Friday, 15 August 2008

Some Smaller (but still Charming) Parisian Museums

This Sunday it was cold and cloudy in Paris, the perfect weather for wandering around a museum. However, being August, it is also peak tourist season, and the idea of being in line for hours to get into the Louvre or the Musee D’Orsay really didn’t appeal to me. I decided I really wanted to try out something smaller and less known. Small museums are everywhere in Paris, as are institutes that offer petite, high quality exhibitions. I decided to visit two fabulous spaces, the Maison Europeene de la Photographie and the Foundation Cartier.

The exhibition on currently at the Maison Europeene is ‘Annie Leibovitz; A Photographer’s Life’ and is truly breath-taking. The three-story exhibit is packed full of the classic Leibovitz’s, from her time at Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, but also comprises of personal photos of her friends and family. As Leibovitz herself said ‘I don’t have two distinct lives, I have one life, and personal photos have the same importance in it as professional photos.’

While the glamour and beauty of photos of Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and The Trumps is certainly fascinating, it is seeing these personal photos which really makes the exhibition exciting and unusual. The photos depict two very difficult and moving events in Leibovitz’s life; the death of her father, and the death of her lover Susan Sontag. Black and white photos of a sick, almost unrecognisable Sontag juxtaposed with glossy, full colour photos of sparkling Nicole Kidman makes Leibovitz’s loss all the more poignant. As a viewer it makes one aware of the generosity and privilege of being able to pass from the ‘famous’ to the ‘private’ realm of Leibovitz’s work.

The Foundation Cartier is honouring the 10 year anniversary of French sculptor Cesar Baldaccini’s death. The artist is perhaps best known in Paris for his giant bronze ‘Pousse’ (Thumb) sculpture in La Defence. His obsession with the thumb (which is a cast of his own) stems from his amusement at the role of Caesar’s thumb in deciding the fate of Gladiator’s; a simple thumbs down meant immediate death. Certainly more light hearted than the Leibovitz exhibition, the sculptures on offer at Foundation Cartier are all quirky and amusing- downstairs you can find a series of compressed cars, beautifully spray painted in vibrant colours, as well as a video of the man himself, wandering junk yards in the 60’s, smoking a pipe.

Even if the exhibit was lacking, which this one certainly is not, the Foundation Cartier is worth a visit just to see the beauty of the building itself. Surrounded by a small wooded area dotted with Cesar’s works, the building feels very far away from the Parisian metropolis. The entire ground floor is glass, allowing you to see straight through the building, drawing attention to the delightful potted tree- an enormous chestnut in a multi-coloured, tiled pot!

Both these exhibits are certainly worth a visit, and as they are small you can easily visit them in an hour or an hour and a half. If not quite as monumental as the Mona Lisa or Van Gogh’s self portrait, it is certainly nice not to be rushed along, and to spend as long as you would like looking at a work!

Annie Leibovitz- A Photographer’s Life: 18 June - 14 September 2008

Maison Europeene de la Photographie 5/7 rue de Fourcy - 75004 Paris

Cesar: 8 June- 26 October 2007

Foundation Cartier 261 Bvd Raspail 75014

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