Experiencing Art

My dear friend, az, told us about her day out, today and asked “Do you get that same “is this really happening?” feeling when you see a very famous work of art up close and personal”

Indeed, I often do, although rarely here in Canada.

For some reason, I have found many of the exhibits of major works at galleries, here, to be rather overblown affairs with so much hype that it is impossible to enjoy the works of art.

Many years ago, circa 1979, I went to see the much-talked about “Turner Exhibit” at the Art Gallery of Ontario which was over-priced and over-hyped, far too crowded, and with very few really good pieces of his work. Just over two years later, while in Paris, there was an exhibit entitled “Turner in France” at the Centre culturel du Marais which featured over 100 smaller pieces of work done on the Continent. It was fabulous. It also cost something like 5 francs, as opposed to the $15 (if I recall) entrance at the AGO.

The venue was almost as amazing as the show, itself.  I’m not sure what the connection was but it was apparently being used to house a thearte featuring plays with Babar, the elephant. You paid your entrance fee and stood on a little platform to be carried into the theatre by a little train made of barrels. Once inside, there were several rooms with the paintings, mostly watercolours and chalk drawings. To access the rooms on the other side of the theatre, you climbed a little wooden hill which featured a lamp-post and a park bench. When you finished viewing the amazing paintings and drawings, you climbed down a set of stairs and exited onto the street through a cut-out of Babar’s butt….

The French really know how to put on an exhibit!

Although I saw so many of the World’s artistic treasures during the two weeks I spent there (despite being completely broke for the second week) there were a few really memorable pieces (and places).

I went to the Musée Rodin and that is, of course, the home of most of the greatest of Rodin’s works…

Musée Rodin

My favorite being….



The Louvre, of course, has plenty of memorable pieces and I spent a lot of time looking at a lot of them.

Winged Victory

Winged Victory

Then, there was The Musée Cluny which houses an amazing collection of works from the Middle Ages. It was founded in 1843 with the collections of Alexandre Du Sommerard, and is housed in two historic sites, a Gallo-Roman baths from the 1st and 3rd Centuries A.D., and the 15th Century Cluny Abbey. Anyone who has seen the film “Pret a Porter” has seen the baths. The final fashion show was filmed there.

Amongst other things housed at the Cluny are the beautiful “Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries.

Musée Cluny

Musée Cluny

The Lady and the Unicorn

The Lady and the Unicorn

I visited the, then new, Centre Pompidou and saw an wonderful exhibit of the work of Man Ray and another of kinetic sculptures by the Swiss artist, Jean Tinguely. Memorable!

But the most memorable piece was at Jeu de Paume (I mistakenly called it Jeu de Pommes) which started out life as the Paris handball courts. It now houses photographs and other contemporary images. When I visited, it s the home of Impressionist paintings which I think were later moved to the former Gare d’Orsay and renamed Musée d’Orsay.

Frankly, I can’t recall anything of the exhibits there with the exception of a single, magnificent, mesmerizing painting which was hanging at the top of a flight of stairs, Van Gogh’s “Church at Auvers”. It isn’t a particularly large painting, perhaps 2′ x 3′. But it seemed to loom over the landing, almost shimmering. The swirling paint-strokes make it seem almost to be alive. I have seen other exhibits of Van Gogh’s paintings (again, the one I saw a few years ago was over-hyped and not as memorable as the one I saw back in the 1960’s) but none of them struck me quite so much as this one.

Church at Auvers

Church at Auvers

Here, in Ottawa, we have a number of pieces I truly love…

Rembrandt’s “A Woman at her Toilet”. This one is particularly memorable because of its beauty but also because once, just after college, I was visiting and to my horror, some woman went up to the painting and touched it, making a sort of scritching sound with her fingernail and turned to her friend and said… “Geez, I thought those were real jewels! It’s just paint!”. I tried to find a guard to report this to but there was none around. I truly hope no damage was done. I did mention this once many years later when I was actually working at the gallery.

A Woman at her Toilet

A Woman at her Toilet

I also love the works of Joseph Cornell. Cornell was an American artist who had no formal art training. He created these wonderful assemblages made from objects collected from junk shops and bookstores.

Untitled (The Hotel Eden)

Untitled (The Hotel Eden)

I have always been fascinated by them and they were what inspired me to create some of my own found-object work, such at “June Bride“, as well as some of my jewellery and small sculptures.

June Bride (detail)

"June Bride" (detail)

Found Object Insect

"Found Object Insect"

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