Saturday, December 14, 2013

Musée Fragonard de l'Ecole - Paris Part 3

If there is a single most surprising experience in the group from across the drink then it is the Fragonard Museum. This place takes some energy to find but the easiest way is to simply go to the École Nationale Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort which is avery old veterinary school in the Paris suburb of Maisons-Alfort. There you will find the Museum and all its splendors! Named after the Professor of Anatomy that was ( after 6 years ) thrown out of the school as a madman, this museum holds what some may consider the stuff of nightmares and what I consider sublime.
Below are just a sample of images from the museum's collection.

Anatomical models and preserved organs in plentitude. 

Anatomical anomalies of every variety.

Specimen after specimen that would make a carnival proprietor drool.

And finally the work that got Fragonard sent packing as a lunatic. Flayed human cadavers. The last room of the museum is home to the only surviving examples of his work. It is thought that Fragonard created around 700 of these preserved dissections. Once he was dismissed from the school he continued to make them for private collectors in his own studio. So much for reigning in the madness!

The Horseman of the Apocalypse- based on the print by Albrecht Dürer

An interesting side note to all of this is that Honoré Fragonard was cousin to Jean-Honoré Fragonard the rococo painter. This lead me to wonder, given Fragonard the anatomist's tendency for creating flayed remains based on artworks, if he had ever considered his cousin's "The Swing" as subject matter. That I would like to see.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Paris Part Two-The Pont de Bir-Hakeim and Pere Lachaise Cemetery

To keep things in chronological order seems important to me as I recall the details of our trip to Paris. Our next sight-seeing event was Pont de Bir-Hakeim. This bridge is very close to the Eiffel Tower and is an impressive steel structure in it's own right. We chose the location because our beloved film "Last Tango in Paris" uses the location near the end of the film.
View of the pedestrian walkway with steel supports that look like simplified claw feet. On either side if the bridge are streets for autos and above on the second level the metro train runs.

"La France Renaissante" made by sculptor Holger Wendekinch adorns the walkway about halfway across the Seine River.

High relief sculptures representing the personifications of Science and Labor on the central arch of the viaduct by Jules Felix Couton. The other side has sculptures by Jean Antoine Injalbert representing Electricity and Commerce

View of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine from the Pont de Bir-Hakeim

View of Pont de Bir-Hakeim from shore showing the steel sculptures on the supports by Gustave Michel.
We next strolled over to see the Eiffel Tower which served as inspiration for the most recent in the series of my "13th Grape" artwork to date.

The Pere Lachaise Cemetery

It is difficult, like many things on this trip, to express through images the magnitude and influence of some sites. The Pere Lachaise Cemetery is one more "world on to itself" that we took in during a three hour self guided tour ( although we were accosted several times by self appointed tour guides ). Here I will show some favorites but I also want to express the wealth of symbols, sculptures and ceremonial/memorial architecture that waits here to amaze any visitor. Some in our party were there to see, you guessed it, Jim Morrison's resting place but there was so, so much more.
The first grave that caught my eye was Robertson. Winged skulls, owls and low relief sculptures that show the legions of Hell coming at a crowd of helpless fainting people? Who was this guy? Well the stone says " Physique Fantasmagorie Aerostats ". It turns out that Robertson was a very famous magician of sorts who put on a stunning show were he conjured spirits and demons to the horror and amazement of his contemporaries. He was also a balloonist. Maybe Robertson was the model for the original Wizard of Oz. Who knows.

 Below we have the grave of the Lizard King. Missing its original bust ( which was replaced and re-stolen ) and fenced off from the public. I believe his is the only we saw that you could not approach closely. I suppose you have to make an appointment to place flowers or the caretakers just do it for you.

 Below Modigliani- The painter's grave was one of the most active in the cemetery. Much love goes to this man still along with his partner Jeanne Hebuterne who committed suicide soon after his death. We left a drawing on his grave.

Another oddity of a grave was the resting place of Victor Noir. I noticed the patina was rubbed away to polish on the statue's lips,chin and crotch. Later research uncovered that this man was a journalist who was shot to death in 1870 by one of the Bonapartes during the reign of Napoleon 111. The shooting happened over a story the paper Noir worked for published criticizing the Emperor. The memorial sculpture by Jules Dalou has over the years become a fertility symbol in true sympathetic magical terms. Women, who believe in such things, will kiss the statue and rub the crotch to ensure a good sex life, the promise of childbirth or in hopes of manifesting a husband.
Why the shoes are polished at the tips we can leave to the imagination.

Sarah Bernhardt- without much fuss over her monument. You think there would be roses all over this one.

 The cemetery abounds with beautiful structures. Owls and winged hourglasses everywhere.

And then we happen on this chap. Andre Breton -and this was not the last we heard from this individual on this trip. Little did we know his ghost would follow us all the way to the Pompidou Center.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Paris as Necropolis

My recent trip to Paris was filled with amazing sights and events. To document the trip I will be posting several parts. Part 1 focuses on the two most macabre of the locations we visited.

