jaded eyes, almost the whole modernist era is, with the infrequent exception, a pallid and thin affair which diminishes with familiarity. Believe me, I am familiar with it, and the more I see, the less I see. Which is the inverse of what I find in really great art, which grows and gains depth as you gain familiarity with it. So the walk through the Pompidou’s collection (not for the first time) became a forced march, sparking cynical thoughts and reflections on the whole enterprise of art in the last century and the present. And more. Increasingly it seems to me that the arts of our recent times has reflected our culture in its fragmentation and division into specialities, aping the behavior of the complexity of industrial/scientific organization. Hence we have, quite distinct and separate, a myriad of art movements most of which bare little relationship to each other aesthetically or thematically. And most of which have a brief life span, though each has now reverberated onward, echoed in various regurgitive reformulations passed off as “new.” From the cynic’s view, little “new” has been done in the last 80 years or so. Or maybe more.