Every first Sunday of the month in Paris, almost all of the museums and tourist sites dispense with their admission charges and let the masses in. This gives you an idea of the pandemonium that ensues — the line stretched all the way to the end of the entrytube at the Centre Georges Pompidou:
I didn’t even attempt the Louvre, or the Musée D’Orsay, or the Musée Picasso (where the line stretched out the door, out the courtyard, and around the block).
But I like the Centre Pompidou. They aren’t kidding when they say they’re a museum of modern art — this is not the kind of place where the curators wait for what was once shocking to ripen into respectability before daring to acquire it. You’re as likely to find the exact room that optical artist Yaacov Agam decorated in the Elysée Palace (and which President Pompidou’s successor, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, swiftly removed) as you are to rest your eyes on some pretty Matisse. The question of “What is art?”, inchoate in more sedate museum settings, is brought to the fore without shame or awkwardness at the Pompidou, where even the building (“like an office block that threw up on itself,” someone behind me in the line to get in said) makes one ponder the definitions and boundaries of art and architecture.
Not that a yen for the new has always well-served the museum. Apparently this plastic bubble, air-as-medium stuff was very big in the 1970s.
But I like Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui’s repurposed bottle caps and gum wrappers (for my San Francisco friends, there’s a similar Anatsui piece in the permanent collection of the De Young, so you ought to hop along some first Tuesday of the month). This, to me, recalls Klimt — except with Klimt all you get is gaudied-up, demi-monde surface, and with Anatsui I’m forced to think of materials, economics, nationality, history, and the meaning of choice under the constraints of circumstance.
I like this, too. I’m a sucker for expressive line — painters who really let loose with their strokes, like Egon Schiele and Toulouse-Lautrec, always pull me in more than their more conservative, neatly-executed cousins. Here, the line is all there is, and it has a kind of sympathetic simplicity.
And thankfully the Centre Pompidou had the grace not to hang it too close to its obvious point of departure:
I’ve had this Jean Dubuffet installation, “Le Jardin d’Hiver” (“The Winter Garden”), in the back of my mind since my last visit to the Pompidou, in 2002. It’s somehow disorienting — a pockmarked, uneven grotto with no straight lines, and no light source other than a small, roundish door set high in one wall — and comforting in its extraordinary simplicity. There’s not much to look at, but it’s hard to keep your eyes from tracing the thick, black, topographical lines that define the cave’s bulges and negative spaces. Last time I was here, a sad, sad, music was playing, and I spent quite some time just standing there.
I’ve decided that one day, like Yves Klein, there will be a colour named for me. Not sure what it will be yet, but if an artist can get his models to roll in paint and stick his name on the shade, surely a model should be able to get something.