August 1, 2013

Paris Museums: New and Old, Hot and Cold

As happened during my June trip to Alaska, I'm having technical issues with my laptop. This update is coming to you via a cybercafe.

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Wednesday was the hottest day of our week in Paris. I'd worried about staying in an unairconditioned apartment if the temps hit 90 or above. As it turned out . . . no problem. Without DC’s humidity, our 90+ days were tolerable, and the apartment cooled off nicely at night.

On that hottest midweek day -- seeking shelter from the heat -- I decided to renew my love affair with the Musée d'Orsay and the Musée de l'Orangerie. I took the Metro down to the Orangerie and bought the discounted combo tickets for both of these superb collections of works by the Impressionists.

The Orangerie's most celebrated work appears in two galleries built to show Monet’s eight massive murals in which water lilies float on the canvas. The paintings are displayed just as Monet wanted: lit by sunlight in large oval galleries that evoke the shape of the garden ponds at his beloved Giverny estate.

Many viewers are moved by these galleries, often to tears. I’m not one of them . . . but I'm sure the problem is with me, not Monet.

There's also a very good collection of impressionist art donated by two men, John Walter and Paul Guillaume. These collecters are connected only in one odd way: they both married the same woman. Their donations include more than 20 Renoirs, 14 Cezannes and 11 Matisses.

I bought the excellent audio tour and spent two hours looking and listening.

When I finished, I decided I was in danger of overdosing on Renoir's pretty plump ladies and Matisse’s odalisques. So I decided to try something new for the remainder of my air-conditioned museum day.

Almost 20 years have passed since I last spent quality time in Paris, and I was pleased to learn that many new museums have opened since 2000. While we were pouring money into the Defense Department, the French were building new art museums. Frommer’s list of 14 top attractions includes four that were created after 2000: Gaîté Lyrique (mixed media and digital art), Musée du quai Branly (tribal artifacts from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas), Palais de Tokyo (one of the largest museums in Europe devoted to contemporary art), and Parc de la Villette (a 21st century park combining nature and architecture).

I chose the Palais de Tokyo to finish off my air-conditioned museum day.

The Hot Palais de Tokyo
One thing Frommer’s guidebook failed to mention – the museum is not air conditioned.

Once I entered, I could see why. It would be difficult to air condition the huge wide open spaces featured in the gallery:

Since I was already there, I decided to stay. Again, the heat without the humidity was tolerable. But first, I had to use the men’s room, which presented another problem. Which door would you choose?:

Back in the museum, most of the installations were equally baffling:

There was a large space devoted to the museum’s annual showing of jury-selected work from young artists. One new exhibit featured two videos running side by side. On the left, naked toddlers played in a shallow pool. On the right, a group of young adults appeared in various states of dress and undress.

Friends and family have suggested I’m the poster boy for TMI. But even I decline to elaborate on what transpires in this video:

The Palais de Tokyo didn’t give me the AC I was seeking, but it sure as hell provided something different from Renoir, Monet and Manet.

Vive la différence!

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