Tuesday, December 18, 2012

MAM temporary exhibition: Art in/at War, France

Temporary exhibits are the most exciting part of any museum, in my opinion. It is within them that you can truly see a museum's value system and curator's perspective in the way in which they choose to situate a unique collection... of art, for example. Susan Power also attributes temporary exhibitions "to attract increasingly larger number of visitors."
The current temporary exhibition at the MAM was certainly crowded during my visit last week. It showcased "over 400 works of art and documents created/displayed in France during the decade bracketing World War II . . . a crucial and tragic moment in the museum's history." The exhibition was organized chronologically, displaying pieces that had been visible at the time, in addition to those that were not. Lighting was low and very little description was given except for blocks of contextual text at the beginning of each section. For this reason I don't think I'd be able to appreciate the amazing juxtaposition of it all--which, I believe, is the most valuable part--had I not been on a guided tour.
Each piece was so moving, not solely for its artistic composition but for its ideology.There were propaganda-like works for the Vichy government (stylistically of modern and medieval themes), pieces that served as acts of subtle resistance by artists in exile and those kept under lock and key (Picasso, for instance), classic facist art, and even those that had been created by artistically-inclined prisoners at the detention camps with the limited material available:
And it closed and ended with surrealist works; the first that had been displayed perhaps with an unconscious premonition of what's to come and the last with a conclusive return of artists to the scene, with the outstanding intention of performing a change on the visitor. The art, degenerate or not, intentionally (and unintentionally) expressed the most barbaric parts of the war. The exhibition thus professed a profoundly political and ethical narrative.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Le Château de Fontainebleau

Imagine a museum, any museum... what do you see? Usually, a classical building filled with historically-relevant art of some kind or perhaps a modern space made up of interactive science exhibits. In France, amongst other Western European cities with extended imperial pasts, castles and/or palaces have also taken on the role of "the museum."
"The meanings that we attempt to attach to objects are dependent on historical context and the multiple collective memories that shape their reception," (Crane, 2011, p. 107).
To a culture who so strongly values their "cultural" accomplishments, a castle or palace, hundreds and hundreds of years old, is the perfect place to literally set the scene. For a visitor, it also brings the museum experience to the next level. I was so pleased to have had the opportunity to visit le Château de Fontainebleau the weekend before last.
My mom and sister had the audio guide while I chose to wander through on my own. It's probably a bit embarrassing to admit, but I felt like I was on the set for The Three Muskateers or Marie Antoinette.
Not that I believe either were shot here, per se. Arguably more interesting (and most definitely more historically accurate) is the fact that le Château de Fontainebleau is one of the few in France that was consistently habituated, from the François I in the 16th century all the way to the reign of Napoleon III.
Indeed, "the material word," and I'd argue, world, "carries weight--aura, evidence, the passage of time, the signs of power through accumulation, authority, knowledge, and privilege," (Witcomb, 2007, p. 36).
Où? Château de Fontainebleau, 77300 Fontainebleau
Quand? Wednesday-Monday, 9:30am-5pm
Comment? TGV (from Gare de Lyon)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Visit a French Market

My family and I were fortunate enough to host a French exchange student in my last year of high school... and I've been fortunate enough to keep in touch with her, getting to know her sweet family in the process. During my mom and sister's visit, the six of us escaped the crowds of Paris for Fontainebleau. This charming Parisian suburb is known for its scenic forest--formally a favorite hunting ground of French kings and now a popular weekend getaway for all city-dwellers. I especially love it for its market though. It was my mom and sister's first visit to a French one.
Crowds were bustling, vendors were shouting (occasionally), and English was nowhere to be heard on that Sunday morning. As it would be most others, I assume. In these way, markets are very much unlike museums. Very few of the products are preserved (e.g. fresh fruits and vegetables), there are no suggestions as to which route to take, and interaction with others is necessary. It occured to me then that "the market" I've come to appreciate might be an intimidating environment for my mom and sister, and any newcomer for that matter. I tried to guide them through with the best of my non-expert tips I've developed in the past few months...

