Sunday, October 28, 2012

Appreciating le Musée Jacquemart-André

Private art museums are quite astonishing entities. In addition to displaying unique and personal collections, they "afford visitors the rare opportunity to take a peek into the lives and passions of some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people, " as written by Emma Solely for And interestingly enough, we may have these wealthy and powerful people to thank for the creation of the museum in the first place. As published on"What is generally considered to be one of the world’s first museums opened circa 1628 in Kennington, London, where John Tradescant would take visitors around his collection of curiosities gathered from his travels."
This past week, I had the opportunity to view the eclectic and refined tastes of Eduoard André and Nelly Jacquemart. Over a hundred years ago, they built a small palace within Paris to display their extraordinary collection and then bequeathed it in its entirely to the Institut de France in 1911. It was to be opened as a museum for the public though the layout could be changed and no art could be lent. It's amazing to think it is still just as dazzling a sight as it was then.
Spectacular, isn't it? And yet I found it most interesting to observe the visitors who were notably more mature and seemingly more cultured. This was visible in the clientele of the beautiful café and could also be inferred by the more expensive admission price (11 euros). I'd say it was worth it though. I especially loved the original work of Botticelli and Rembrandt and the visit is undeniably peaceful--it's as if you become privileged too by simply being there.

Le Musée Jacquemart-André
Où? 158, boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris
Quand? Daily,10am-6pm
Comment? Metro: Saint-Augustin, Miromesnil, Saint-Philippe du Roule, RER Charles de Gaule-Étoile, Bus 22, 43, 52, 54, 28, 89, 83, 84, 93

Friday, October 26, 2012

London has markets, too

Although I was more than thrilled to visit at least one British museum, I was disappointed to not have had the chance to visit a market while in London last weekend. I don't think the British define themselves by their markets as much as the French do, but they certainly have a few to brag about. Had I been in the market for quirky treasures, Grays Antique Market would have been the place to be. If I'd been searching for a "funky outfit," a stop into Spitalsfields Market would have been necessary. And had I wanted to feast my eyes on one of the world's oldest and largest food markets, I really should have spent an afternoon at Borough Market. I most regret not visiting Camden Market though. I was so, so close just one week ago. According to, surrounding Market Hall "you’ll find small shops and market stalls selling everything from vintage fashion, handmade jewellery and beautiful homewares sourced from around the globe." Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Let's take a virtual visit:
Overall, it feels a lot less nostalgic (a.k.a. more modern) than French markets, yet there are still the same crowds of locals and visitors from various walks of life in addition to a seemingly countless number of treasures. Perhaps I'll have to plan another visit to London soon? This video paired with the the fact that I know I'd be able to interact with each and every vendor (thanks to the fact that they too are native English speakers) has gotten me more than intrigued.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Great Britain at the British Museum

This past weekend, I ventured to London with one of my classes. Although our itinerary was pretty intense the first two days, we were left to explore during the entirety of Saturday. Mary and I decided to peek into London's national identity and find out what a "vast collection of world art and artefacts" looks like with a (free!) visit the British museum.

The immense main hall (through which one arrives after passing through the main entrance) is incredible. With such tall ceilings and a circular shape, it felt as though we were standing in the center of the Universe. And in some ways, I suppose, we were. The full range of exhibits could be accessed by taking a hallway (corridor) or staircase and there were various services to make the experience more enjoyable: an Information desk, the Gallery Café, "the Families Desk", the Museum Shop, the Multimedia desk (a Korean Air sponsorship offered free audio guides).
With free maps in hand, we set out "to experience some of the highlights of the magnificent permanent collection."

Of the most ancient artifacts, I realized many had originated in many former British colonies. It was almost ironic yet not at all that they were still being showcased with such esteem. After all, at one time the British Empire was the largest, wealthiest, and yes, greatest. The physical evidence of such power appeared to be the most popular amongst visitors and the free tours and talks scheduled throughout the day.

To enhance the privileged opportunity, the Museum offers opportunities to touch objects and learn more about them under the supervision of experts. I believe the intention is that which Fiona Candlin hypothesizes in The Dubious Inheritance of Touch: Art History and Museum Access, "touch potentially opens up previously prohibited ways of understanding museum collections and includes visitors who have traditionally been marginalized by an emphasis on visual learning. As such, it could represent a new and positive step towards recognizing different forms of knowledge and in correlation acknowledges the rights of blind people, among others, to access their collective cultural heritage."

Ancient Greek and Roman artifacts and the rotating exhibitions were accessible from the upper floors as well. On our visit, they were displaying Spanish prints and drawings from the Renaissance to the time of Goya, in addition to a look at the significance of water, tea, and wine across Asian cultures. A visual history of Europe was additionally on display.

