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Americans in Paris
June 26, 2008


Bourgeois artwork: Maman

Louise Bourgeois' Maman. Photo by Howard Kaplan.

Greetings from Paris. I'm here for a week for the exhibition of a friend's paintings and have fallen in love all over again with this city. It's a city for the senses: everything seems a bit more alive here, a bit more full. Artists and writers (and lovers) have always been drawn to Paris. It's also an excellent place for bloggers!

Walking these streets, I began to think of the rich artistic lives of American ex-pats in Paris after the war. American artists keep coming to Paris in our time, either to live or to exhibit their work. American sculptor Richard Serra for example, who is represented by two works of art at SAAM, has created promenade, a monumental (yet temporary) piece for the Grand Palais, the glass and steel building that was built for the famous Paris Exhibition of 1900. His work, giant slabs of rusted steel, at first seems incongruous to the century-old building.  In the main exhibition space he has lined up five rectangular pieces, each approximately forty-six feet high and probably weighing several tons. They are massive, powerful, like totems to a new, harsh world. They question the relationship of art to architecture. If you stand at either end of the Palais, say on a east-west axis, you can look at all of them at once. Despite the amount of gravity these pieces possess, they bend slightly at the top, alternating between curving to the right and left. They begin to dance. It's a lovely touch; it's Richard Serra en pointe.

In contrast, artist Louise Bourgeois's Maman is a glossy black spider that beckons you from inside the Tuileries, the gardens just outside the incomparable Louvre museum. Bourgeois, who also has two works in SAAM's collection, was born in Paris in 1911 but has been an American citizen for most of her life (therefore, I'm leaving the title of this post as is!). You wouldn't want to mess with this spider, but Bourgeois's mama spider is life giving; there's even an egg sac in her belly that bears a strong resemblance to the art deco lamps that grace the entrances to the Paris metro. The sculpture is delicate and strong at the same time. There's plenty of breathing room in and around it, creating its own world while also being part of the landscape. It's a tribute to the city that shaped the artist's mother and, more importantly, to the artist's mother. As Bourgeois has said, “the Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver.  My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.“

Bourgeois and Serra are two sculptors working on quite a large scale, at least in these two pieces. It's good to see their works out and about, in the Tuileries and in the Grand Palais. Good art should get you thinking; these works do exactly that for me.


Posted by Howard on June 26, 2008 in American Art Elsewhere


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