Friday, June 24, 2011

I Louvre the Louvre

Full disclaimer.  I have unabashedly stolen the above pun from the boyfriend.  Should you want more of the same, go to his blog, which, much like him, is both funnier and more put-together than mine.  Anyway:  on to the art.

After several days of sleeping odd hours, I decided to trap myself in the Louvre all day in order to both stay awake and completely overdose on the history of art.  I emphatically succeeded in both.

How to talk about several thousand years of art history in a blog post that is even remotely interesting to read?  One way is to avoid talking about the art altogether, and simply talk about other things I saw that day. 

Global Gallery Coffee Shop needs this.
For example.  Check out this amazing, but egregiously expensive Fair Trade board game I stumbled upon!!  Fair Trade + Paris prices = quel horreur!
If only . . .
 OR!!  Check out this amazing bridesmaid dress!!  Alas, I have already put the down payment on mine, otherwise I would have to try to convince Jackie to switch to a theme that would allow this fine vestment.  Old West Bordello theme anyone??

I could tell you about Walter Benjamin, but you don't want that.
OR!!  Here I am standing in some Arcades.  I have photographed myself in a mirror thinking about Walter Benjamin, who wrote philosophically about, you guessed it, Parisian arcades.  This photo is very, very deep.  Or, should I say, reflective.  Haha.  Ahem.  On to the art.

The Louvre is very big, very crowded, and very full of very famous stuff.  I have seen it before, and even so, it still blew my mind.  There are, of course, the old chestnuts.  The stuff that you have come. Here. To. See.  

The oldest of the old chestnuts.
This is where it is at.
Let’s get her out of the way then, shall we?  No really, the Mona Lisa is in the picture.  You just have to look there, in the back, over those heads . . . I know.  Lame.  Much better is Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks.  I have long loved this painting.  When I teach it, I fall all over myself talking about the composition, which is really quite, quite good.  You know it is good though, because turtles always make good art.

To emulate Manet, I have made a photo about art. 

On the back of the wall of the Mona Lisa, we find a pastorale by Titian (or maybe Giorgione.  I’ve heard it both ways).  This work inspired Manet’s Déjeneur sur l’herbe, and anything that is good enough for Manet is good enough for me.  It is very difficult to look at art in the Louvre though.  I mean, really look at it.  You walk through, you snap a picture, somebody else elbows you forcefully out of the way so they can take their picture.  It is therefore difficult to really look at stuff, much less have profound, life-changing sorts of aesthetic experiences with it.  There are two exceptions:  artists and children. They actually look at stuff, and is actually lovely to watch.  Until, of course, you have to elbow a child out of the way because they are ruining your picture.  That is, of course, a joke.  In all honesty, this is actually my favorite picture I took all day.

She is as good as they say.
Cupid hand.  It's real freaky.
In addition to looking at the painting on the back of the Mona Lisa, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the backs of sculptures.  As such, I am probably in hundreds, it not thousands of other people’s pictures because I was the jackass obstinately standing on the wrong side of the sculpture.  But the backs of sculptures are rarely photographed, so I can’t help but walk around to see what I have been missing.
Yep.  Still no words.  Not even for the caption.
I should just say, to get it out of the way, there are two enormous rooms full of the most famous 19th century French paintings in history, from David to Delacroix.  It was amazing, and I can’t form words about it.  So.  Moving on.

Hungry tiger.
There was obviously a lot of sculpture to get excited about, but the only thing I literally jumped and squealed about (alone, in the most famous museum in the world) was a room full of Baryes.  I would argue that Antoine Louis Barye was one of the most incredible sculptors in all of history, and yet held a relatively low position in the art historical hierarchy, that of an animalier--a sculptor of animals.  Here’s an argument for Barye though--anybody with a modicum of training and talent can throw together a passable history painting.  It takes a genius to make poetry out of animals eating each other.  Just saying.

It was, at this point, that my brain exploded and I could no longer retain any memory or thought of anything else I saw that day.  I remember getting a bit angry with Marie de Medici for commissioning quite so many paintings from Rubens, and downright furious with the Louvre for stealing so much Egyptian art.  The point at which you start to think, “what--another sarcophagus?  I’ve already seen, like, 12” is the point at which it is time to leave.  Of course I did not, and instead wandered zombie-like around the museum deciding how to best phrase a strongly worded letter to the curator of the Louvre about not putting so many damn Greek pots on display.

Most times, when I go to museums, I return to my favorite things in order to take one last look, and with that last look, I always think, “Ok.  I may never see this again in my life.”  With things I really love, it is hard to step away, because you’re never quite sure if you’ve looked at it long enough, or hard enough, or felt enough about it.  So it was an astonishing moment, when I left and sat outside the pyramids of the Louvre, and knew that for at least another 2 months, I can keep going back.

La Fête de la Musique

My first encounter with the city of Paris happened to be during the Fête de la Musique--a kind of city-wide party featuring hundreds of free music concerts.  Had I not known this in advance, I would have assuredly believed that Paris, at all times, has music pouring from every street corner, park, and café while Parisians smoke, drink, and dance in the streets.