1. Bring more than one reusable tote, preferably a strong one. I've visited markets with "a list" but  always end up getting more than I bargained for (no pun intended). There's always a more diverse selection than expected.
2. Have cash! (Perhaps this should have been my first tip.) Very few merchants accept credit cards. Thankfully, I've found most markets are close to at least one bank. Fontainebleau's, for instance, is in the city's center square.

3. Arriving early provides the best selection. Arriving late provides the best prices. In other words, there's no wrong time to go to the market :).

4. Ask questions. Market-vendors and -goers are probably part of the same community and I've found them to be both friendly and helpful when I thoughtfully practice my French. I doubt I'd be able to navigate my way through a cheese selection without, "Excusez-moi, comment est-ce le goût?"
5. Do a lap before making any purchases. There is undoubtedly going to be more than one flower stand as well as one for every other kind of product so its nice to scope out quality and selection first. Lines are indicative of both.
6. Enjoy samples if you can. Although pain d'épices is not my favorite, I was thrilled that myself, my mom, and my sister were able to try it the weekend before last. How festive.

7. Observe the transactions. I've found that handling items, including fruits and vegetables, before purchase isn't often done in France... even if the baskets are within reach. Follow the example of the customers in front of you.
8. Expect seasonal. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables are the most readily available (and cheapest) so it'll be obvious what is in season in that sense. You may be surprised to find, however, that particular game, foul, fish, breads, pastries, and wine are only available at specific times of the year. The same goes for holiday treats; of course! Enjoy them while you can.

Le Place du Marché de Fontainbleau
Où? Le Place du Marché, 77305 Fontainebleau
Quand? Tuesday, Friday, Sunday, 9am-1pm
Comment? RER/TGV

Friday, November 30, 2012

Lukas - the museum in digital

"Lukas manages digital imagery of the finest works and masterpieces of Flanders’ artistic heritage at the behest of museums and heritage organizations." With this video, they also become a digitalized museum. Watch and be amazed:
This goes against everything we define as "a museum", and yet... dare I say I love it? I wonder what Parisians would think.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

La brocante by happenstance

My mom and sister came to visit me over their Thanksgiving break. It was their first time in Paris. As eager as I was to bring them museums though, I was also adamant about creating a unique, non-touristy experience. For their first full day then, I proposed a walking tour, and much to my delight, we happened to stumble upon a brocante.
 "In the late 19th century, not that long before the walls were razed [in Paris], beggars and drifters were chased out of town by city ordinance, and so were the chiffonniers, or ragpickers, who scoured the streets by night scavenging discarded goods to sell by day. They were known as biffins (foot-soldiers) or crocheteurs—either a porter who carries heavy goods on crochets (hooks), or a lock picker, possibly indicating that some of the scavenged goods had not yet been discarded. They were also called pêcheurs de lune, or fishermen of the moon.
Ousted, they began to congregate just beyond the fortifications, near the portes of Montreuil, Vanves and Clignancourt, to sell their ragged wares, and gradually the flea markets took shape. The “flea” tag may have come from the scruffy condition of sellers and stuff, but the semi-official story goes that an observer, looking down from the heights of the fortifications, saw the tiny figures far below as flea-sized. Either way, the name stuck, and eventually the markets became popular—even fashionable—spots for weekend chineurs (bargain hunters) out to fouiner (nose around) for antiques and brocante (bric-a-brac). "
Thanks to Judy Fayard's words in a September 2010 issue of France Today, now you and I both know.

