Colour And Art History On A Paris Road Trip – James Payne

Katharina Grosse, Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris

Paris is always good for an Artlyst road trip, as James Payne discovers as he visits Fondation Louis Vuitton, Cluny Museum and goes on a Picasso walking tour.


I love the title of this show: Fugues in Colour. A fugue is a music term which involves the main theme (called the subject), which is interpreted by subsequent parts before it is then developed into a hopefully interesting and affecting musical work. The theme here is colour and its interaction with Frank Gehry’s architecture, and it certainly does pull together as a whole. It works wonderfully.

The show is all about the exploration of colour, something that artists have been theorising about for centuries. Colour bursts through the Gehry designed galleries, let free to escape the canvas and its limitation. It consumes the spaces through the walls and via the floors and ceilings. It includes works by five internationally renowned abstract artists of various origins and generations.

The exhibition presents works by Sam Gilliam (United States, 1933), Steven Parrino (United States, 1958-2005) and Niele Toroni (Switzerland/France, 1937).

Sam Gilliam, Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris
Sam Gilliam, Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris ©James Payne

Sam Gilliam’s drapes from the late 60s are rarely seen, and here are hanging at the entrance of the exhibition and shown for the first time in France. These coloured deformed canvases, which hang freely in space and form the foundations of his visual technique, marked a major turning point in the history of American abstract art.

It also features two unprecedented installations, the reason I came to Paris, created especially for Fondation Louis Vuitton, by Katharina Grosse (Germany, 1961) and Megan Rooney (Canada, 1985).

Megan Rooney, Fondation Louis Vuitton
Megan Rooney (with Sun 2022), Fondation Louis Vuitton ©James Payne

Megan Rooney intermingles painting, architecture and performance art by using a variety of tools to apply paint to the wall. She has produced an immersive realm of vividly coloured spaces using paint strokes driven by the body’s movements in relation to the galleries. The energy is literally bursting off the walls, and you feel the movement of paint as if you are really watching a dance piece. She works the paint in dozens of layers and then attacks them with an electric sander giving it an entropic sensation.

Katharina Grosse, Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris
Katharina Grosse, Splinter 2022, Fondation Louis Vuitton Paris ©James Payne

Meanwhile, Katharina Grosse, a veteran of in situ interventions, has produced a dynamic structure composed of overlapping triangular shapes in one of the large galleries. Intended as the climax of the show, Grosse has covered the gallery in swathes of paint, as she says, “to create an interface between painting and daylight”. Unlike Rooney, who uses brushes, Grosse uses spray guns that obviously lack the human touch but nonetheless retained their feeling of movement and energy.

It is a great show, with an energy I haven’t felt in a gallery for a long time. I must admit, though, that my parting thought was not about abstraction, but rather about how many coats of white paint it would take to get the galleries back to their original state, ready for the next show!

Colour in Fugues is on until 29 August 2022, Fondation Louis Vuitton

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We also visited the new Cluny Museum, which has just re-opened after five years of building works. As far as I could figure out, the only change was a new entrance. Very nice and all, but five years for a fancy entrance!?! I really was expecting to at least have more access to the Roman baths.

Still, it was great to see The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries again (which seemed to me to be in the same room with no additions/exhibition).

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My friends and I were lucky enough to try out one of the new walking tours arranged for guests of Le Meurice hotel.

We opted for the Picasso walking tour (they offer others), as Le Meurice has a special connection with Picasso. When he married his first wife, the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova in 1918, he hosted his wedding banquet at Le Meurice.

Paris Picasso Walking Tour
Picasso Walking Tour ©James Payne

It’s a two-hour walking tour in the area of Montmartre, where so many artists lived and worked. It covers a specific period – from when Picasso arrived in Paris in 1900 at the age of 21 to when he produced his revolutionary painting, ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ in 1907. Of course, being Picasso, he managed to fit in several lifetimes in those seven years!

Our art specialist was Marta, who was simply brilliant, personable, and fun. Not all of us had knowledge of art or Picasso’s work and life, but Marta brought it all to life. She was clear, concise and to the point. A nice touch (other guides, take note!) was that she had downloaded images to show us on an i-pad, so we could see the paintings she was discussing, along with historical photographs.

Without giving too much away, the tour covers Picasso’s arrival in Paris, the ensuing love triangle with Carles Casagemas and Laure Gargallo that (spoiler alert) would end in tragedy, his friendship with Georges Braque, his complicated love life and most importantly, his artistic development. Marta also covered a few other artists like Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo. What was great was how Marta connected the artistic dots for us. I knew about the dance hall featured in Renoir’s masterpiece ‘Bal du moulin de la Galette’, which she took us to, but I didn’t know it was immortalised by van Gogh and Pissarro as well.

Even Toulouse Lautrec gets a walk-on part! A small one, though.

Le Meurice also offer Rodin and Monet walking tours (In 1876 Monet painted a view that we can see today from Le Meurice’s rooftop).

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Words and Photos James Payne ©James Payne and Artlyst 2022

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