A couple of weeks ago, I went on a wonderful guided walk around Belleville Paris, to look at the street art. Organized by David Cohen’s Secret Paris Tours, and guided by Israeli Street Artist Shiry Avny, it was a really interesting afternoon, being exposed to a range of different styles, themes and aesthetics. The artist I most liked was Mesa, a Spanish artist whose use of large walls and environment was really dramatic.
So when I arrived in Nice, I was very excited to see the current exhibition on at the Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art was of Nice-native street artist, Ernest Pignon-Ernest. I had not heard of him before but the retrospective, curated with his help, was a wonderful and comprehensive exhibition reviewing his work.
Active since the 60’s, Pignon-Ernest has been decorating streets and walls with pop-up ‘living‘ art projects that combine his political, social, aesthetic and ethical interests.
With solid underlying draftsmanship, with figures generally drawn to size, his charcol / screenprinted art blended into their environments to fuse his ideas and commentary on past and present, life and death, experience and memory, reality and fiction, communication and isolation. Inspired by poets and painters – Rimbaud, Artaud, Jean Genet amongst others – there was a room dedicated the “those who lived their poetry.”
Whether commemorating the centenary of the Paris Commune, where he covered the streets of Paris with The Commune lying man where the streets, linked to the history and memory, become the canvas for life sized bodies to be walked over, opposing apartheid, or challenging other social issues, I love how the program described the art “like footprints in the sand” the paper art fixed to walls “emulate both an absence and a presence” that capture the attention and imagination of the passer by.
Also at MAMAC, there were rooms dedicated Arman (Armand Fernandez) – one of the founders of the New Realist Group in 1960, Yves Klein, and Niki de Saint Phalle.
With the MAMAC 10euro entrance ticket, you are eligible to visit 13 museums around Nice within 48 hours; my agenda was set.
Theatre de la Photographie et de L’Image: This small gallery, with a good sized screening/ performance room was showing a film that provided a good introduction to the accompanying photo exhibit of Jacques Henri Lartigue.
Born in 1894 to a well-to-do family, Lartigue only became recognized for his photographic work capturing the leisurely pursuits of high society in the Belle Époque, in the 1960’s when a handful of his photos were exhibited in MoMA, NY, and Life magazine dedicated a spread to his work.
He took over 100,000 photos, freely trying all types of techniques. This exhibition explored themes of fleeting moments, the brevity of happiness and the fragility of life. Generally, the photos were light and joyful – apparently a sickly child, Lartigue felt it incredibly important to seize and preserve the moment. He would build his happiness by continually depicting it and recreating it…”to be a photographer is to capture one’s astonishment” … he was an avid journal writer and considered himself to be “a taxidermist of things that life gifts me…” His work reminded me of Cartier-Bresson – candid moments, observer of life, dramatic black and white. A very enjoyable exhibition.
Matisse Museum: After a long walk up steep hill Chimiez (there is a bus, but I was intent on walking) I reached a beautiful grassy area with welcoming benches. There were several games of boules in progress, with the lovely thuds and clinks playing against the breeze and lazy sounds of summer. The Matisse Museum is housed in an 18th Century stately home that had a contemporary annex added in 1992. Wonderful collection, stain glass, wall hangings in beautiful surroundings.
Gallerie Des Ponchettes: This was a lovely surprise. The Prototype Improvise de Type <<Nuage>>. Conceived by architect Yona Friedman, this project can only be realized with
- Community involvement
- A good dose of freedom
- Simple materials, recycled objects
- Improvisation and imagination
Since the ‘70’s, Friedman has worked on social architecture solutions to address poverty, overpopulation, and depletion of natural resources. The Ponchettes cloud was conceived and created by 10 people living in Nice, with some connection to the sea…. Their cloud was beautifully draped and illuminated fishing net.
If you’re in London, you should go and check out the Serpentine Summer House 2016 designed by Mr. Friedman!
Palais Lascaris: This was a favorite find that I almost passed by. The Genoese style Baroque house was built in the mid-17th Century for an aristocratic family. Now it is home to a wonderful collection of instruments – primarily wind, string, but some lovely pianos. A collection of harps, guitars and lutes to die for! This was really a little gem that I almost missed, so I was very happy to have found it.
Massena Museum: Beautiful Belle-Époque villa built in 1898 for Grandson of Andrew Massena, Marshal of the Empire, Duc de Rivoli, and Napoleon’s friend. Felt very traditional after all the other wonderful modern work.
Natural History Museum: This is a small museum with a selection of taxidermy animals. Whilst maybe a good resource for an active researcher (it boasts over 1 million specimens, and 80,000 books), the museum did not compare to the Natural History Museums of London or New York.
There were some nice illustrations, this wouldn’t have captured the interest of my 6 year old!
Galerie de la Marine: Just down the road from Gallerie Des Ponchettes, the Galerie de la Marine, I could have done without. A collection of works by 18 different artists, it was rather random and I didn’t find it inspiring, though I did think I could make use of an old card filing cabinet, thanks to Agathe Wiesner’s untitled Meubles recuperes, bois, platre. (Later, I read that this galerie was dedicated to the art of graduates from the Villa Arson National Art School so whilst giving young and emerging talent exposure, I think they need better curation).
The other museum I had to visit was not included on the 48 hour pass, so after another long walk up a different hill, I got to the Chagall museum.
Chagall Museum: A lovely space, relaxing gardens, large spacious gallery rooms, I enjoyed being surrounded by the large colorful Chagall’s. Focused on the Song of Songs, there was a section dedicated to the recent restoration effort and process.
Musée Jean Cocteau: In the town of Menton, this museum was designed to house Severin Wunderman’s Jean Cocteau collection. Cocteau portraying friends, artist friend portraying Cocteau, this collection includes items from his path through illustration, posters, poetry, theater, and cinema. Continuously concerned with the “night of the human body”, suspended between dream and reality.
Now, slightly saturated from all the visual stimulation, I have returned to Paris. I loved Nice and the people I met along the way. It was a really lovely week.