Mona Lisa

One of my main dreams about going back to Paris was to spend more time at the Louvre. I had been a couple of times before and had done the mad dash just to see the highlights. This time I wanted to take my time and breath it all in, I wanted to enjoy and appreciate the art not just see it, and most of all I wanted to discover some of the hidden gems that I had missed before.

Turns out this dream was an unachievable nightmare.

With the amount of people in the Louvre there is no way I could even start to appreciate the art. I was jostled, pushed, barked at and that wasn’t even in front of anything famous.  So here is what a visit that was meant to be the highlight of my trip actually looked like:

Tourists at the Louvre

The only good thing about the visit was that it made me think about why we all go and take pictures  of the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the statue of Cupid and Psyche. Most of the people crowding in front of these beauties will have never studied art, hell they may have never been to a gallery before. They are in the Louvre because it is their first time in Paris and its just what you do.

They have two hours off before they have to get back on the bus and so they visit the art landmarks as set out by the thousands of visitors before them. But why oh why do they ignore all the other art on the walls in favour of the famous ones?

My theory is that is grounds the participant in history just for a moment. There is too much art for the casual viewer to understand or enjoy, but they want for a moment for time to freeze and to be linked to this ancient painty history. So they go to the Mona Lisa and take a picture; and in that moment they are linked in a way that is enough to satisfy them.

Cupid and Psyche tourists

So I guess in that they Louvre satisfies a need. It is perfect for the visitor with two hours to spare who just wants to see some famous stuff. But woe betide anyone who actually wants to enjoy any of the other art on the walls because you will have the history seekers to contend with.

Not a fun time.


Ok so not really. When I was in Paris the one thing I wanted to do above all was go to the new Louvre in the small mining town of Lens. Turns out the train times suck and it is surprisingly hard to get to for a casual day trip from Paris. My compromise on a rainy Sunday morning was to try an art gallery that I had never been to before (and until some hard core googleing the night before did not even know existed). Say hello to the Paris Modern Art Gallery*.

I am so very very glad that Louvre Lens turned out to be a bust, because my trip to the Modern Art Gallery was one of the most enjoyable and somehow spiritual moments of my entire Paris adventure.

On this rainy Sunday morning there was no one else in the gallery. I mean no one. I found a couple of other people towards the end of my visit, but for a good hour I had the place to myself**. It was the most calm and centering experience I have had in a while. Standing in a room of exquisite paintings it was so quiet that I could hear my own heart beating. With the high ceilings, modernist art, bright white walls and silence it was as if I was in my own version of heaven.

The art was pretty damn good too. None of the weird installations of the Pompidou, this was just honest to goodness abstract art. What was even better was that they were artists that I had never heard of before (or knew a single thing about), so it was just genuine aesthetic enjoyment rather than fame drinking pretension.

Honestly the best art experience I have had I think ever.

Oh and this gallery is FREE!!! I think we have found the holy grail of galleries.

*Don’t feel bad, I thought the Pompidou was the modern art gallery too.

** well, me and the staff watching me in every room … slightly creepy

Hopeless 1963

Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997
Hopeless 1963, Oil and Magna on canvas
Kunstmuseum Basel, Depositum der Peter und Irene Ludwig Stiftung, Aachen  © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012

I slept under a Lichtenstein* poster for the better part of ten years. Something about a hopeless drowning woman determined not to call Jeff for help really spoke to my teenage sense of humour (and drama). So can imagine my excitement when I heard of the Lichtenstein Retrospective at the Tate Modern. Get in.

Being from the arse end of the world, it is amazing to see a big collection of one artists work. In New Zealand we would be lucky to see one Lichtenstein, two tops. It means that you get a rather one dimensional view of an artist. I always thought that Lichtenstein just did big comic book frames of pre-feminism blondes. Boy was I wrong, and at the same time oh so right.

But what blew my mind were the outliers. The room full of a pop art take on traditional Chinese landscapes, all in dreamy shades of light blue. Or the Art Deco sculptures which Lichtenstein created and then used as inspiration for his design work. Not to mention the room full of larger than life naked cartoon ladies, that in itself is enough to capture the non-arty types.

Speaking of those non-arty heathens, it was an absolute joy to see the children’s excitement at this exhibition. Lichtenstein is an artist that kids just ‘get’. While the adults were dotted round articulating, the under fives were embodying the emotion/story – running round Whaam! Baff! and Takka Takka! ing.

For me the work that I loved the most (sorry no picture for this one) was Large Jewels (1963), which was a black and white painting of an intricate diamond ring. It might just be because I have a history of jewellery making and am currently designing my own, but Lichtensteins style turned a simple design explanation into a Rorschach inkblot test which caused much standing and looking.

This is art that I think anyone would like, or at the very least you will be able to find a room that you like. Get to the Tate Modern and soak up some of the Lichtenstein sunshine (particularly since the spring sunshine is still non-existent!).

*For those new to the scene, Lichtenstein is a pop artist from the States, famous for his bright cartoon images

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Watermelon painting

Watermelon painting