Archive for November, 2009

August Sander, a man of the 20th century

November 29, 2009

A selection of black and white photographs by German photographer August Sander (1876-1964) is currently on view at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson until Dec. 20th, 2009.

August Sander, "Pastry Baker"

The German photographer was part of the avant-garde cultural circles of Cologne in the 1920s and a fine observer of his fellow contemporaries. A talented landscape photographer he is particularly known for his portraits of “the man of the street”. The son of a carpenter himself, Sander photographed farmers, chimney sweeps, architects, doctors, children, painters, beggars and more. His direct, frontal approach to photography was incredibly modern for his time and prefigures photographic currents of later decades, including of course Henri Cartier-Bresson’s street photography.
August Sander’s detailed portraits capture every feature of his models who pose and gaze directly into the objective and thus out to the viewer. The subtle contrasts and exact lighting describe their every feature and underline their individuality. At the same the photographer elevates (or reduces?) his models to archetypes in the sense that the titles given make no mention of their name or any other personal information. Insteady, they succinctly state their profession or, if lacking an actual occupation, their social identity such as “beggar”, “unemployed” or “miner’s wife”.

In fact, Sander had wanted to carry out a complete typological study of contemporary society, a sort of comprehensive photographic index of the German population categorized into seven predominant groups: the Farmer, the Skilled Tradesman, the Woman, Classes and Professions, the Artists, the City and the Last People.
Sander’s Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the 20th Century) was never completed and many of the thousands of portraits he made were lost. Nazi authorities did not feel his uncompromising directness was flattering to  the “Aryan race” and confiscated many. However, 1800 portraits (of the original 40,000!) do survive.

Although the Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson is somewhat disappointing to those who expect to see a lot of work by the famous French photographer  – there are about a dozen pictures of his on the 3rd floor and a documentary that is shown once a day at 5pm – it is nonetheless worth dropping in for the current temporary exhibition, especially if you have not yet had the chance to discover August Sander’s work.

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
2, impasse Lebouis
Paris, 14th
Métro: Edgar Quinet or Gaité
Entrance fee: 6€


To live and have lost. The rise and fall of the Camondos, “Rothschilds of the East”.

November 28, 2009

At the turn of the 20th century, Moïse de Camondo, the grandson of a powerful Ottoman banker, had it all. Wealth, fortune, family and a passion for the arts which he shared with his brother Isaac. They acquired freely and donated generously. Impressionist works by Degas, Monet, Renoir, paintings by Jongkind and Cézanne, 18th century master pieces of the decorative arts by Etienne-Maurice Falconet, Henri Riesener et Ferdinand Brug, ended up, thanks to them, in the vast exhibition halls of the Louvre (and later the Musée d’Orsay) and the Musée des arts décoratifs. Japanese prints and other Asian objets d’art went to the Musée Guimet.

Yes, the first years of the 20th century were looking bright. But tragedy and loss were near. Moïse’s brother Isaac died in 1911. Six years later, in 1917, his son who had become a navigator in WWI, was shot down by enemy forces. Moïse, up until his own death in 1935, remained overcome with sorrow. Finally, his daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren were killed in Nazi concentration camps, putting a definite and tragic end to a line of enlightened patrons of the arts and philanthropists.

The Musée de l’art et de la culture du judaïsme (Museum of Jewish art and culture) located in Paris’s Marais quarter, retraces the dramatic rise and fall of this family, described as the “Rothschilds of the East” until March 2010.

La splendeur des Camondo, de Constantinople à Paris (1806-1945), Musée d’art et d’ histoire du judaïsme, Paris 3rd arrondissement (métro Rambuteau or Hôtel de Ville), until  March 7th, 2010

Cost: 7 euros

Isaac de Camondo, a music lover and composer as well as enlightened art collector surrounded by a group of musicians

Paris Photo, the photography art fair on from Nov. 19th to 22nd, 2009)

November 21, 2009

Created in 1997, Paris Photo has established itself as the world’s most important photography fair. Eighty-nine galeries and thirteen publishers from 23 countries gather underneath I.M. Pei’s famous Louvre pyramid to display a selection of their best prints. Pictures spanning two centuries, from the early days in the 19th century up to the most recent shots, by some 500 photographers are shown.

To heighten the event’s interest, this year’s guest curator Catherine David – who was a curator at the Pompidou in the 80s, at the Jeu de Paume in the 90s and who directed the Witte de With center in Rotterdam from 2002 to 2004 – turns the spotlight on photographic work from the Arab countries and Iran. The “Statement” section thus presents work by a number of emerging talents from the region such as Walid Raad (The Atlas Group) and Akram Zaatari represented by gallery Sfeir-Semler whose own history is intimately connected to the regions difficult past. Obliged to leave her warring homeland Lebanon behind Frau Dr. Andrée Sfeir-Semler, married to a German, opens her gallery in Hamburg, north Germany, in 1985 and is able to open another space in Beirut 2005, thirty years after the outbreak of  the war.