It was pretty amazing to think that myself, my mom, and my sister, all appreciators of antique items--paintings, art deco, ceramics, furniture from the 60s and 70s, silver, vintage clothing, kitchenware, jewelery--were in a place where the entire concept of an antique market began. Especially being that Paris literally has more history than New York.
paintings, ceramics, silver, art deco, 60s and 70s items, linens, books, militaria, kitchenware, - See more at: http://www.fleamarketinsiders.com/best-flea-markets-in-france/#sthash.ZvG5I1Sz.dpuf
paintings, ceramics, silver, art deco, 60s and 70s items, linens, books, militaria, kitchenware, - See more at: http://www.fleamarketinsiders.com/best-flea-markets-in-france/#sthash.ZvG5I1Sz.dpuf

One man's trash is another man's treasure; and as such, they left with a few one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
I'm not sure if this particular brocante takes place weekly, but if so, you can visit it in the norther Marais on Friday mornings. Metro Temple is best. Otherwise, check out this comprehensive list from The Guardian.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Out of this World - le musée du quai Branly

"Every aspect of a museum, gallery, or heritage site communicates. From the architectural style of the building or layout of a site, to the attendants at the entrance, the arrangement of the exhibits or artifacts, the colour of the walls, and the positioning and content of labels and text panels; all these things and more are engaged in a communicative process with the visitor." -Rhiannon Mason, Museums, galleries and heritage: Sites of meaning-making and communication
For these very reasons, even the central glass column filled with musical instruments which acts as the backboard to the musée du quai Branly can be controversial. In my opinion: it shows objects on display which--although for the most part made to be seen--are intended more so to use. It organizes objects by region with scientific numbers which further separates the visitors from the cultures the objects represent. For a museum which is meant to be so revolutionary, it's nearly as imperialistically-insulting as museums have always been. Daniel Sherman notes, "Rivet [the first director of the Musée de l'Homme] ;preferred to avoid evolutionary schemas altogether, noting that the people ethnographers would encounter in the French empire 'are as far, perhaps even farther, from their origins as we; it is just that their civilization has evolved in a different direction from ours'." In this case, few things have changed.
"Who, after all, is best qualified by experience' (what kinds?), by depth and breadth of knowledge (what knowledge?), to control and interpret an African collection," asks James Clifford in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. I expand the question to include any culturally-affiliated collection, which in those terms basically encompasses everything found with a museum. It matters because, "for example, depending on your point of view, an African mask could be viewed as an ethnographic exhibit, a tribal artefact, a piece of art, evidence of colonial looting, the subject of a repatriation case, or simply a commodity to sell," as described in ;Museums, galleries and heritage: Sites of meaning-making and communication by Rhiannon Mason. In creating a contemporary building surrounded by an "exotic" garden with a visitor route which simulates a futuristic river, any and all objects of the museum are placed in this context which further separates the museum experience, and thus the cultural significance of the objects themselves, from the every day life and identity of the museum visitor. Thus this museum is hardly "a contact zone."
And saying as such doesn't begin to address "looted third world art," to use the loaded terms of The New York Times. Perhaps it's too much to ask, but I believe a museum that claims to be ... should "be accountable in a way that went [goes] beyond mere preservation," in the words of James CliffordIf for no other reason than because, as Eilean Hooper-Greenhill acknowledges in Changing Values in the Art Museum: Rethinking Communication and Learning: "It is time for museum professionals to acknowledge and address the power of museums, to accept that museums are necessarily implicated in cultural politics, and that, therefore, professional practices have political."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Introduction to the Musée du Quai Branly

Please note: The video blow includes iPhone-quality snapshots of permanent exhibits within the Musée du Quai Branly. The accompanying music is from the permanent exhibits as well but they have not been accurately matched with the exhibits themselves as there were more opportunities for visual display than that of audio.