The biggest crowds I saw, however, could be found on the ground floor. Not in the Americas exhibits, nor of those of China, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, but in room 4: Egyptian sculpture. It is here that The Rosetta Stone is set on display surrounded by thick glass. I'd assume that this amazing "key to deciphering hieroglyphics" tops the list of A History of the World in 100 Objects written by British Museum Director in conjunction with BBC Radio.
Où? Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG, London
Quand? Daily,10am-5:30pm; Friday, 10am-8:30pm
Comment? Tube, Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russel Square, Goodge Street; Bus 1, 7, 8, 19, 25, 38, 55, 98, 242, 10, 14, 24, 29 73, 134, 390, 59, 68, X68, 91, 168, 188

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Organic at Le Marché Batignolles

France isn't just a country that appreciates meal time, it's also a country that frowns upon many of the practices that have, in my humble opinion, spoiled the American food system. The French have been actively resisting GMOs and many of the pesticides which have been approved and promoted within agriculture in the U.S. Some have also gone as far as to jump on the organic, or rather, "bio" food wagon. Although I can't say I only eat organic--I neither have the budget nor the patience to do so--I do value it in the sense that I believe it's the way all food should be.
Lucky for me, Paris market culture has embraced the belief as well. Le Marché Raspail (on Sunday mornings) is the largest organic food market in Paris, but the second largest is at Batignolles... exactly two metro stops away or a brisk 20-minute walk from my humble abode. It is teeming with fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, flowers, clothing, dairy products, breads, raw nuts, dried fruits, honeys, jams, and lightly prepared foods. In other words, it's a pesticide-fertizilizer-GMO-antiobiotic-hormone-(etc)-free feast for the eyes. Seriously though:
Though there have been countless debates as to whether organic food really is more nutritious, my belief is that it is most likely safer for our bodies and most definitely better for the environment. I, like many Parisians it seems, am very much committed to supporting the two.
Le Marché Biologique des Batignolles
Où? Boulevard des Batignolles from rue Turin to rue de Moscou, Paris 75017
Quand? Saturday, 8am-2pm
Comment? Metro Rome, Place de Clichy; Bus 30
(Originally published on

Monday, October 15, 2012

From Royal Garden to Natural History Museum

In Touch in Museums, editor Helen J. Catterjee references Donald Preziosi's development of Foucalt's thesis by concluding that: "the museum was not only productive of knowledge about objects but functioned as 'an instrument for the manufacture of ... societies, ethnicities, races, classes, genders, and individuals; of history, progress, and moralities (ibid)."
As such, it is no surprise that le Musée d'Homme is under renovation as I discussed in my previous post. It does bring to question the museums of "natural history" however.
In the first place, "natural history" infers that this history in an absolute, indisputable truth, and it is perhaps with this conclusion that those who were excavating for museum materials (most notably skeletons of extinct plants and animals) justified their quests throughout the world. The Galleries de Paléonthologie et d'Anatomie comparée compare such materials in an encyclopedic matter. Dinosaurs for example, have been reconstructed and displayed with pride in order of their development and extinction with a nod to the place in which their remains were found.
The Grande Gallerie de l'Evolution, on the other hand, has taken a more "modern approach." Housed in a similarly open and airy environment, natural light is replaced with colored lights which, in my opinion, provide a more "science fiction" feel. Animals are displayed with labels in modern glass cases or in the center in of the rooms where they appear to migrating, hunting, or playing with each other. Interactive activities invite children and adults to get a sense of their natural environments and identifying characteristics. There is even an educational space specifically for children.
It is as if, in Judith Matsai's terms, the museum's philosophy is such that "the museum is an education resource for lifelong learning, [and thus] the task changes in order to identify multiple points of entry for visitors of many sorts and kinds, based on differences in age, gender, race, ethnicity, levels of knowledge about history, about art history, and so on."
Both strategies are, in my opinion, effective, but the visitor to the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution is made to feel more a part of the natural and historical development of the world. There direct relationship between man and animals is discussed (due in no small part to the fact that they simultaneously exited--as opposed to most if not all of the creatures displayed in the Galeries de Paléonthologie et d'Anatomie comparée). As seen in the photo above, s/he is even, as seen above, called to question the role s/he plays in nature as the world continues to develop.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Harvesting Equality at Le Jardin des Plantes

What began as Le Jardin de Roi, has become an institution for scientific, historic, and obviously, botanical study. The grand buildings surrounding the beautiful French-style gardens include the Mineralogy and Geology Gallery, Discovery Room, Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy Galleries, The Grand Gallery of Evolution, The History of the Jardin des Plantes, and a small zoo. Many exhibits are interactive, too. It's no wonder it attracts families from all over the world.
And it is perhaps for this very reason that le Musée d'Homme has closed. "The formation of the public museum embodies a principle of general human universality in relation to which, whether on the bias of the gendered, racial, class or other social patterns of its exclusions and biases, any particular museum display can be held to be inadequate and therefore in need of supplementation." (Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum, p. 91) Being that the museum was founded in the 18th century and has displayed human evolution ever since, many controversial issues must be addressed before its projected reopening in 2014. There's great potential for social change if accomplished effectively.
Où? 52 rue Cuvier, 2 rue Buffon, 36 rue Geoffrey-Saint-Hiliare, place Valhubert, 75005 Paris
Quand? Daily, 7:30am-7:45pm (summer); Daily, 8am-5:30pm (winter) - individual museum hours vary
Comment? Metro Austerlitz, Censier Daubenton, Jussieu; RER C; Bus 24, 57, 61, 63, 67, 89, 91