Another interesting institution presented at this year’s Paris Photo is the non-profit Arab Image Foundation (AIF) created in 1997 by a group of Arab photographers, video-artists and curators to promote photoculture in the region. They actively locate, collect, preserve and present the photographic heritage of the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab Diaspora and make numerous efforts to diffuse them as widely as possible. Next to the exhibition of some 40 images from the AIF shown in the central section of the fair, visitors can also purchase a portfolio of 12 images chosen by British photographer Martin Parr (cost: 750€ or 1,100$) from AIF’s abounding archives.

Indeed, the AIF holds a total of 300,000 images, a hand-picked compilation taken from family albums, commercial studios and private collections donated or loaned. The styles and subjects depicted are vast and varied. Some touch upon personal stories that as dramatic and touching as the story behind the black and white portrait of a young woman shown below.

Apparently the wife of a particularly jealous man, she came to have her picture taken in secret by a commercial, studio photographer. The day her husband found out he demanded of the photographer that all her pictures be destroyed. The photographer, before the enraged man’s jealous eyes, scratched the surface of all existing prints made, rendering the images useless as a portraits.
Several years later, this same woman, driven to despair by her controlling husband, set fire to herself. She died. Her husband returned to see the photographer and asked whether he had any prints left of his deceased wife, hoping she may have had others taken in secret on which he would be able to see her beautiful face again, undamaged.

Strolling through the aisles of Paris Photo visitors have a chance to delve into worlds of beauty (architecture, interiors, landscapes, urban street scenes, portraits) and to occasionally stop in the face of tragedy (war, poverty, personal dramas). The fair is also a chance to view the finest vintage prints that dealers take out to woo potential buyers. Galleries Serge Plantureux and Françoise Paviot as well as gallery Thessa Herold, for example, show prints by Eugène Atget, the French early 20th century photographer who, like Brassaï (also shown) really gained his recognition thanks to the Surrealists interest in him. Henri-Cartier Bresson, Man Ray, Paul Strand, André Kertesz, Richard Avedon, Stephen Shore, Robert Frank and Weegee offer further examples of historic photographers that can be found at the fair.

At the same time, and it is this mix that makes the fair so interesting, Paris Photo is also an occasion to discover some rising stars such as Dutch photographer Karijn Kakebeeke, represented by TEQ (The Empty Quarter) Gallery from Dubai, who won this year’s BMW-Paris-Photo Prize for her a snapshot of the first Afghan women’s soccer team. Amateur photographer Marc Montméat won the mobile phone company SFR’s Young Talents award. Other contemporary artists worth noting are: Hannah Collins and Tania Mouraud (both at gallery Dominique Fiat), Andres Serrano at Juana de Aizpuro from Madrid, Antoine d’Agata who shows both at gallery Les Filles du Calvaire, Paris, and at the international press agency Magnum of which he is a recent member.

Many other photography events are taking place in Paris at the same time including the following that are not to be missed:

– the most excellent exhibiton of surrealist photography at the Centre Pompidou: “The Subversion of Images” (Sept. 23rd – Jan. 11th, 2010)

– the very interesting Fellini retrospective at the Jeu de Paume which gives a good insight into the Italian filmmakers sources of inspiration (Oct. 20th – Jan. 17th, 2010)

– black and white portaits and landscapes from the 1920s and 30s by German photographer August Sander at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (Sept. 9th – April 18th 2010)

Antidote 5 – Who would’ve thought?

November 19, 2009

You got to give it to him. Not only is the great-great-great-grandson of the founder of a major Parisian department store and good-looking and successful as the director of the firm’s event’s department, but he’s also put on one of this Fall’s best contemporary art shows in Paris. Yes, chapeau, Mr Houzé, I take my hat off to you.

Antidote 5, the fifth annual group show presenting young, emerging French art in the unlikely location of the women’s fashion department of Galeries Lafayette presents work by some exciting young talent.

I like the poetics of Laurent Montaron‘s (Born 1972. Lives and works in Paris. Represented by gallery Schleicher+Lange) sculptures. There are two of them, both impeccably presented. The projected, looped images of a beating fish heart, held in the palm of a man’s hand (Pace, 2009) especially could be watched for hours. The 16mm projector which provides for a bit of vintage shakiness brilliantly becomes part of the piece by being contained and thereby preciously protected behind a tainted glass window.

Laurent Montaron, "Pace" (2009)


Isabelle Cornaro‘s (Born 1974. Lives and works in Paris.) minimal composition on paper that incorporates locks of dark hair draws on conceptual art and the notions of systems of structure and organization that the artist examines in her work, but it really doesn’t need all sorts of explanations. It just looks good – which is why I like it for everything except for it’s title,  Fields surrounding Turin, conjunction of a horizon and an echo chamber (2006), which unnecessarily and with far too many words points to the original figurative material that the abstract composition was created from.

