Let’s be honest, Paris – the city of lights – is just so pretty the last thing you want to do is spend all day inside an exhibition hall. Luckily, the fair directors of Art Basel Paris have understood the draw of a well-curated public program to animate its many emblematic locations. Presenting works in the Jardin des Tuileries – Domaine National du Louvre, on Place Vendôme, in the Chapelle des Petits-Augustins des Beaux-Arts de Paris, in the Palais d’Iéna, and on the parvis de l’Institut de France, Artlyst took the opportunity to take a stroll, and here is our round-up of the best:
The day began with La Cinquième Saison (a title that conjures Luc Besson’s Fifth Element, a film about finding love in the future) in the Jardin Des Tuileries. Organised in collaboration with the Musee du Louvre, it was curated for the second year by Annabelle Ténèze, Director of the Louvre-Lens Museum. “We are in the throes of profound transformation, between environmental necessity and the preservation of heritage,” says Ténèze, “and these artists draw our attention to the way the garden moves and to the life within. They invite us to meet the animals that wander there and the plants that grow; to discover from where the water flows and the tree roots emerge… to notice how stones come alive and how energy can be found in the in-between spaces.”
Romantic and lyrical as this sounds, mostly, her selection did not disappoint. Arriving from Place de la Concorde, past Jeu de Pomme, what first caught my eye was a strange, biomorphic grouping of five hand-chiselled marble sculptures. Each of the smaller pieces connected to the ‘mother stone’ by heavy metal chains, except one out ahead on its own, more upright than the rest, dragging its severed chord. Several pieces had two orbs, which might be eyes, and one seemed to be stitched, metal sutures holding together its broken parts. I was fortunate to meet her gallerist there, Sabine Schmidt. “Emma is from Finland and her favourite material is Nordic stone – in this case, Norwegian Rose Marble. Using the traditional methods, she talks about being ‘in dialogue with stone’ whilst carving. Each piece starts with a motif from body parts, in this case, a hand, which she uses to describe motherhood. The large piece is the palm of the hand, with the thumb representing the father, and the mother is nurturing four children, three still attached and one already moving on.” Soft and challenging at the same time, I offer. “Yes, like motherhood and birth is brutal and beautiful simultaneously”. This sculpture is not an emblem of romance but the lived truth. There are humorous elements, such as little eyes, but the artist leaves enough ambiguity for you to read it with your own feelings. To me, this metaphor also speaks more widely to the brutality of creation and the need for an artist to let their work go once finished: “Yes, but this is life – we cannot hold onto things.” I walked away inspired; it is the hand that makes and gives and loves in all forms of creation.
As I turned to leave, I noticed a giant rock, sited in the pond that reflects the Obelisk, was moving; seemingly under the instructions of the seagull sitting on its ridge – wondrous strange—conceived by Jul Berthier, with Galerie Vallois (on Rue de Seine). I love the Alice-In-Wonderland potential of the sculpture garden. Further on in this section was what looked like a giant nest on stilts, made from olive wood, clay and straw, then covered in lime – traditional construction materials still found in the Mediterranean today and inspired by a dovecote, a reminder of animals that populate cities – pigeons – once messengers, now carriers of histories (and disease). It occurred to me that a powerful post-modern theme emerging – watch this space – was how artists were reclaiming their roots through the use of culturally specific materials… and further on was the cast bronze conch shell, undulating and vulvas. Amidst these were the polished metal letters – from well-known artist x – disappointingly demanding and imposing. Where the curation really came to life was in the small grass clearings to the left and right. Perhaps the most well-suited work was Desnatureza 5, 2022, by Henrique Oliveira, Artlyst highlighted last year. An undulating installation that gives the illusion of tree roots emerging from the ground to join in a central node. A trompe l’oeil of sorts, the work has not sprung out of this ground but has been crafted with the marquetry of recycled palettes – an excellent double comment on carbon footprint. By using tapes (the wooden boarding that typically surrounds construction sites in Brazilian cities), the artist highlights the endemic and parasitic nature of these constructions, as well as his ecological concerns. Having seen a version of this work in Gallery – rue de Seine – I wondered if the artist repurposed the actual piece and how long it would last, exposed to the elements.