Places des Vosges during the Fête de la Musique.
I accidentally came across the Place des Vosges, which was built by Henry IV at the beginning of the 17th century.  The first time I saw it, a band was playing Dave Matthew’s cover of All Along the Watchtower.

Not surprisingly, my aimless wandering turned purposeful and I headed towards the Place de la Nation, the home of Dalou’s Triumph of the Republic, easily his best and most famous work.  The subject of my first Dalou paper, it will play a large and important part in my dissertation.  The first time I saw it, a choir was singing French gospel music.  They ended with, believe it or not, a song called “Happy Day.”

Dalou's Triumph of the Republic à nuit.
A common response to seeing familiar art for the first time is that it is either bigger or smaller than you imagined.  I know that the Triumph weighs in at 38 tons.  I know it is big.  But it is one thing to think 38 tons and another thing entirely to see 38 tons.  The sculpture’s putti, allegorical figures in the shape of small children, are larger than full-grown adults.  Yet, at the same time I was struck with its unimaginable enormity, I was also impressed with the emotional affectivity and intimacy of the work--characteristics difficult to achieve in something so monumental and physically intimidating.

As it turns out, it was fortunate that I saw it, as only hours later I had to defend its very existence to a Frenchman at the Café Rouge--a bar on my street.  It was late at night, and the bar was playing techno music, so I stopped to hang out with the French dancing in the street at the close of day.  The Frenchman assured me that there was nothing good in the Place de la Nation, to which I insisted, “no, no, no, there is an enormous sculpture there.”  “The columns?” he asked, “they are boring.”  “No, not the columns.  The enormous sculpture, with the lions,” I protested.  “The French do not look at art,” he finally admitted, “they swim in it, but they do not see it.”

It is a strange thing to come across the world to see something that can be rendered invisible by familiarity.   Because really--those are some seriously big putti.

To Paris

So . . . . . . . I’m in Paris.
Rodin's bust of Dalou.
I am here to study that guy at the left:  Jules Dalou.  More on him later. Specifically, I will be going to work on this.

If you take a minute to scroll on down, there you will find my name, the name of my artist, an overly lengthy title complete with an academically approbated colon, and finally, the incontrovertible proof that I first put this thing on the books, officially, in 2009.

This is therefore evidence that I haven’t done this academic thing in awhile.  Back around when I first declared the dissertation, I started the process of walking away from the whole thing.  Some of it was really awful, but some of it was really great.  Most importantly, I found Global Gallery, which was, without exaggeration, a miracle in my life.  There I found a home, a cause, an amazing set of friends, and, eventually, a job.  And that was how I spent a year waking up at the crack of dawn to make lattes in the morning and teach art history at night.  All in all, it has been a very nice way to live, even if it means that my bedtime is before everybody else that I know.

But.  In the way that life sometimes works, I found myself with the means to go to Paris.  And then I found myself with the means to spend a year doing nothing but write the dissertation.  I found myself without the means to say no to either of those things, and so, with that, I find myself in Paris. 

I have never done the blog thing before.  I begin it now out of a variety of motivations. I begin it partially out of my own desire to record my experiences both in Paris and while working on the dissertation, partially out of my friends’ insistence that I do so, and partially out of some impulse towards reflection and self-actualization during what I can’t help but think will be a significant chunk of my life.

I have great fondness for the title of the blog, despite its pretension.  The pretension, of course, derives from both its Frenchiness and my assignations of multiple and nuanced meanings to an otherwise simple word.  But, as I suppose I have found, you can take a girl out of academia, but you can’t take the academia out of the girl.  Or something like that.

At any rate, socle is French for pedestal.  Since I study French sculpture, it is a word that has a particular frequency and resonance and weight for me.  Allow me to pick apart its weightiness.

Academically, the pedestal figures largely in my analyses of late 19th century sculpture. One of my most loved art history professors is wont to say that various things and ideas are “ . . . interesting.”  The ellipses signify a pregnant pause, which this professor somehow manages to imbue with a contemplative significance that actually makes you believe it is interesting, even if you are completely unsure as to why.  So pedestals in 19th-century sculpture are . . . interesting.

Through some less academic free associative type of thinking, one might, when thinking of a pedestal, think of putting someone on a pedestal (thereby idealizing or [falsely] elevating their importance), or perhaps one might think of a pedestal as akin to a podium, and therefore somewhere from which to speak.  Both of these seem fairly relevant for the practice of blog-writing.

Finally, a socle can also suggest the idea of a foundation. While I’m here, I will hopefully establish the foundation for what will become a dissertation--the culmination of my work on Dalou.  I’m also, in many ways, rediscovering the foundation of my art historical studies--here in Paris I will be able to see, in the paint, the marble, the bronze--the actual things that I have spent over ten years studying.  Then there is the life stuff.  Travel changes you, and when you come back, you are forced to reimagine and recreate how you live, based on how this forced stepping outside of yourself has transformed you.  Your foundations, so to speak, are shaken, and you are forced to create them anew.

It is a nice, but pretentious title, n’est-ce pas?