The Catacombs of Paris-
The first place we visited was the Catacombes This is a vast network of underground tunnels (originally created because of the mining for limestone to acquire building materials for Paris' structures) is now home to an ossuary of almost mindboggeling dimension. An estimated 6 million people have found their final resting place in these tunnels but not by their own will. The burial of all these people at the Catacombes is due to the structural failure of Paris' earlier above ground cemeteries. It seems that Paris had an ongoing problem with burying their dead within the city limits in a few large church grounds until their were centuries of Parisian dead stacked high on top of one another. Once this practice actually failed they needed a place to move all the dead. A perfect use for the largely uncharted mining tunnels was the answer.
 The structure itself is very impressive with added support to prevent collapse. What is strange to realize as you walk this underground museum is that you are walking directly under the streets of Paris.
 The remains of around 6 million people are neatly stacked and mortared together in fairly predictable arrangement. Some artistic license was taken however. Some skulls face outward some inward, some skulls are arranged in different patterns and some are more polished as if touched more over the centuries.
It seems that the leg bones are the real structural necessity for these stacks because their they are stacked parallel to the skull's inward and outward gaze.

It is hard to convey the quantities with pictures but this gives you an idea. Flanking wall after wall winding through the Catacombes.

On second thought I will give the ghoulish sites a rest and move on to the next museum in chronological order. We next visited the Musee des Arts Forains at the Bercy Pavillions.
This museum is basically a museum of "fairground arts" and is privately owned. To see the museum you must arrange a tour or latch on to an already scheduled tour ( which is what we did ).
The tour is conducted by an august but energetic gentleman and magician who does the tour in French ( it is a shame that we could understand very little but the sights are worth the tour by far).
 The exterior of the Musee des Arts Forains located on the Ave. Des Terroirs De France is populated by strange plaster busts of clowns and politicians. It is very entertaining to just walk along and identify the characters, some of whom seem fantastical and some like true portraits.
I particularly liked the disapproving clown.

Entry into the museum comes through large iron gates into a space flanked by two buildings of the pavillions and leading to a courtyard. It was not until the end of the tour that I photographed the courtyard so I will also end the visual tour with that. However, it was in the courtyard that we began our tour, with our guide speaking a mile a minute in French about what I presumed was the history of the Bercy Pavillions and the association with Fairground Arts. At this delicate moment in the tour I took no pictures out of respect and shame for my lack of language skills. We then moved indoors to the first leg of our tour.
Many impressive displays of fair ground sculptures are at hand here, from mythological figures to equines.. you name it.

There was also a great demonstration of self playing musical instruments ( I will post small videos separately between this post and the next) of which I am particularly fond of.
In fact there was an entire room dedicated to self playing instruments which was played in total as an environment. Other highlights were the carousels ( one standard and one older one where the seated people needed to bicycle themselves around it on tracks), The tour guides magic tricks which showed uncanny skills of slight of hand and the "brass top tables". Dark and mysterious the whole way round! Here is one video of the "musical instrument room" I can't resist!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The 4th "13th Grape" Multiple- Description

The 4th of the "13th Grape" subscription is the simplest but perhaps the most poetic object yet. I was very keen on sending one from our Paris trip but did not want to make up my mind what shape it would take until there. After viewing the Eiffel Tower, because of it's proximity to another site we were visiting, I noticed the names on the tower (some of which I recognized as scientists). One name that I was familiar with jumped out at me- Lavoiser. Antoine Lavoiser was executed by guillotine  during the Reign of Terror partly because of his bad relationship with Marat and also because he was a tax collector at one point in his lifetime. According to my research, of the 72 names of scientists, engineers and inventors on the tower, only Lavoiser lost his head to the guillotine. So, the object was born, a post card of the Eiffel Tower in black and white with the city partially whited out. Added to this 12 purple marks made with wine corks along the tower's image with a final 13th separated in honor of the great scientist Antoine Lavoiser.

The 3rd "13th Grape" Multiple- Description and Use

The 3rd multiple in the "13th Grape" subscription was created mostly during an extended stay in Madison Wisconsin. The iconography is therefore quite heavy on emphasizing migratory patterns and flight patterns of Canadian Geese. It also shows the "migration" of wealth from the higher classes to the lower in the image of the sale of grapes from "the King's Vine" in France. The annual sale allows commoners to buy grapes from the century old vines at the park of the Chateau of Fountainebleau.

How to use this piece- With your most trusted partner/friend/relative take hold of two sides of the piece ( preferable at the upper middle of the piece between the two geese ) Both of you conjure up a wish in your mind- do not verbalize this wish! Now tear the piece apart forcefully. Which ever of the two holds the wishbone image or the majority of the wishbone image has their wish focused on. Repair the piece with clear tape, display (on refrigerator, shelf or somewhere very visible) and both parties set about making the wish come to manifest as reality.

3rd 13th Grape before activated.

3rd 13th Grape after activation with tear repaired on left of piece.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Chazen Museum of Art Madison Wisconsin

My visit to the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison was very rewarding and I highly recommend a visit to this collection. Here are some of my favorites.

A drawing by Jean Cocteau

Confounding glass works by Luke Jerram and Andrew Erdos

"The Cabinet of Curiosities" by Steffan Dam

Stainless steel drawing "Nude" by Tom Wesselman

Mithila painting by Sarap Lal Paswa "The Insects in the Garden of Raja Salhesh"