This work elegantly set the scene for perhaps one of my favourite Art fair installations (yes, I love architecture): the perfect reconstruction of. This small, idealised cabin in the woods, replete with Verdigris-coloured shutters to match the chairs in the Tuileries, is actually the result of pioneering research into how to live differently, better, faster, and at lower cost. A rare example of this wooden house, built between 1941 and 1943 in difficult wartime conditions, its creation was thanks to the invention of the patented axial portal frame for prefabricated buildings. This 68 m2 house for a family of five provides a fluid way of living, with sliding doors, a covered terrace, and the most exquisite cast finishings and ergonomic handles. Prouvé (I loved that this also sounds like proven) was a 20th-century pioneer in the production of furniture and architecture who believed in a ‘constructional philosophy’ based on functionality and rational fabrication. For me, it opened up the fantasy of living here, briefly, perhaps as a writer in residency… Oh, the romance… Little wonder I was intrigued by Serenade Serenade – Serenade And The Triumph Of Romance, 2023, by Joël Andrianomearisoa. An artist interested in the physical manifestation of emotions, his installation was inspired by 18th-century love scenes, particularly Les Progrès de l’Amour (The Progress of Love) by the painter Fragonard. Using the sculpture Daphné poursuivie par Apollon (Daphne Pursued by Apollo) on the exedra as his starting point, he imagined a serenade in 15 chapters that take the shape of elongated glass vases, standing on metal frames inside the water. Empty but variously streaked with tears from the rain, the glass vases were pierced so they could not carry water. There is so much disappointment in the world; I thought whilst looking at them; we really do need water lilies.
I could not have predicted that the most illuminating encounter of my week would take place in at L’Aquarium de Paris, where I went to find the most recent installation by Jérémy Gobé, an artist I met ten years ago, with more prizes to his name than Maryl Streep (most recently, Planète Art Solidaire prize awarded by Ruinart, and Art of Change and the Art Under the Sea prize of the Jacques Rougerie Foundation in 2021 for his work combining Art, science and technology for the protection of coral reefs around the world). A multidisciplinary artist, his work engages at an intense level with the degradation of skill as a metaphor for our destruction of the environment. For over a decade, he has dedicated himself to the preservation and regeneration of coral reefs whilst studying the vital role they play in the ocean’s life cycles. This ran in compliment to his investigation of disappearing savoir fair in medium of textiles and the adaption of traditional techniques into his practice. Naturally, he began to see a correlation between the two; when he discovered Point d’Esprit, a traditional bobbin lace pattern from Puy-en-Velay, Gobé noted a striking resemblance to one of the coral skeletons – known as the Cerveau de Neptune – he had in his studio. Wondrously, this material enquiry led to the sustainable idea of using lace as a support to encourage coral to regenerate, as lace has all the same qualities – roughness, suppleness, and transparency – of the structures on which coral spreads and grows. Bio-sourced, biodegradable, and biomimetic, he had found the perfect connective material. In early 2018, Jérémy Gobé put together a Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) program combining Art, science, industry and education for this project, which he named Corail Artefact. This project uses lace as a support, along with eco-friendly concrete, aquariology tools and a panoply of content and events designed to raise awareness both in schools and through public art installations. A fantastic example of this can now be found on permanent display at L’Aquarium de Paris (just above MAM) in the 8eme, where I met the marine biologist Alejandro Perez, who explained the work he is doing in their newly created Corallium. I cannot quite express my childlike wonder at being shown the baby corals – from all over the world – being nurtured in nesting tanks. Above these, Gobé’s undulating textile installation, in cyan and black, gave the effect of looking up through the waves. The space also works to mimic day and nighttime conditions; at the far end of this installation, under the cool blue light of a hidden moon, corals were lit from within with an astonishing array of neons… Nature is just breathtaking.
Top Photo Nico Kos Earle Daniel Buren’s “Allegro Ma Non Troppo”, Travail in situ, 2023 and Michelangelo Pisoletto “Divisione – Moltiplicazione”, 1977 – 2023
I cannot remember the last time I was witness to such a well-conceived and elegantly balanced two-person show – and I have to thank art historian and curator Matthieu Poirier and Galleria Continua for giving us just that in the pairing of Daniel Buren’s “Allegro Ma Non Troppo”, Travail in situ, 2023 and Michelangelo Pisoletto “Divisione – Moltiplicazione”, 1977 – 2023 at the Palais D’Iena just off le Trocadero. Curated by Poirier in association with Paris + Art Basel and le Ministre de la Culture, if I were to give the sensation of walking into this space a sound, it would be a lungsful gasp. The dialogue between Buren’s thrilling, chromatically joyous window installation and Pisoletto’s brilliant, multidimensional reflective works was positively mind-altering. Set within this iconic, voluminous example of Modern Rationalist architecture, it is a pairing that seems almost preordained. Designed by Auguste Perret for the 1937 World Fair, the Palais d’Iéna currently houses the French Economic, Social, and Environmental Council. The building is made entirely of concrete, with no cladding. The architect incorporated pink marble and green porphyry and combined simple geometric shapes (rectangles, triangles, and circles) to create a subtle palette that underscores the ingenious plays of light and shadow.
