We’re slowly settling back to our house in Normandy. It’s funny how things have gotten easier over the years as we develop our habits and ways in going about our time here. After 14 years, we now know where to go for mundane things we take for granted at home in the US like where to get the best produce, bread, pastries and even simple things (think nails and paint) to mend the house. The good thing about settling in fast is the we’re also able to enjoy all the great things that Normandy offers.
One of the first things we did when we got here is visit the city of Le Havre, which is celebrating its 500th year. Imagine that…500 years! Much has happened in the city’s history but one of the most critical ones is the devastation Le Havre encountered during World War II. There’s much hype about the movie Dunkirk right now and its role during the war but Le Havre is also another French town that played a major role during that period. It took architect Auguste Perret’s great modernist vision post-war to develop what the city is today. Le Havre indeed feels like no other French city with all its modern buildings and architecture. I used to hate its utilitarian sort of feel but it’s only through learning Perret’s vision vis-a-vis the city’s history that I learned to appreciate this place.
Most of the art installations below were created for the city’s milestone anniversary…
MuMa Le Havre
Street Art by Vincent Ganivet
Le Volcan designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1982
Art at St. Joseph church designed by Chiharu Shihota that symbolizes spiritual awakening
Work by Lang/Baumann to resemble doors that open to the sea
Last weekend, we visited Philadelphia, my old hometown where I spent critical years that still play a huge role in who I am today. I love sharing memories of the city with the girls even though I’m sure most of my comments went to deaf ears. I feel that I have a renewed appreciation for the city. Though much has changed in the areas I visited in Center City and Rittenhouse Square, I always love the fact that Philly is so much more manageable and less intimidating than cities like New York, Paris or Chicago.
We spent the afternoon visiting the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, which currently has an exhibit on my favorite artist of the moment, Robert Motherwell. PAFA is the oldest art museum and art school in the United States.
Deemed as the Oscars of the fashion world, the gala for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute exhibit is always something to marvel at. There’s always controversial outfits donned by celebrities like Rihanna and Lady Gaga but the actual exhibit is often overlooked by many. This year’s Costume Institute exhibit is on the legendary Rei Kawakubo from the design label Comme des Garcons.
I have to be honest but I’m not a big fan of Kawakubo’s design. Her figure distortion in clothing design definitely makes us rethink of the relationship between the clothes’ fit and the human form. But I’m a classicist in this sense and love designs that flatter the body rather than contradict it. Nevertheless, here are some pics from the exhibit. What do you think?
It’s getting harder every week to come to this space and blog about simple beauty and joy. What can I say? We simply don’t live in a time when we can be frivolous and go about our lives as if it were business as usual, oblivious to geo-political developments in the US and the world. No matter what our political inclinations are, there’s no way we can breathe easily these days. There’s just too much unrest and discord in the news and social media as well as daily conversations that we often just feel exhausted and a little depressed.
Yet it is during stressful times like the one we are in right now when we actually need more self-care, often in the form of simple joys. We still need to find a moment in our days when we can recharge — read books, go to yoga class, laugh with a friend, and go to our happy place. Because at the end of the day, no one will hand these things to us on a silver platter and tell us we deserve these pleasures. We must guard our simple joys zealously to keep going, to continue fighting and resisting, for the road ahead is long.
Personally, my simple joy and happy place is a museum, any museum. Seeing works from various artists and learning the process in which they create always give me tremendous joy and satisfaction. Last week, I went to the Met Breuer and checked out Kerry James Marshall’s exhibit before it closed. Marshall’s inspiration and approach to painting and his subjects are refreshing. In depicting African-American life in the US, Marshall used a painting style that was largely influenced by diverse styles from the Dutch masters to Jackson Pollock and Romare Bearden while adding a distinctive touch into the mix. The result is eclectic, diverse and full-bodied masterpieces that use classical methods while pushing the status quo.
What do you do to tend to your soul? I’d love to know…
We spent the last day of 2016 at the Centre Pompidou, our go-to place for art exhibits whenever we’re in Paris. In recent years, the exhibits at the Pompidou, from Lichtenstein to Klee, have all been so comprehensive, fascinating and unique. The artists featured at this place, unlike those at other top museums in Paris, are often fresh, modern and slightly provocative — totally my cup of tea.
I guess I am not alone in my love for the Pompidou. According to a recent newspaper article in France, the museum had a 9% increase in attendance in 2016, when most Paris venues were empty due to terrorist fears. During the same period, other more traditional Parisian museums like the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay lost 15% and 13% respectively of visitors.
But enough of the facts, right? The exhibits we saw, Cy Twombly and Rene Magritte, were quite delightlful. The temperature in Paris that morning was below 30 degrees Fahrenheit and the line in front of the museum was quite long and moved at an annoyingly snail’s pace. Despite the harsh elements, we stayed in line because it was our last day in Paris and we knew that we won’t get another shot at seeing these two great exhibits together again.
Twombly and Magritte are such different artists. Twombly’s free flowing, almost anarchic style is a stark contrast to Magritte’s methodical and philosophical approach to art. Just look at the images below…
The funny thing about these two particular exhibits is that my admiration for these two artists were reversed after seeing their works closer and more extensively. I was not a Magritte fan before the show but I came away from it utterly impressed with the precision and thought the artist put into every single one of his works. On the other hand, Twombly, left me a little flat with his carefree style and oversized canvases. I supposed Twombly’s works just did not move me or fascinate me the same way Magritte’s art did.
