A Cheer for the Grandiose
This spring, my husband, son and I found ourselves surrounded by a neverending display of historical sights, ornate buildings, art museums and decadent food. We reveled in the constant exposure to what felt like an extreme excess of beautiful things. I think it is normal to feel uplifted or simply mystified by grandness, when you are in Paris.
We visited the Georges Pompidou Centre, Musee D’Orsay, Grand Palais and also the seemingly less popular Museum of Modern Art in the Palais de Tokyo where we went to see Matisse’s well-loved painting ,”The Dance”.
The Museum of Modern Art was full of a surprisingly comprehensive collection of modern paintings that had overflowed from the Musee D’Orsay to the other side of the Seine. I was excited when a guard pointed us to the various exhibits we could see “en librement” including the “Salle Matisse” – a whole room dedicated to the artists’ painting! However, the painting we saw on the wall was quite a different “Dance” than the one I was imagining, which is in another modern art museum in St.Petersburg, Russia.
The “Unfinished Dance” we saw was composed of black, pink and dark blue abstract figures leaping through gray arches. I was as much impressed by the cavernous and vacant room where three lesser known Matisse compositions, each the length of one or two subway cars, stay specially housed for an indefinite amount of time. This seemed to contrast so greatly with the fact that there is limited space for people to stay or even live in Paris. For a small-town Canadian, this religious dedication to modern art seemed at once both heartening and also uncomfortably grandiose.
Size was notable again when being confronted by Robert Delaunay’s, Rhythm #1 (below) – the visual equivalent of a booming brass band. This mural was commissioned to decorate the sculpture hall of the Salon de Tuileries in 1939 and was eventually given to the city of Paris. Information about this style states that it is a type of cubism called “Orphism” which gives the illusion of movement found in the unending new inventions of the modern world. I find that the spinning discs of various thickness’ look like the inside of a giant watch. It also really reminded me of minimalist and op art of the 1960’s by artists such as Elsworth Kelly and Frank Stella. All these artists abandoned “easel painting” in favour of work that enters the space of everyday life – like architecture.
As a side note: A friend recently asked me, “so what is the Eiffel Tower for anyway?” and I had to answer, “nothing really”. The Eiffel Tower (named after Gustave Eiffel who designed it) was picked as the winning design for an entrance arch to the 1889 World Fair. The “iron lady”, the tallest structure in the world until the Chrysler Building was built in New York, was only meant to be temporary. At the time no one could have foreseen that millions of people would be ascending this structure every year. The tower does actually have a utilitarian purpose (although it wasn’t built for this reason) which is as a radio and television transmitter. However, it’s real function is to simply stand and look pretty as a world recognized symbol of France.
There’s a sense of freedom in being exposed to all this grandiosity. It feels like hearing a loud shout in praise of the pure ingenuity of the human spirit. To be timely, I will compare it to the Canucks. To me, hockey in itself, has no purpose – no one would die (?) if there was no hockey; yet people are crazy over it. However, I can see how it inspires human values of connectedness with others, is a display of excellence and grit and there’s even the art of how each game evolves differently dependant on the intersection of a number of random factors (non-random says my husband). These are all things worth living for. They even defy mortality; living on long past the individuals conceived (or played) them. Just as people are taking pride in the fact that they are Canucks fans, so did seeing the Paris sights make me take pride in – and remind me about the purpose of – being an artist.