Posts Tagged ‘Grand Palais’

Every year Paris stages Monumenta, a temporary installation by a single artist in the vast iron and glass spaces of its Grand Palais.

I remember describing last year’s work, produced by the British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor: “The whole thing is vast, magical and utterly bonkers. I can’t quite find words to explain the experience. You enter inside the ‘balloon’ first of all, and everything is red and hot and echoey and womb-like, with shadows of the ironwork structure of the building playing on the surface far above you. Then you get to wander round, still in the enormous Beaux-Arts hall of the building, but now outside the sculpture. It’s like seeing the workings – now you understand that it’s a multi-sphered purple shape nestling under the dome, but you also have the new experience of seeing the huge, organic shape filling that vast space, like an alien life form gradually permeating everywhere in the void. I can’t imagine the genius of the man to imagine and then create something quite so preposterous, or so perfect. Poor Daniel Buren, who I think has been commissioned to do Monumenta 2012.”

Now a recent return visit to Paris has allowed me to see Monumenta 2012. This year’s artist is indeed Frenchman Daniel Buren, perhaps best known for his fun, controversial black and white columns in the cour d’honneur of the Palais Royal in Paris.

His installation, called “Excentrique(s), Travail In Situ”, is a mass of raised, coloured, transparent disks. With their narrow supports, they reminded me of umbrellas and – in the way the light shines through them to create pools and patterns of colour – of contemporary stained glass. Buren himself has compared the structures to trees in a forest, especially appropriate among the green ironwork of the space.

My favourite elements of the installation lay above and below the disks: 45 metres up in the roof, Buren had added a checkerboard of blue panels to the central glass dome, allowing for a dramatic interplay between the colours of the disks and the glass of the roof above.

Then, on the floor in the centre of the hall, lie a number of circular mirrors, which on approach create sudden striking reflections and contrasts (although something of a risk for anyone in a skirt…).

There is a certain defensiveness I think about the scale of this year’s installation. Buren has claimed that monumentality is a quality as much as a particular size, while an appreciative critic has argued that, at three metres high, the relative smallness of the Excentrique(s) allows the monumentality of the Grand Palais itself to shine through. But for me, having seen 2011’s purple balloons, I found Buren’s transparent disks rather domestic and almost timid: they lacked the extraordinary spatial confidence that Kapoor (and before him, Richard Serra) had demonstrated. They may be thoughtful and pretty, but they lack the sense of marvel that is Monumenta at its best.

Monumenta 2012 continues at the Grand Palais until 21 June.

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Despite living in the middle of Paris, I usually take little interest in the couture shows, or in fashion more generally. (My post on New York Fashion Week only talked about the trees that had been destroyed to make way for the tents.) But when I read that Chanel this week had created a garden for its catwalk show inside the Beaux-Arts splendour of the Grand Palais, I tracked down a picture.

Grand Palais

Photo by Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

I have nothing clever to say about it. Some papers report that it was based on the garden in the black and white French film “Last Year at Marienbad” (although the models lack the distinctive dark shadows of the film). Others have lazily described it as inspired by Versailles. For me, it’s just nice to see an abstraction of a classical garden making the news.

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Giverny 1An exhibition of Monet’s work opened this week at the Grand Palais. It is the first retrospective of his paintings for around 30 years in Paris, where he remains resolutely unfashionable.

His gardens at Giverny, in Normandy, are a major tourist destination. We visited last year and found the little town packed with visitors, all coming to view something which, in a way, they had already seen.

His paintings of the bassin de nymphéas (the waterlily pond) are so well-known, so replicated on greetings cards and posters and place-mats, that we are all familiar with them, even those who have never seen any of the 250 or so paintings themselves.

Giverny 2

Emerging from the dark tunnel that links Monet’s house and its charming Clos Normand garden with the later Japanese-style water gardens, visitors feel a growing sense of anticipation on approaching the pond. It is a pre-formed memory; we know what is coming, even though it is new to us.

Giverny 3

The water gardens, with their wooden bridges and weeping willows, are actually a late twentieth century recreation of Monet’s original design, which virtually disappeared through lack of funds and neglect after his death. But, when we see the pond, we still experience a rush of recognition and familiarity. Most of the photographs I took suggested that I was the only one gazing at this famous garden; in truth of course, I was just one of the 400,000 visitors who pour through the site each year, seeking those familiar views.

Giverny 4

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