Paris 1900 at the Petit Palais


Poster for the Palais de l’optique, Exposition Universelle, Paris 1900


The Petit Palais opened for the Exposition Universelle in spring 1900 (as did the Grand Palais and the Pont Alexandre III), making it the perfect location for Paris 1900, a sumptuous aesthetic exploration of the Belle Époque.

The exhibition opens with early film footage, taken by the Lumière brothers, of visitors ascending the steps to the Petit Palais in 1900, all cinched waists, hats and parasols. Film footage punctuates the exhibition throughout, often displayed in mirrored passages which capture something of the whirling excitement of the time. In one film, visitors even hop on and off a moving walkway between exhibition sites (any modern-day visitor to Paris who has the misfortune to pass through blighted Châtelet or Montparnasse will say moving walkways in Paris 2014 have lost some of their je ne sais quoi).

Full review here

Paris 1900 is on at the Petit Palais until 17/08/14

Last Chance to See the (Literal) Underpinnings of History: La Mécanique des Dessous


La mécanique des dessous at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs is an entertaining journey through the undergarments that have supported the more outlandish historical trends. Think ruffs, bustles and faux culs (‘fake bums’).

The light is kept dim to protect the fragile clothes on display but also lends a vaguely S&M ambiance to the show which reveals the various cages and corsets that look stark and painful without the layers of rich fabrics with which they are usually covered.

The female form is the main victim of ridiculous contortions, from whale-boned dress fronts paired with excessive panniers, to crinolines and the lesser known fin-de-siècle “monobosom”. Male attire was not immune to the whimsy of fashion either. As well as some amusing codpieces in the early section, there are padded vests and jackets to make men look more rounded or puffy-chested as fashion dictated. 19th century dandies where even known to wear figure-enhancing corsets (a proto-metrosexual?).

After some more tame-looking push up bras the show ends with haute couture pieces from Vivienne Westwood, Alexander Mcqueen and Christian Lacroix – amongst others – that incorporate historical shapes into their contemporary creations. A mannequin line-up also shows how fashion is as tied to the shapes created – the architecture of the figure – as it is to fabrics.

La mécanique des dessous is on at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs until 24/11/13

Linder: Femme/Objet at the Musée d’Art Moderne

Linder, Oh Grateful Colours, Bright Looks VI, 2009


Femme/Objet is the first retrospective of British feminist punk artist Linder Sterling (or just “Linder”). The Great Exposition made it to the artist’s opening presentation of the show.

Linder has the kindly face of your friend’s mother, making it all the more incongruous as she describes her intellectual interest in pornography in a softly spoken voice, barely audible over the noise of a video showing her younger self screaming into a mic during a gig with her band Ludus at Manchester’s legendary Haçienda club in 1982. During said concert Linder wore a dress with a bodice weaved out of meat (way ahead of ms Gaga who went to the MTV Video Music awards clad head to toe in meat in 2010). Under her net skirt, which she whips off during the performance, Linder wore a dildo, clearly visible in the video pointing and bouncing around aggressively at the gradually retreating crowd.

Linder, Orgasm Addict single cover for the Buzzcocks, 1977


Linder continues to be involved in performance art but the main body of her work is photography and photo-montage. Her early collages use found images and splice naked women with domestic appliances (she designed the single cover for the Buzzcocks’ Orgasm Addict, showing the torso of a naked woman with an iron for a head). Searching through gendered magazines in the 1970s, Linder had the realisation that what they had in common were women’s bodies and the image of women: fashion, homes and domesticity in women’s magazines; naked women in men’s porn magazines. Her interest in magazines led her to Manchester’s only porn outlet at the time. “I had to be very brave” she says.

This seems quite quaint compared with modern internet-driven pornography. “We went to Pigalle”, says Linder, exchanging conspiratorial glances with Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, the show’s curator, “for research, But print media in porn is nearly over”. In the light of these changes Linder’s more recent work has something of the nostalgic about it. Using negatives unearthed from the 1960s, she continues to create montages which mix (now) retro-looking naked women with flowers, outsized mouths and garish-looking cakes. Although coming from a feminist place, the collages are not without humour. In a series from 2011, Postliminal rites, pictures of snakes or cactuses – nudge nudge wink wink – are placed in front of genitals. The original images in the series come from a specialized magazine for “transsexual horse lovers”. As Linder says, with the decline of the printed porn magazine, “there’s only really weird stuff left”.

