Contemporary & Modern Art Museum
Some 30 years ago, as a student in Paris, every time I set my young, fascinated eyes on a modern painting - a Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Gris, Delaunay, or a Modigliani - I asked myself the same question: do they belong to timeless art, or will their charm wear out and disappear with the turn of the Century?
When I renewed my visit this year to the Modern Art collection, this time in the tastefully transformed Pompidou Center, what can I say ... I was walking in a dream. Those sad and loving eyes of Dédé in her peachy face (Portrait of Dédé -1918- by Modigliani) was the first that I met. Modi opened the door for me to this mixture of suffering and beauty that is art. Or shall I say suffering turned into beauty?
Then I was attracted in all directions, as if several magnets were fighting for my attention. It was Picasso's Harlequin who called me; his clasped hands and most of his body were imprisoned in an almost rigid drawing since 1923. Only his face and a shoulder acquired color and life. In Picasso's world the Harlequins are knights with kingly spirits, and they continue to live in your heart like old friends.
But here we are again. I was once more astounded at the courage, the imagination that took Picasso, Braque and their followers to paint their Guitar Player in an age when conformism was to rise to monstrous proportions (Guitar Player painted in 1910 by Picasso, and the same theme painted in 1914 by Braque - Braque, yes that great poet whose multi-faceted mind was as pure and truthful as a shiny, faithful, broken mirror). Abstraction of forms into rhythmic surfaces of the objects, abstraction of color with black and white and an occasional brown; no prosaic bla bla. They must have thought that what is now known as Cubism was the only rational and real representation of reality as opposed to the figurative representation conquered by photography. But what they achieved in these paintings are timeless poems, timeless symphonies that Beethoven could have heard for sure, had he been their contemporary.
About the same time, what was Matisse doing in his studio? No way; how could I avoid the 1914 Gold Fish Bowl, under the pretext that his work is more decorative than profound? I slipped into his Atelier and the light invaded my whole being. Looking out of his Paris Atelier, he must have felt like a gold fish early in the afternoon, drowned in light, limpid from within and without, reflecting life and it's colors like no-one before and no-one after him.
Was I bypassing a lot of masterpieces, a lot of Picasso's and Matisses? Well, every single painting in this collection is a masterpiece. I promise I'll talk about them in the weeks to come. But how can I not mention Kandinski? Bild mit Rotem Fleck (Picture with Red Spot, 1914) was perhaps a drop of spilled blood accompanied by all the skies, all the rainbows, all the mountains, all the colors, all the world in one single breathless, melodious painting.
I was watched intensely by Appollinaire, painted as a Greek God with sun glasses (the 1914 Premonitory Portrait of Guillaume Appollinaire by Di Chirico) and attracted in all directions by Giacommetti's men walking for sure in a parallel world without the gravitational force hammering them down, and Brancusis's cock ready for take off to outer space.
Talking of Space, we should leave a Delaunay on Mars, so that they know what is meant by color and rhythm on Earth (Rhythme of 1934 by Sonia Delaunay) as well as a Chagall to describe what is meant by human spirituality, or Joan Miro's Blue II to describe the 5th and 6th dimensions. I would also leave the hanged man of Rouault (Man is Wolf for Man, 1944), to show also how ugly we can get on the face of this Earth. Beauty may have been the greatest victim of the world war, but I don't think we have lost faith in art.
Friends, I was stoned and sat down for a rest, but that was before reaching the nirvana of the terraces. The view out of those terraces is perhaps the only view in the world that reminded me of the architechture of Ispahan reflected in shallow, shimmering fountains.
Don't miss this collection for anything in the world - a lot of work and dedication went into the renewal of this admirable museum, and all this was possible because of generous donations from many, amongst them Yves-Saint Laurent. What was missing in this collection? SaintLaurent's own designs, for his art belongs with these great masters, they are just as unique and timeless.
Art Lovers' Paris