I recently spent a few days in Paris. Ah, Paris—pâtissiers, cafes, the Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, le Marais, the Pompidou Centre, the Moulin Rouge, and the Père Lachaise Cemetery, whose residents include painter Modigliani, writer Oscar Wilde, and musicians Jim Morrison and Chopin.
Paris lives and breathes art, witnessed through its architecture,museums, galleries, gardens, shop windows, the way people dress, street-art, and food. It’s all art, revealing imagination, creating beauty, provoking emotions, helping us better understand who we are.
Given its history, art in Paris takes us deep into the past, challenging the present as the future is created. Time is defined through and by the artistic spirit.
For example, the Picasso Museum was hosting an exhibition dedicated to the story of Guernica. Picasso painted Guernica, currently housed in Madrid, in 1937.
On April 26, 1937, under the direction of Adolph Hitler, German planes bombed Guernica, located in the north of Spain. The Germans, supporters of Franco’s nationalists, used the opportunity to try out new weaponry. The bombing was an act of intimidation against the Republican hub.
At the time, Picasso was in Paris working on a painting requested by the Spanish government for the 1937 Paris Exhibition. Picasso abandoned his original idea and painted Guernicainstead.
Guernica is stunningly stark. Guernica is stunningly horrific, symbolizing brutality and darkness. It’s not a pretty picture.
The horror, the devastation, the deed done and the aftermath have made Guernica both an art history icon and a symbol of peace.
The Louvre, originally a medieval fortress, became a royal palace in the 14thcentury. In 1793, part of the Louvre became a public museum. Today the Louvre, home to the likes of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, is the world’s most visited art museum.
In 1983 a steel-glass pyramid structure, designed by Japanese architect I.M. Pei, was built in the Louvre’s central courtyard, Cour Napoléan. The structure is a stunning contrast to the palace. It also stunned many Parisians, meeting with violent opposition.
Paris has had other architectural controversies. In 1887, a group of intellectuals including Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant published a letter in the newspaper Le Temps to protest the building of the “useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower,” an “odious column of sheet metal with bolts.”
Today the “odious column” brings in about $87,000,000 a year – not to mention all the sales in trinkets and t-shirts.
Today, art is Paris is encouraged in ways not conceived of in the 19th century. In Belleville, a high-immigrant district of Paris, art is part of the streetscape. Vibrant expressions of the human spirit are valued.
Art is also found underground, as are the living who do their best when it comes to day-to-day struggles. In the Belleville subway station a man slept under an ad campaign that claims the revolutionary power of advertising. Vive la révolution!
Moments after I took the picture a metro worker greeted the man. “Good morning,” she said. “Time to get up.” He did. Who was he? I couldn’t read the sign he’d written. What story was he trying to tell? Was his life painted on a wall on a neighbourhood street?
Paris and its eclectic art brought me closer to life, to the richness and struggles of the past, the indulgences and challenges of the present, to the hope of a future that can embrace a 21stcentury expression of liberty, equality, fraternity. Merci.