Où? 37, quai Branly 75007 Paris
Quand? Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday, 11am-7pm; Thursday-Saturday, 11am-9pm
Comment? Metro Alma-Marceau, Iéna, Ecole Militaire, Bir Hakeim 1; RER Pont de l"alma, Champ de Mars-Tour d'Eiffel; Bus 42, 92, 80, 63, 82, 72, 87, 69

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Beaubourg-Effect at le Centre Pompidou

In the past, "the building chosen to stand for the institutionalized museum is itself representative of a particular building type familiar to all of us who have visited the world's great museums," as described by Rosalind E. Krauss in Postmodernism's Museum Without Walls
Le Centre Pompidou, inaugurated on January 31st, 1977 as a cultural center, sought to change that notion.
Founded upon the concept of transparency as a means to create a democratic living space for the arts and the public, it appears to be inside out with structural aspects colorfully exposed.  Clearly this speaks to Stephanie Moser's reference in The Devil is the Detail: Museum Displays and the Creation of Knowledge: "'design plays a crucial role--not just in presenting content, but in actually creating it, (Serrell 2006:33)." Especially being that each color has a specific function: red=visitor circulation, yellow=electrical, blue=air, green=water.
As such, seeing the building for the first time is quite a shock. But it's nothing compared to walking inside. The main hall is open yet overwhelming with the opportunities to access a public library (Bpi), a center for industrial design (Cci), a contemporary music center (IRCAM), an auditorium, theater and cinema spaces as well as shops, cafés, a self-service post office and the acclaimed Restaurant le Georges.
There's "a heightened sense of individual free choice--a major theme of the building as a whole," similar to the MoMA museum in New York as Carol Duncan and Alan Wallach explained in The Museum of Modern Art as Late Capitalist Ritual: An Iconographic Analysis. Except, of course, that each facility has a separate entrance, fee, and security checks.

It's somewhat of a contradictory space, as Jean Baudrillard criticized in The Beaubourg-Effect: Implosion and Detterence; "a fluid communicative exterior--cool and modern--and an interior uptight with old values."

I won't say I agree completely, at least not as harsh of an extent, but I do see where he's coming from. Although intended to be revolutionary, the museum has mostly become what we expect museums to be: displayed art in an organized matter (sometimes by artist if they or their benefactor is wealthy enough) that is meant to be seen not touched.
As Emma Baker said in The museum in a postmodern era: the Musée d'Orsay case study: "...the building itself conceived as a kind of box divided by movable partitions for the sake of flexibility. The Pompidou Centre originally exemplified this type of museum, but its immense open spaces were converted into conventionally solid and permanent galleries during the 1980s."
Particular artists currently featured there are challenging this shift with interactive and/or multimedia displays of familiar objects in typical settings. An artistic feature which I don't doubt maintains the uniqueness of le Centre Pompidou in the eyes and experience of the average visitor.
And yet, to quote Andrea Fraser's article, Isn't this a wonderful place? (A tour of the Guggenheim Bilbao): "Like the philanthropic act of donation through which so many objects find their way into museum collections and on which so many museums themselves depend, the aesthetic and its institutions are both the product and the manifestation of a distance from economic necessity of economic power that is 'first and foremost a power to keep economic necessity at arm's length.'"
Où? Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris
Quand? Daily except Tuesdays, 11am-9pm
Comment? Metro Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville, Châtelet-Les Halles, RER Châtelet-Les Ailles, Bus 21, 29, 38, 47, 58, 69, 70, 72, 74, 75, 76, 81, 85, 96

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sounds of Le Marché de Clignancourt

Following a morning study session at KBCafeshop, I intended to go to Marchés aux puces de Saint-Ouen. According to Dixon Long and Marjorie R. Williams of Markets of Paris,"Thought it's called a flea market Clignancourt has evolved into an antiques market with a very large number of specialists, as well as generalists who offer everything from period armchairs to World War II aircraft parts."  I knew I'd appreciate the antiques despite the fact that I most likely wouldn't be able to afford them. But on my way from the metro, I got caught in the clothing and jewelry market.
It wasn't the selection nor the displays that caught my attention... it was the sounds. Unlike many of the markets I'd visited, French was not the predominant language, and many vendors were playing music I'd never heard before. Still, to be completely--though not unapologetically--honest, I didn't feel comfortable photographing or filming the scene. I didn't want to stand out any more than I already did. Instead, I decided to record it. Please enjoy the audio clip below:
Le Marché de Clignancourt
Où? Avenue de la Porte de Clignancourt & rue René Binet, 75018 Paris
Quand? Saturday, 8:30am-6:30pm; Sunday, 10am-6:30pm; Monday, 10:30am-5:30pm
Comment? Metro Porte de Clignancourt

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The museum within the sewers

"There are twice as many meters of sewers as there are streets in Paris... it's like a town beneath a town."

