I think that one of the reasons people go to Paris is to see great art. Well, one of the reasons that we wanted to go to Paris was to see great art. One of the smartest purchases we made – actually the first one that we made at the airport was the six-day Museum Pass, for which one price gets you into nearly every museum (and other sites like Ste Chappell). Cost-savings aside, it had the awesome benefit of having its own entry line, so while the masses queued up at the ticket booths, we sailed right in every place that we visited. Bon!
Now, in comparing the different museums, I could provide a thoughtful discourse on all the artwork that was in each, but that’s really only part of the museum-going experience, right? And being A Judgmental American, it’s important to keep score. Here they are in the order we visited them.
Rodin Museum. Our first museum stop was actually the one that was the closest to our little Parisian apartment in the 7th Arr. I remembered it as one of my favorites from my visit to the city in the mid-1990s. We were delighted to see that there was a special exhibit of Rodin’s sketches being shown. Seeing them made me realize just how much Rodin liked drawing naked women. And not just curvy, tastefully-shaded women, but everything out-there-for-all-too-see women.
We soon realized why there was such an exposition, when we found out that the main house of the museum was CLOSED. Merde. Ah well, many of the really stand-out pieces – The Thinker, The Burgers of Calais, The Three Shades, The Gates of Hell – are all outside in the garden, which we were happy to stroll through on a cool, cloudy (even a little rainy) day.
Experience: 6 Balzacs. -3 for the main house being closed. +1 for trying to make it up with the drawings. +1 for the middle-aged couple that was overcome with l’amour while strolling in the garden and grappled like a couple of wrestlers. Kissing wrestlers.
L’Ongerie. Also one of my favorites from the 90s visit. I recalled a lovely small museum filled with wood-paneled rooms, each of which held a few Impressionist masterpieces (and of course, the grand galleries containing Monet’s Nymphae). So, I was pretty disoriented when I saw that there were no charming wood galleries and all the art seemed to be in a huge concrete basement hall. (I learned quickly that the museum had been closed for six years for a huge renovation.) The best part was a special exhibit on Debussy’s Art & Music. This exhibit highlighted the close friendships between the composer and several Impressionist contemporaries – and their ability of one to influence one another. The exhibit also had several of Debussy’s music note books, which was fascinating to me. He had a very neat hand for music note-writing, but I was most interested in the things he crossed out in red ink.
Experience: 7 Cezanne pears. -3 for the renovation, because the industrial feel of the “basement” gallery was not hip, but cold and industrial. +2 for for the Debussy exhibit.
The Musee d’Orsay. I know it’s very bourgeois to like Impressionist art, but I like Impressionist art. And if you’re like me, the Musee d’Orsay is hard to beat. Every gallery contains a dozen pieces that most musuems would kill just to have just one of. Beautiful art and a beautiful space to house it. I’ve come to understand that the movie Hugo was set there (when it was still a train station). I suppose that now I’ll have to watch it.
Experience: 9 Degas ballerinas. -1 for the café running out of Eclairs Maxi before I had a chance to have one with my lunch.
The Marmottan Museum. This little museum (the only one not covered by our pass) had been part of Monet’s family for a long time and houses the family’s “private” collection of his paintings. It’s in a manor house out in the 16th Arr., so it’s off a lot of Seine-centric tourists’ itineraries. The house was lovely, though none of the Monet’s there were particularly stunning. In addition, half the exhibition space was taken up with a special exhibition on the life and art of Berthe Morisot.
Experience: 5 water lilies. -2 for the Berthe Morisot exhibit, which left me wondering less about her art than the Monets in the storage closet that were put away so that we could see it.
The Louvre. The Granddaddy of them all. It struck me that the Louvre is most like Yellowstone National Park in that when you arrive it’s all crowded and crazy with people waiting to see Old Faithful – or in this case the Mona Lisa – but if you get a little bit off the trail so to speak, you can see wonders in privacy. For example, while the Grand Gallery was a wash of humanity, we saw Hammurabi’s Code (yes, THAT Hammurabi’s Code). While taking time to try and decipher the French curation, maybe one other couple went by. Crazy, but that’s The Louvre.
Experience. 7 Winged Victories. The Louvre is probably the only museum that I can think of that is overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time (there’s just SO MUCH STUFF). -1 for having to watch people push and shove to look at the Mona Lisa. +1 for getting to watch people push and shove to look at the Mona Lisa.
Centre Georges Pompidou. The modern art monstrosity is naturally at one end of the hipster den of The Marais district. Modern art seems to be a tricky business – much like indie music – in that if you create something people really seem to like, then you’re a sell-out. I was prepared to hate everything. The top floor contained an exhibit on Henri Matisse that compared paintings that he did of similar subjects, which was spectacular. That and the Debussy exhibit at L’Orangerie were maybe the best things I saw all week. The next floor covered, in chronological order, all the major movements in 20th century art with good examples and curation. The last floor had all the new pieces. The new pieces, of course, are almost never something as bourgeois as a painting – they’re “installations”.
For example, there was a 21st century piece called “Flux” that was a stand, a fan and a ribbon of audiotape. I kept expecting it to collapse, but it never did. I’m not sure if it was “art”, but I could have watched it for an hour.
Experience: 10 cubist Picasso guys. +2 for beating all expectations. +1 for “Flux”, +1 for the best view of Paris from top floor. -1 for selling out.