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A social affair at Le Marché Couvert Enfants Rouges

I wasn't sure what to expect of the oldest covered market in Paris, established in 1628. I also hadn't known how it got its name--"enfants rouges" refers to the children dressed in red who had lived in the orphanage originally situated on the site. Sadly, much of its history was lost in the '80s when the original Baltard-style building was torn down.
As a result, Enfants Rouges Covered Market is quite unassuming and lacks most (if not all) of the charm that the 3rd arrondissement is known for. Yet it still manages to be wonderfully appealing. This historical Parisian site seems to have captured the essence of what the city is today: multicultural. 

Tables surround the unimpressive structure where tourists join locals to enjoy Lebanese, Italian, Moroccan, French, Caribbean, and Belgian delicacies. I couldn't resist the 12.90 euro assiette from the Lebanese stand which includes three salads + falafels/brochette of lamb/marinated chicken + stewed vegetables with herbs + flat bread + baklava/juice.

With my appetite deliciously appeased, I then wandered to marvel at the international food products (and other menus):

This is a market to visit with friends of all ages (if you're lucky, they'll be as cute company as Miss Adelaide pictured above) for lunch, a glass of wine, or even to pick up food to-go. There are flowers and produce for purchase as well. 
Le Marché Couvert Enfants Rouges
Où? 39, rue de Bretagne, Paris 75003
Quand? Tuesday- Saturday, 8:30am-1pm, 4pm-7:30pm (8pm on Friday and Saturday); Sunday, 8:30am-2pm
Comment? Metro Temple, Filles du Calvaire
P.S. Be sure to check out the antique stands to the left of the back exit! They too have their fair share of world treasures.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Arts d'Islam - Musée du Louvre

As a museum, the Louvre is one of the oldest in the world. From 1190 to 1202 it was constructed as Phillip Auguste's medieval fortress (as such Le Louvre actually means "the fortress.") but it wasn't until August 10th, 1793 that it actually became a public museum following the French Revolution.
It can be said that the royal collections of art and decorative items were meant to display the authority of the monarch. It can also be said that the republican museum (as in of the French Republic) stood for the virtuous state.
That was hundreds of years ago though. Since then, the Louvre has expanded to 160,000 square meters of galleries featuring about 35,000 works. And most recently, its departments have expanded to include the Islamic Arts.
Such an expansion is critical as a means of cultural diplomacy. It's no coincidence the gallery openings coincided with the French president's inauguration. So much of what we know as terrorism today has been rooted in extreme religion and most often that religion has been Islam; thereby making hostile ignorance unfortunately widespread.
"The learner's prior knowledge, experience, interests, and motivations all compromise a personal context, which is embedded within a complex socio-cultural and physical contect. Learning can be described as the interaction and negotiation of these three shifting contexts in time and space (Falk and Dierking, 1992, 2000 - Living in a Learning Society: Museums and Free-choice Learning)."
The Louvre appears to understand how critical it is to create opportunities to not only enjoy the art that has been born from countries where Islam has historically been practiced but to learn about the incredible breadth and diversity of Islamic culture through art. Museum education is, of course, predominately recognition a social responsibility.
"In static societies, which make the maintenance of established custom the measure of value, this conception (i.e. 'the catching up of the child with the aptitudes and resources of an adult group') applies to the main. But not in progressive communities. They endeavor to shape the experiences of the young so that instead of reproducing current habits, better habits shall be formed, and thus the future adult society be an improvement on their own." (Dewey 1916; 79 - Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1944)
In this case, by providing explanatory paragraphs at the gallery entrance, detailed labels on each of the pieces of art, and a progressive timeline through which they're organized, each visitor--no matter their personal perspective or viewpoint or even their age--is given concrete information about a history and a heritage s/he are most likely unfamiliar with.
Unfortunately, although the gallery design is stunning, I found it hindered these educational goals by appearing temporary, at least in comparison to most if not all of the galleries of the Louvre's other permanent collections. This is detrimental as it not only forfeits the value of these pieces but the intention of their exhibition.
Still, the Louvre may be able to avoid such results to the visitor experience by focusing on modernizing updates to other exhibits and galleries including but not limited to geometric display cases and multimedia tools.
Many of the three thousand objects within the Islamic Art galleries were literally "brought to light" in September of this year. I sincerely hope their importance continues to shine through the next centuries of the Louvre's existence. Its ~8.8 million visitors would certainly benefit from a more complete global collection, as would future society.