Femme/Objet is on at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris until 21/04/13

Helmut Newton at the Grand Palais’ Newly Restored Southeast Gallery


Helmut Newton, Paris, 1977

“I’m attracted to bad taste,” says Newton, quoted on the wall of his Grand Palais retrospective, “It’s much more exciting than the clichés parading as good taste.”

There is a fine line between good and bad taste in Newton’s photographs: Bulgari jewels dripping from the wrist of a model while she breaks the leg off a greasy roast chicken, an immaculately made up Jerry Hall holding a raw steak against one eye, a model on a bed saddled up like a horse and a variety of masochistic-looking props (one series from 1977 has models posing in a (sexy?) back brace or with crutches or a bionic hand).

Newton has been accused of misogyny in the past. While it could be argued that the women in his photographs are objectified, they are treated like magnificent objects, and along with everything else in his compositions are carefully staged and dramatically lit. They are an impressive presence in a thoroughly recherché setting.  In the “Big Nudes” series, inspired by German terrorist identity shots, his models dominate the space, they are strong and monumental, like modern day Venuses.

In the documentary Helmut by June (also on show, although hard to get in as the auditorium is a little poky) made by June Newton, Helmut’s wife of 56 years and co-curator of the show, Newton gives his verdict on what he calls “shrinking violet women”, “they give me the creeps” he says. The film, which follows Newton at work in LA, Miami and Monte Carlo, sheds some light on his working practice and Newton, the man. He is not a sleaze bag (or a “monster” as June has heard him called) but comes across as professional, rigorous (even strict with his models) and not without humour. He uses the models as a sculptor uses his raw materials or directs them as a film director would an actor. The results are sexy and risqué (he was dubbed “King of Kink” by Time magazine) but the process is professional and his women appear liberated rather than exploited.

Helmut Newton is on at the Grand Palais, Southeast Gallery until 17/06/12

Musique Plastique / Echoes et Unisson

Just sometimes you find yourself at an exhibition-opening, wondering what all the hype is about. This was the case at the Galerie du Jour and the Swiss Cultural Centre on Friday night’s opening of two new exhibitions, Musique Plastique and Echoes et Unisson, exploring the relationship between music and art.

The show at the Galerie du Jour brings together ”artist-musicians” or “musician-artists”, and includes a range of international talent with heavy-hitters from the music world, including Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) and Brian DeGraw (of Gang Gang Dance), as well as artists that cross over into the musical scene, like Swedish artist Tobias Bernstrup, Elvis wannabe Arnaud Maguet and Jean Luc Verna, who previously brought us this version of Funkytown, while dancing in drag on a giant turd.

Despite the impressive list of participating artists, the overwhelming impression is that, actually the results of this art-music cross-over are neither good music nor good art.

But Musique Plastique is not meant to be just an exhibition: it is also a series of concerts/performances/workshops/ conferences, as well as a catalogue and a compilation. So perhaps there is more than meets the eye…

Echoes et Unisson, at the Swiss Cultural Centre, deals less with the cross-fertilization between the two disciplines and more with the influence of music on the visual arts. From pop icons to musical instrument forms and memorabilia-inspired installations. The Unisson part of the show, by Swiss artist Francis Baudevin, unites photos, fanzines and posters in an installation that explores the links between the New York and Swiss musical scens in the 1980s (no I didn’t know there was a scene in Switzerland either).

Constantin Luser, Vibrosaurus Linae, 2008

Philippe Gronon, Ampli Fender n°1, 2003

I was underwhelmed by both shows but I’d love to know what you think – did I miss the gems amongst the crowd?

Musique Plastique is on at the Galerie du Jour until 02/04/11, Echoes et Unisson is on at the Swiss Cultural Centre until 10/04/11

Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective at the Petit Palais

Jeanloup Sieff, Yves Saint Laurent, 1969

The French love Yves Saint Laurent – the man, the legend, the collection, the clothes. Perhaps that’s why the Petit Palais has pulled out all the stops for the first ever major retrospective of his fashion oeuvre. Taking over more than the usual temporary exhibition space, the show includes the trouser suits, the ball gowns, the modern art-inspired ensembles, the muses (most explicitly Catherine Deneuve) and the famous naked photo shoot for the launch of YSL’s first fragrance for men.

For those who think that an exhibition of mannequins in expensive clothes would be dull – think again! The scenography of the show is superb, culminating in “les voyages imaginaires”, YSL’s studio fantasies of Russia, Africa and beyond (he never actually travelled further than France and North Africa); “le dernier bal” a sumptuous red-carpeted ballroom of his most lavish designs; and “le smoking” a surprisingly effective black wall of variations on the black tuxedo for women.