Isabelle Cornaro, "Fields surrounding Turin ..." (2006)



Exhibition location : Level 1 of the main store of the Galeries Lafayette on boulevard Haussmann. Go up the escalator right underneath the big glass dome, head to the right of the champagne bar, continue past Louis Vuitton and Dior and the entrance is to the left.

Entrance fee: zero €.

Louvre mi amore! Umberto Eco curates “Mille e Tre” at the Louvre

November 15, 2009

One thousand three (mille e tre in Italian) is the number of lovers Don Giovanni has had at the start of Mozart’s famous 18th century opera and it’s his servant Leporello’s job to keep track of them. He does so methodically, by listing them in a small notebook.

Lists. That’s the starting point of Umberto Eco’s undertaking at the Louvre this winter and the concept is wonderful. For one it appeals to everyone – who doesn’t make lists after all? – and secondly, it allows for marvellous associations across genres, centuries and civilisations that only someone as erudite as the famous Italian writer-philosopher-semiologist could come up with.

Thus, if you go to the Louvre before December 13th, 2009, you will be able to view late 19th century film footage from the Méliès brothers who documented subjects as wide and varied as traditional Japanese dancers performing in kimonos, blacksmiths giving a horse new hooves and military parades. This is on the groundfloor, just underneath I.M. Pei’s pyramid and you don’t even need a ticket to pop in and watch some extracts.

Upstairs, all the way at the end of the aile Denon or the wing of the palatial museum named after its first director, Dominique Vivant Denan, is Room 33, which is where one can admire lists made by 19th century Barbizon painter Theodore Rousseau, by pre-impressionist Jongkind, by Italian Renaissance painter Carpaccio, by French, by contemporary artists Christian Boltanski, Claude Closky and Annette Messager … and the list goes on.


Annette Messager, from her series "Mot pour mot"


View of Umberto Eco's temporary exhibition "Mille e Tre" (One thousand and three) in the Louvre


French contemporary artist Christian Boltanski's list of those people who died in the Swiss canton of Valois in the year 1991

Visitors are also invited to explore other parts of the Louvre such as the Sumerian antiquities department to see cuneiform lists such as the Code of Hamurabi that lists almost 300 laws that governed Babylon in the Ubuk period, or the Ancient Egypt section to view lists buried with the deceased indicating the treasures past in the hope that they may accompany them on their journey into the unknown.

Bravo Umberto!

Catch me if you can! Chasing Napoleon at the Palais de Tokyo

November 14, 2009

I went chasing Napoleon yesterday at the Palais de Tokyo – that’s the “oh-I’m-so-contemporary” art center in the West End of Paris. Slippery sucker, this Napoleon, let me tell you. So elusive to the point of being completely absent. No sign of him. Kind of like the singer in Ionesco’s bald Soprano.

“Chasing Napoleon”. A good title. Could be the name of a movie. Apparently Marc-Olivier Wahler, the (fairly new) director of the Palais de Tokyo, had had this title in mind for years for an exhibition and finally got the chance to put it to use. In my mind, it conjures images of testestorence driven, adrenaline car chases, spectacular takes, special effects… Well, that is if it weren’t the title of an exhibition in this temple of Art That Nobody Ever Gets that is all into the post-minimalist, post-conceptual, neo-Clever thing (as in nearly empty and you have to read a lot if you want to stand a chance at understanding what it’s all about).

And yes, true to form, Marc-Olivier Wahler has once again concocted an exhibition that is 99.3% sure to confound the average visitor. But if you get into it’s really cool.

I got into it. Not entirely on my own I must admit. Some clever, short guy with glasses lead a group of us around and really made the whole thing come to life. No idea who he was, probably should’ve asked, but I’m sure he’s got a some snazzy role. He used to work at the Pompidou. I got that much about him.

Anyway, like I was saying he really knew how to set the scene. Quite literally. “Think of this exhibition as a movie, with the title adding to the general atmosphere. Atmosphere is a good word when talking about contemporary art. Better than explanations. There aren’t always any.”

Up to that point everyone agreed.


"Drain" by Robert Gober. Exhibition view of "Chasing Napoleon" at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris

PICTURE – Woman chasing Napoleon right up through Robert Gober’s drain (yes, like a kitchen drain) installed on its on in the middle of the great, curved wall in the Palais de Tokyo’s main exhibition space.

