May 11th, 2019: An incredible day in Paris visiting the Picasso Museum and the Centre Pompidou!!!

Today at the Picasso Museum, we saw a fabulous exhibit of the works of Alexander Calder shown side-by-side with those of Pablo Picasso. The two artists knew each other while living in Paris, and stayed in touch throughout their lives. This exhibition put the two artists on exhibition together for the first time.

Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso
A letter from Calder to Picasso
Picasso’s bull series. Note the transformation of the animal throughout the series
Hands by Alexander Calder
Calder

I like these quotes from the two artists:

“My whole theory about art is the disparity that exists between form, masses and movement. Even my triangles are spheres, but they are spheres of a different shape.” Calder (1962)

Calder

“The admission of approximation is necessary, for one cannot hope to be absolute in his precision. He cannot see, or even conceive of a thing from all possible points of view, simultaneously.” Calder (1943)

Calder

“Look at these drawings: it is not because I sought to stylize them that they turned out as they did. It is quite simply that the superficial took leave of its own accord.” Picasso (1946)

Picasso

“You must aim hard at likeness to get to the sign. For me, surreality is simply that and has never been anything else, the profound likeness beyond the shapes and colors by means of which things present themselves. Picasso (1969)

Picasso
Calder
Calder
Picasso
Picasso

In walking through the neighborhood, we ran across the old house where Picasso painted “Guernica” in 1937 – one of his most ambitious works. Guernica is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history. “The huge picture is conceived as a giant poster, testimony to the horror that the Spanish Civil War was causing and a forewarning of what was to come in the Second World War. The muted colours, the intensity of each and every one of the motifs and the way they are articulated are all essential to the extreme tragedy of the scene, which would become the emblem for all the devastating tragedies of modern society.” (Source: https://www.museoreinasofia.es/)

“Guernica” by Pablo Picasso

Soon we found ourselves on the left bank neighborhood that is home to the world-famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company – an exclusively English language bookstore in Paris. It was a fantastic place, crammed to the rafters with every kind of book: “Sylvia Beach, an American, founded the first Shakespeare and Company in 1919. Located in Paris at 12 rue de l’Odéon, the shop was half bookstore and half lending library. It attracted the great expat writers of the time—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pound—including some of the century’s most compelling female voices: Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, and Mina Loy.

Shakespeare and Company as it appears today

The bookstore was also frequented by celebrated French authors, such as André Gide, Paul Valéry, and Jules Romains. Beach’s shop served as the writers’ home away from home, postal address, and—when they were desperate—a loan service. Beach also helped usher in modern literature: she published her friend James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 when no one else dared.

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway wrote of Beach: “Sylvia had a lively, sharply sculptured face, brown eyes that were as alive as a small animal’s and as gay as a young girl’s . . . She was kind, cheerful and interested, and loved to make jokes and gossip. No one that I ever knew was nicer to me.” And French author André Chamson said that Beach “did more to link England, the United States, Ireland, and France than four great ambassadors combined.”

Beach’s bookstore was open until 1941, when the Germans occupied Paris. One day that December, a Nazi officer entered her store and demanded Beach’s last copy of Finnegans Wake. Beach declined to sell him the book. The officer said he would return in the afternoon to confiscate all of Beach’s goods and to close her bookstore. After he left, Beach immediately moved all the shop’s books and belongings to an upstairs apartment. In the end, she would spend six months in an internment camp in Vittel, and her bookshop would never reopen.” (Source: https://shakespeareandcompany.com/)

After Shakespeare and Company we crossed the Seine and found our way through the Marais neighborhood and eventually ended up at the startlingly modern Centre Pompidou.

Centre Pompidou as it rises above the streets of La Marais

When entering the museum, it is best to immediately take the escalators to the top floor, where one gets an amazing view of Paris from on high. From here you get wonderful views of the Notre Dame, the Sacre Cœur and the Eiffel Tower. The monuments of Paris are especially beautiful at dusk. After taking in the view, one can then work their way down through the floors and galleries.

The Eiffel Tower as seen from atop the Centre Pompidou
The basilica Sacre Cœur as seen from the Centre Pompidou

The Centre Pompidou, by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers (who won an international competition in the 1970’s to design it), is famous for its externally loaded structural system, which makes the gallery spaces totally flexible, and for the exposure of all of its mechanical and circulation systems on the facade, with each system coded a different color.

The Centre Pompidou as seen from its large enfronting plaza

In the museum, we saw works by Kandinsky, Pollack, deKooning and Rothko, among others. In the neighborhood outside the museum, we ran across an Inuit art gallery, which was spectacular.

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