The World of Yves Saint Laurent is on at the Petit Palais until 29/08/10, buy tickets in advance to avoid queuing.

Rirkrit Tiravanija at Galerie Chantal Crousel

Rirkrit Tiravanija modelling a T-shirt with his own poltical slogan

For his new installation, Asile Flottant, Rirkrit Tiravanija has filled the (not inconsequential) gallery space at Chantal Crousel with a huge wooden boat. The boat is a scaled down model of a Le Courbusier design, which was intended to be a Salvation Army floating refuge for the homeless of Paris.

Visitors enter Tiravanija’s boat to find mannequins in T-shirts bearing political slogans, behind them the wooden walls are covered with his T-shirt Demonstration Drawings series.

Asile Flottant transforms the space from a neutral white cube into a social arena, moving away from the “please don’t touch” aesthetic towards celebrating participation and interaction. Like much of Tiravanija’s work the construction of a social space is key to the installation.

The T-shirst and drawings display a slightly idealistic view of popular demonstration but do stike a chord in a week that’s seen it’s fair share of popular protest and political campaigning, with May 1st demonstrations in France and rioting in Greece, not to mention the UK election drama (sorry did I mention that again?)

Asile Flottant is on at galerie Chantal Crousel until 17/06/10

Reset at the Fondation d’Entreprise Ricard

Reset, a show of young artists curated by Christophe Kihm, aims to begin at the beginning. Instead of bringing together different completed works under one conceptual framework, and potentially limiting the individual expression of each, Reset is more of a starting point from which the art and the artists can interact with the exhibition space.

Bertille Bak and Charles-Henri Fertin, Robe, 2009

Although the idea is not immediately obvious when viewing the show, there is an implicit preoccupation with space. Bertille Bak explores architecture and community in her carefully rendered house drawings. Also on show is Bak’s mechanical installation, Robe, which leaves a pattern of regular brickwork as it moves across the wall.

Gabriel Abrantes and Benjamin Crotty, Liberdade, 2009

Liberdade, a film by Gabriel Abrantes and Benjamin Crotty, captures landscape and urban space in the love story between a young Angolan, Liberdade, and a Chinese immigrant, Betty. A sense of space is played out in the artful shots of dilapidated Luanda, while issues of immigration and belonging raise the question of place. In the context of the exhibition Liberdade also converts the exhibition space into a cinematic space.

Reset is on at the Fondation d’Entreprise Ricard until 20/02/10

Artists: Gabriel Abrantes and Benjamin Crotty, Bertille Bak and Charles-Henry Fertin, Bertrand Dezoteux, Sarah Lis, Florian Pugnaire and Tamara de Wehr

Liberdade is screened at 6.30 pm Tuesday – Friday, with extra screenings at 1pm on Wednesday and Saturday and 4.30pm on Saturday.

Art Nouveau Revival at the Musée d’Orsay


Art Nouveau Revival is an atypical show. It avoids trying to define the nebulous character of the Art Nouveau movement, which was both geographically and conceptually disparate (no manifesto was ever drawn up between the likes of Antoni Gaudi, William Morris, Alfons Mucha, Rennie Mackintosh), and reevaluates reincarnations of the style throughout the 20th century, from the practical (chair design) to the ridiculous (paper dresses).


Carlo Bugatti, Snail chair, 1902


Paper dress by Paperdelic, c. 1960

See a detailed review here

Art Nouveau Revival is on at the Musée d’Orsay until 04/02/10

Delpire & Co at the Maison Européene de la Photographie


Robert Frank, The Americans, first published in Paris by Robert Delpire, 1958

Delpire & Cie is a show dedicated to the career of Robert Delpire. It feels a little disorganised, is due in part to the nature of the exhibition space and in part to the varied nature of Delpire’s career.

Starting out as a publisher he worked with photography heavyweights Cartier-Bresson, Brassai and published Robert Frank’s seminal work The Americans in 1958. He continued to publish throughout his career, launching the Photo Poche range, which made the work of great photographers available to a wider audience.

Later, as artistic director of his own advertising agency, Delpire worked on campaigns for Citroën and Habitat and on Sarah Moon’s famous Cacharel ads.


Sarah Moon’s Cacharel campaign, 1969

Topically, he was also the first publisher in France to publish Where the Wild Things Are, which was followed by a range of innovative French illustrated children’s books.

Including photographs, books, posters and film Delpire & Co is the summary of a varied and influencial career, a testimony to Robert Delpire’s influence on visual culture.

Delpire & Cie is on at the Maison Européene de la Photographie until 24/01/10