The year 1977 is given as the starting point to the exhibition. That’s the year that

  1. Theodore Kacynski, soon to be known as the killer Unabomber, had already begun living in a small cabin in the middle of Montana in anticipation of the “collapse of the technological system.” (He is found guilty of sending sixteen mail bombs which kill three and is now serving a life sentence at a federal prison in Colorado.)
  2. Outsider artist Paul Laffoley (born 1940) finishes a cycle of paintings entitled “The Renovatio Mundi”. These are brightly colored, very densely figurative paintings that portray complex visions of theoretical, meta-physical and spiritual systems – as conceived by the American artist, who is apparently convinced of his departure from the physical world and his passage through the “fifth dimension,” all in the timeframe of a 1961 electroshock seance.
  3. Swiss-German artist Dieter Roth (1938-1998), who had gained notoriety in the 1960s by making art with foodstuffs, is continuing work on his long-term project of compiling photographic images of all houses of the icelandic city of Reykjavik (33,000 slides compiled from 1970 to 1975 and from 1990 to 1995) – Well, why not, I ask you?
  4. And finally, and this is where the plot thickens, it is the year that the USA passes the Community Reinvestment Act designed to make it easier for people to become homeowners in modest and low-income communities. It encourages and protects banks granting high-risk loans …. a.k.a subprimes! aha!
Robert Kusmirowski's "Unacabine" (2008), exhibition view of "Chasing Napoleon" at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2009.

Robert Kusmirowski's "Unacabine" (2008), exhibition view of "Chasing Napoleon" at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2009.

PICTUREApparently this is what the cabin looked like that the terrorist that was to be known as “Unabomber” lived in, afraid of the end of the world, and inspired by American writer Thoreau’s two-year sojourn in a cabin near Walden Pond in rural Massachussetts. Thoreau!s retreat from a “nervous, restless, bustling and superficial civilization” inspired anarcho-primitivists to return to nature. (Btw, Thoreau’s cabin apparently didn’t have a roof so he could hear the birds sing and enjoy their company)

So three people (two of whom are insane) that, prior to this exhibition, had absolutely nothing to do with each other are linked by the cosmic haphazardness of time and provide a dramatic narrative background to an exhibition that albeit “chasing” doesn’t have the pretention of “catching” anything – which in way is precisely the point. You can’t harness art, parcel and flat-package it like a set of Ikea Billy shelves. It’s so much more ambiguous to the point of at times being as intangible as the Tom Friedman‘s plain white pedestal which carries nothing except for … a curse! (“Untitled. (A curse)”, 2009) … as inaudible as Dave Allen‘s 2002 recording of Erik Satie’s* ironically entititled “Flabby Preludes (for a dog)” played back at 18kHZ and thus inaudible to the human ear and, yes, audible to dogs! Similarly, there are other startingly banal and hence mindbogglling-to-the-layman artistic propositions as a hole in the wall by Scottish artist Ryan Gander (“Nathaniel Knows”, 2003-2009) and a collection of bird sounds by Hannah Rickards (“Birdsong”, 2002).

But combined, with the overarching subprime-meets-end-of-world-unabomber-while-madman-paints-and-a-german-guy-takes- pictures-of-a-bunch-of-houses theme, poetically wrapped up in a catchy exhibition name, all these pieces come together and somehow do convey something quite powerful – if one is willing to spend the time it takes to “get into it”.

And when one looks closely there are definitely some highlights that are not to be missed such as:

  1. Christoph Büchel’s “Spider Hole” (2006). Interesting from a purely formal and material point of view and highly relevant in this exhibition’s context as it is the replica of Saddam Husseins unlikely hiding place.
  2. Charlotte Posenenske’s two sculptures from her series “Vierkantrohre, Serie D” (1967). Discrete, clever, good.
  3. Robert Gober’s above pictured “Drain” (1989), and
  4. Dieter Roth’s Reykjavik Slides (1973-1975, 1990-1993)** a truly remarkable undertaking rendered by the presentation of the complete collection of the 33,000 diapositives in 3 glass cupboards, neatly classified by street name and eight, side-by-side projections

Christoph Büchel, "Spider Hole" (2008)


Dieter Roth "Rekyavik Series" (1970-1975; 1990-1995)


Dieter Roth "Rekyavik Series" (1970-1975; 1990-1995)

*For more about French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925), see

* For more about Dieter Roth and his retrospective at the MoMA, NY in 2004 see and scroll to the bottom of

“Chasing Napoleon”, group show at Palais de Tokyo, Paris from 16 October 2009 until 17 January 2010. Participating artists (in alphabetical order): Dave Allen, Micol Assaël, Christoph Büchel, Dora Winter, Gardar Eide Einarsson, David Fincher, Tom Friedman, Ryan Gander, Robert Gober, Robert Kusmirowski, Paul Laffoley, Ola Pehrson, Charlotte Posensenke, Hannah Rickards, Dieter Roth, Tony Smith, John Tremblay

Palais de Tokyo
13, avenue du President Wilson, Paris, 16th arrondissement
open: noon-midnight
admission 6 Euro