What constitutes a museum? At first thought, the building itself. "The building chosen to stand for the institutionalized museum itself representative of a particular building type familiar to all of us who have visited the world's greatest museums," writes Rosalind E. Krauss in Postmodernism's Museum Without Walls. Upon further examination though, it's a lot more than that--objects are exhibited, maps direct, and both are adorned with labels so the visitor is clear on exactly what he or she is seeing and where he/she should go next. 
Le Musée des Égouts de Paris hardly contains any of these details as the creation of the museum itself was most certainly an after thought. I was lucky enough to visit with a guide during which time I learned that  Napoleon commissioned the sewage system that is still actively used today; until 1920, Parisians (albeit bourgeoisies) were invited to take tours of the sewage system via cars and boats; workers appreciate the rats because they (1) help with eating the garbage and (2) give warning to any danger; and finally, until 2004; government officials could send messages through pipes from the Senate to the Parliament building. Interesting? Yes. Unique? For sure. I'm glad I went, and I doubt I'd ever go again. The smell is hardly pleasant.

Charles Landry said, "At their core museums and galleries are involved in an exchange of ideas where we as the visitor come to grips with displays. In effect we converse either with ourselves or more publicly about what our culture or those of others is so we think about what we value and what our values are." Thank God for public workers...
Où? Across from 93, quai d'Orsay, 75007 Paris
Quand? Monday-Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, 11am-4pm
Comment? Metro: Alma-Marceau; RER: Pont de l'Alma

Monday, November 5, 2012

Community at le Marché de Morlaix

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the damage it has caused in my beloved city of New York, I've been thinking a lot about community as a concept. There's a particular spirit and humanitarian support that arises from disaster. “I feel often that we don’t have the right language to talk about emotions in disasters. Everyone is on edge, of course, but it also pulls people away from a lot of trivial anxieties and past and future concerns and gratuitous preoccupations that we have, and refocuses us in a very intense way… In some ways, people behave better than in ordinary life and in some disasters people find [out about] the meaningful role of deep social connections and see their absence in everyday life,” Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell told TIME magazine in an interview.
On a smaller, much less intense scale, it reminds me of the incredible sense of "community" I have been observing and experience at markets within France. And even more so, of "the community" I most recently visited in Morlaix.
Morlaix is one of a handful of larger towns in the northwestern-most region of Bretagne. In the Middle Ages it was a center of trade between Brittany, England, Spain, and Holland. Today it is still surrounded by farms and open fields and the ocean is literally a hop, skip, and a jump away. As such, the various fish, vegetables, cheeses, breads, honeys, etc. offered by the same vendors who raised or caught or cut or made the products themselves are beyond fresh.
And beyond that, more than half the shoppers knew these vendors personally. "Comment allez-vous, monsieur/madame?" was just as quickly asked as it was followed by, "et votre famille?" Conversation ("how are you? and your family?") nearly triumphed transaction.
With that said, these rural industries appeared to be doing just fine. The products were selling quickly, perhaps due in some part to the strong bonds built throughout all sides of the market industry.
As Michéle de la Pradelle wrote in Market Day in Provence (translated by Amy Jacobs), "The markets themselves played a marginal role in distribution networks, but the modern public loved these powerful moments of local life, which gave them a traste of types of social interaction, sociability, that had more or less vanished. In the cold world of market rationality, markets offered a little extra soul."
Whether it is felt in a small city of France or a big city like New York, there is comfort in this nostalgia of a simpler time and closer human connection. If only it could be felt on a large scale outside the realm of hard times.
Le Marché de Morlaix
Où? Hotel de Ville, Morlaix
Quand? Saturday, 8am-2pm
Comment? TGV