It’s a special year at the Montclair Art Museum (MAM) as it gears up for the Winter-Spring Season with a Matisse exhibit, featuring some of the artist’s works along with those created by American artists who were inspired by him. It truly is an exhilarating time to be MAM docent as momentum builds up to February…
But before we skip months ahead, let’s not forget about the MAM’s two current exhibitions — “Do It,” a conceptual art show, and “The Matisse Series,” an homage to the artist by former Montclair resident Janet Taylor Pickett. I think these two exhibits show how the MAM consistently bring works that are refreshing and thought provoking, allowing us to open our minds and be inspired visually and aesthetically by what’s in front of us, in our slice of northern NJ.
I did not really know much about conceptual art until this exhibit. I supposed one of the simplest ways to describe it is that these are ideas or instructions created by the artists with audience participation in mind. A show that started in Paris in 1993, “Do It” has traveled throughout the world with interpretations of artists’ directions always subject to unique variations depending on the venue. Some of the artists featured in this exhibition are Yoko Ono, the late Hassan Sharif, Hreinn Fridfinnson and Sol Lewitt.
“The Matisse Series”
This exhibit features about 76 collages and three hand-made books by Janet Taylor Pickett, who will also be featured in the museum’s February Matisse exhibit. I love her focus on dresses and the role they play in our definition of womanhood. Her collages are a rich mixture of color, images, culture and texture, along with the personal. Throughout the show, we get the sense of Ms. Taylor Pickett’s narrative, her autobiographical demonstration of people and culture who shaped her to be the artist whom she is today.
If you’re looking for some visual and artistic stimulation without the hassle of a New York museum, you should check out MAM and its’ current exhibitions. I promise I do not get any incentives from promoting the place even if I am a docent there…
Before we left France a few weeks ago, we checked out the very comprehensive Paul Klee exhibit at Centre Pompidou in Paris. I’ve always loved Klee’s work primarily because of the colors he used in his art as well as the humor involved. To anyone who first sees work, the simple lines and drawing of his paintings may seem a little childlike and naive. But upon closer look and further scrutiny, one sees the serious message behind a lot of his paintings (even some that were anti-Hitler, pretty bold move at the time) and the careful choice of colors for his compositions.
It’s always fun to see how artists evolve over time, to see how their craft buoys them through their lifetime. With this exhibit, I saw how Klee started out as an illustrator and dabbled a little in sculpture. His trips to Italy and Africa led him to be more brazen with color choice and combinations in his works. He was an artist associated with various art movements — Expressionism, Abstraction, Surrealism, Cubism — but the chronology of his works do not classify him as an artist of these movements.
The other thing the I learned from this exhibit was how Klee suffered from a degenerative disease called scleroderma toward the latter years of his life. This condition explains his shift toward simpler and larger works at the end of his career. Yet despite of his illness, he still created a tremendous amount of work, well over 500 in one year. I suppose that’s one of the things I love about artists, it’s their passion for their craft despite illnesses and everyday realities, many of which can throw us off the usual course. The other thing I love about these creative souls is how they always subject themselves to change, experimenting with the various styles and techniques that may appeal to them but always persisting. Now if I only can mimic these traits and incorporate them in my life.
Here are some of the images I took from the exhibit…
I recently went to the Metropolitan Institute’s new exhibit, Manus x Machina. Yes, it’s that famous exhibit/benefit where the stars, including Beyoncé and Alicia Vikander, gathered this past Monday to see and be seen. The exhibit focuses on the role technology has played in haute couture despite the fact that the latter is supposed to be purely done by hand. As the various curated pieces detail, there’s practically some kind of technology involved in creating all the couture pieces featured.
Unlike the China exhibit last year, Manus x Machina is stark and minimalist with focus primarily on the clothes. My favorites are the exhibit’s centerpiece, a wedding dress from Chanel by Karl Lagerfeld that featured an elaborate and lengthy train, and the fiberglass dress by Hussein Chalayan that can be operated with a remote control.
Yes, couture dresses may not be practical but they are just sometimes so magical that we’re often transported from our everyday realities to a different world just by looking at these wonderful creations. Plus, there’s something to be said for the vision and detailed craftsmanship that goes in each creation.
Manus x Machina opens today and runs until August 16, 2016.
Karl Lagerfeld for House of Chanel
Hussein Chalayan’s fiberglass dress
Another Chalayan creation
One of the first things that we wanted to do upon arriving in LA is to visit the Getty Villa and the Getty Center. Both are perched high enough to provide wonderful views of the city and it environs. While the Getty Villa gives us a look at what an ancient Pompeiian or Roman villa would have looked like, the Getty Center lends a more modern, futuristic look in its architecture and art collection.
I highly recommend going to both. The two places are unlike other museums in that you’re constantly melding the beauty of the outside with the unique art collection inside. Often in art museums, visitors are consumed by the interior, that is the building’s architectural splendor and exhibits. At the Getty Villa as well as at the Center, one can take a break from admiring the artworks with walks outside to take in majestic views of the LA landscape.
Rare model of North African subject
For about a month, the French Institute/Alliance Française in New York, along with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, are hosting the Tilt Kids Festival, a unique and innovative way to children’s entertainment and fun. Ines and I checked out the Le Bestiare exhibit, a make-believe zoo where kids can imagine themselves donning on different animal costumes. We also went to the Cabaret de Magie Nouvelle where we saw shadow puppetry and an unbelievable juggling act.
There are activities until early April so if you’re in the NYC-area, do check some of the events out. You don’t have to speak French in some of these events but it can be a good opportunity to pick up a word or expression here and there, n’est-ce pas? Enjoy!