Into this, Daniel Buren brought his kaleidoscopic vision of pure colours, filling the windows like light boxes, lining the vast room. Between this, like giant dominoes running the length of the room, was a sequence of freestanding works from the series Michelangelo Pisoletto “Divisione – Moltiplicazione”, catching and reflecting every colour, movement and tone that went by. Drawn into their centre, I was lost in a reverie of directionless gazing, with no end to the number divisions and figurative positions that could be found in this picture plane of angled mirrors, dissected by a looping figure of eight. I recalled a quote I read a long time ago when living in Paris: “We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension and not in another unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm childish in another. The past, present and future mingle and pull us backwards, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” ― Anais Nin.
The wealth of institutional shows opening in Paris this week might be the most unambiguous indication that it has reclaimed its rightful place as the cultural capital of the world. Mais Oui! So many deserve an entire article, such as Mark Rothko opening at the Foundation Louis Vuitton (see my next article) and Berthe Morrison at the Musée Marmottan Monet. A student of Corot and muse of Manet, Berthe Morisot was the first woman Impressionist and one of the leading members of the group alongside Monet, Renoir, Degas and Pissarro. Unlike her colleagues, however, she sold relatively few works, which is why her Art is poorly represented in museums. However, by the will of the artist’s descendants, the Marmottan Monet now houses the world’s leading collection of her work, along with the rest of its extraordinary collection, which, thanks to Michel Monet, has the best Impressionist works in Paris. (article to follow!).
Meanwhile, a blockbuster of one of my favourites – Nicolas de Staël – was showing at the Museum of Modern Art – where Rothko last showed in 1999, alongside a gargantuan retrospective of the punk princess of painting Dana Schutz. Aesthetics aside, perhaps this show sequence is relevant – the life of the Russian-born French artist Nicolas de Staël was short, turbulent, and ultimately tragic. Forced into exile by the 1917 revolution, orphaned, a loner who was hopelessly romantic but unlucky in love, De Staël died at the age of 41 after he threw himself out of the window of his Côte d’Azur atelier after the woman with whom he was obsessed rejected him. It was a massive loss for the art world. Meanwhile, Schutz paints dystopic portraits of unruly characters, human folly, deadpan predicaments and physical calamity. Vehemently against traditional notions of beauty, whilst her forms are aggressive and explosive, her handling of colour is masterful – creating dramatic tension in her intricate, often bombastic compositions. The true stars of this show were her bronze cast sculptures, like a coven of fantastic witches, plinthed and ready to transform anyone bothersome in their way. We also met the superstar curator Phillipa Adams, who has long collaborated with the artist. “Dana Schutz, a modern master in a tangled language that throws punches,” she offers, “She weaves a dialogue that stretches and cuts open emotions.” Little wonder we were both walking this show solo, taking in every punch, one work at a time.
If we consider the act of creation, in all its many forms and rituals, we must acknowledge the dance that anticipates it and the roles we choose to play. Like dust particles free-floating in a shaft of light, what binds us to the act of making and propels the action forward are the forces of attraction. Often seen through the binary lens of masculine/ feminine, each dancer must assume a position where one cannot exist without the other. Harmony – between male and female, artist and collector, creative and analyst – creates the conditions for something new to emerge. And yet, when we insist on the polarity between masculine and feminine energies – be it in a relationship or in the context of making Art – we limit our capacity to experience the full range of being human. Too often, we assume a hierarchy in which the soft feminine is subsumed by the rugged masculine, and nowhere is this more evident than in the art world today.
Showing at Maison Suri, a French-Korean creative studio that specialises in immersive events, were Aigana Gali’s paintings from her Steppe and Tengri series. Expressing the wild, untethered spirit of the artist’s homeland, the Eurasian Steppe, we find the pale light of dawn against the soft departure of night (Altyn Orda) and the last throb of infrared light before the sun vanishes (Nadir). “Kazakhstan is dominated by vast barren lands of the Central Asian steppe. These paintings describe the ever-changing theatre of light and colour found where nothing else is in the way.” Opposite were Tengri Lightworks, which “emerge in the process of automatic painting”. Whilst different in nature, both series are intimately bound, “Steppe can be viewed as a long meditation, on the totality of nothingness and our relationship with colour,” says Aigana, “which cleared the ground for Tengri to emerge”. Seeing them in Paris during the frantic pace of Art Basel, Paris +, these paintings offered a moment of reflection and a kind of portal into the strange, recurring geometries that shape our personal and collective understanding.
“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” ― Anaïs Nin