One of the first things you learn about Paris as a tourist is the grandeur and appeal of the Louvre. Located near the Seine, it’s beautiful glass pyramids and fantastic collection of art work. Yet my class on contemporary art, does not go to the Louvre on a class day. Rather it focuses on the plethora of other museums available throughout the city of Paris and I could not be more grateful. The following are my list of favorite museums so far and the exhibitions that drew me to tears.
1. The Quai Branly
The Quai Branly is placed walking distance to the Eiffel tower but holds a collection that can steal your attention. The exhibits we focused on were based on Colonialism and viewed through the arts and as it was “taught” to children through media at the time. A majority of our class was shaken at how relevant this work still seemed to be and another commented on the exhibits allowing insight into the origins of institutionalized racism.
Moreover, the Quai Branly houses a permanent collection of artifacts from across the globe. During this part of my walk through I attempted to find my own history in this world history collection and came to an interesting realization. My line of history is traced through different countries depending on the time period to which I refer. As Pakistan and India was a recent separation– I have to look at what year the item is from in order to determine if it is “mine.” But this line of thought also had me question why it was important to have a “mine” in history. Are we not all human? Do we not all share this Earth? Do these distinctions between mine and theirs, in group and out group, lead to more conflict than they do personal identification?
2. Foundation Louis Vuitton
I know what you’re thinking. But there’s no purses here, no clothing– the most you can find is a pencil pouch with the label in the gift shop. Instead this is an art museum– the building itself is the first artwork you’ll see. Shaped like an abstracted Noah’s arch this place has around four to six floors and terraces to view the greenery and city life on each side. However, it was the video art inside that had me shaken to my core.
The video art included works that personified plants and used music as a way to trap your mind. It ranged to just a peaceful beach with bells ringing and in front of the screen a physical layer of grass and flowers. 3D animation talking about the evolution of humans and AIs, in a post apocalyptic world and even what it would be like to feel empathy with everything and everyone by eating a certain plant. Most interestingly, these video pieces were both 2D and 3D in format. The content mixed with an interesting curation and new exposure to video art has me sold. I look forward to coming back and seeing their next exhibition.
3. The Grand Palais
While this one may seem a more obvious destination– both exhibitions here were also some of my favorites and are still some of the first on my list of recommendations despite seeing many shows since. Artists and Robots as well as Kupka proved to be both eye opening and pure fun. The former, raises the question of when can technology be called an “artist” and how much is the artist responsible when something like an algorithm or an AI is responsible for making work after an artist sets only parameters.
The Kupka show, on the other hand, followed the artist’s entire career. His political commentary and paintings were featured in a chronological fashion that exhibited his work as movements. From realism to a style reminiscent of impressionism to abstraction using form and color Kupka has become one of my favorite artists.
Truthfully, it was the shows that made the museums amazing. But I have faith that if the curators were able to do this well this time, they will prove themselves again and again.