Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Pretty Art, Provocative Art

The Grand Palais taken from the window at the Petit Palais
Near the obelisk are the Grand Palais and Petit Palais. A friend on Facebook encouraged me to check out the Petit Palais and it was a nice surprise to visit. Even better it was free admission!

The two are located across from each other, and while it is smaller in size, the Petit Palais is just as grand and ornate, particularly the entrance.

The grand foyer of the Petit Palais
It is a museum housing an interesting mix of paintings and sculptures, furniture and paintings from the Renaissance and medieval periods. Many of the paintings were depictions of daily life which gave good insight into the time they were made. One in particular that stood out was Newborn, where in a bare room, a wife sits up on the bed resting and watches as her husband who does some kind of manual labour, sits on the edge holding their newborn baby gingerly in his hands and smiles proudly.

There are some well-known artists displayed here too, like Pierre Bonnard, Mary Cassatt, Auguste Renoir and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. Claude Monet's Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt was a highlight, featuring a grey-blue sky illuminated by a brilliant orange sun going down and its reflection is in the river.

The museum also has several sculptures dotted around the place, and one beautiful one was Antoine Bourdelle's Penelope made of bronze, dated 1909. While it's in an ancient Greek pose, the proportion is such that it focuses more on the lower half of her body, in particular the drapery of her dress. The piece looks very modern, on the verge of being Cubist.

A very ornate Petit Palais, across from the Grand Palais
Also interesting were pieces near the foyer, such as this gorgeous Mosque-style lamp from Joseph Brocard (1831-1896) made of enamel and gold. There was also a statue of a woman from the early 20th century holding a leash tied to a small monkey, reminding me of footage I saw of Misia and her friends who also played with a pet simian at Musee d'Orsay.

Following the theme there was also an elaborate clock by Jean Moisy and on the base were an orchestra of monkeys wearing outfits a la Madame Pompadour and playing instruments. How bizarre!

Nevertheless the pieces of furniture were very beautiful, with inlaid wood and other materials as well as carvings.

Another highlight of the place is the garden at the back and a small cafe where you can enjoy the view as you have lunch. I did just that, having a sandwich and fruit salad.

A statue of a woman with her pet monkey
Then it was off to the other side where I saw a giant poster advertising an exhibition on photographer Helmut Newton that was held over until July 30.

After paying 11 euros (the Louvre was 10 euros, Musee d'Orsay 9 euros), it was disappointing to find it was a small show and featured mostly his earlier works from the 1960s and 1970s. I am more familiar with his work from the 1990s in Vogue magazine.

In any event there were some interesting tidbits about him I didn't know:

He was born Helmut Neustadtler in Berlin in 1938 and escaped the persecution of the Nazis. He somehow made his way to Singapore where he worked for the Singapore Straits Times. Wonder what kind of photography he was doing there!

Then two years later he moved to Australia where he served in the Australian army and in 1946 became a naturalized citizen and changed his name to Helmut Newton.

A few months before his death in 2004, Newton was quoted by Newsweek as saying:

More simians dressed up a la Madame Pompadour on a clock
"Some people's photography is an art. Mine is not. If they happen to be exhibited in a gallery or museum, that's fine. But that's not why I do them. I'm a gun for hire."

His wife June made a rambling documentary, following him around as he did photo shoots or in a bathrobe in hotel rooms, talking on the phone to editors about taking on assignments.

At one point he says on the phone that his rate is $10,000 and then in another scene says directly to the camera that he's just made $10,000 and is going to buy June some jewellery.

Pretty obnoxious.

But it was more interesting watching him working on his photo shoots and explaining why he arranged the shot in a certain way.

Monet's Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt
One of the models shown a few times is Cindy Crawford and in one scene she's in a bathing suit and heels, walking down the stairs in a deliberate way. He said that he liked looking at her muscles and the shape of her legs as she did that.

He also liked to nap in the afternoons before a shoot and the image of the photograph would usually come into his head then. He was so specific about the shoot that he'd only take about six shots which drove editors crazy because they were expecting a whole roll of film. But he wanted to make sure he was in total control of the shots.

And his photographs are provocative.

Penelope by Antoine Bourdelle
In one from Vogue France 1968, a model wearing a fur coat stands next to a bear on its hind legs. In another called Evi the Cop 1997, there are two shots of the same woman in the same pose -- one where she is fully clothed as a policewoman, the next only wearing her police shirt and shoes.

There are large-scale photos showing several models walking together in a studio with clothes on, then without.

"The 'big nudes' began in 1980 and were inspired by police identity photos of German terrorists," said Newton in 2003. "I intentionally made 21 of these images until 1993."

He also took portraits of famous people, such as Yves St Laurent, Princess Caroline, Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie of Monaco, David Lee Roth, Salvador Dali, Catherine Deneuve and Andy Warhol.

In the documentary he is seen shooting Luciano Pavarotti, and after the session is over, the opera star turns the tables on Newton and makes him take his shirt off as he shoots the photographer.

A poster of Helmut Newton's exhibition
There are also some eerie photographs of mannequins -- very realistic ones -- in provocative poses dressed up in lingerie in a variety of settings.

Each picture tells a story -- some kind of fantasy that involves sexuality and identity.

Newton seems intent on getting some kind of reaction from the viewer, be it disgust, shock or satisfaction.

And even 50 years later his images continue to provoke, so he must be pleased with his accomplishments.

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