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Visiting France

Art exhibitions in Paris, September 2014-January 2015

media Katsushika Hokusai - The Great Wave off Kanagawa (around 1830-1834) © Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Bruxelles

The great Katsushika Hokusai brings the Japanese aesthetic to the Grand Palais, which he shares with noisy Niki de Saint Phalle in this season’s Paris art shows. Husband-and-wife Orphists, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, bring colour and rhythm, the as-seen-on-TV Borgias show their arty side and so does the Marquis de Sade, sort of.

Hokusai (1760-1849), Grand Palais, 1 October-18 January 2015. If you only know The Wave rush to this show of 500 works by Japan’s best-known artist, whose work balanced tradition and European influence and then turned round and influenced the Europeans right back. Many of the paintings, drawings, woodblock prints are on show for the last time outside Japan due to the opening of the Hokusai Institute in Tokyo early next year. If you want to see them all, you’ll have to go twice – the show will close from 20 November-1 December and about 100 of the most fragile works will be changed.

Also at the Grand Palais: Niki de Saint Phalle, 17 September 2014-2 February 2015. Known mostly for her Nanas – brightly painted, joyfully bulky ladies – Saint Phalle was “one of the first women to receive international acclaim”, says the show’s blurb, comparing her to Andy Warhol in matters of image-management. Works in various media are “embedded with socio-political issues”, it claims. PlusLe Baiser d'Hyppolite ou l'art d'Haïti, 19 November-15 February 2015, should be interesting – a look at Haitian art from the 19th century to today, which “aims to transcend the magico-religious, exotic vision restrictively associated with Haitian art”, in case you were suffering from such prejudices.

Le Japon au fil des saisons(Japan with the passing seasons), Musée Cernuschi, 19 September-11 January 2015. Back to Japan at the charming Cernuschi – a little out of the Paris museum-goer’s way but you can take sandwiches and eat them in the chic Parc de Monceau next door – where 60 paintings on paper and silk, dating from the 17th to the 19th century, have been picked to illustrate the Japanese sensitivity to nature. Coming from the collection of American collectors Robert and Betsy Feinberg, they show plants, animals and landscapes as the seasons change. In all, a good season for Japanophiles, who can hurry to see the Musée de l’Erotisme’s, show Japan Erotica (Vol 2) before it closes in October if that tickles their fancy.

Robert Delaunay, Rythmes sans fin, Centre Pompidou, 15 October-12 January, is aptly titled for the work of a self-styled “Orphist”, whose colourful geometric works are about as close to music as painting can get. The Pompidou claims to have the world’s best collection of work by Delaunay and his wife Sonia (see below) and shows 80 paintings, drawings, reliefs, mosaics …. there’s even a tapestry … as well as plans to decorate pavilions at the 1937 Exposition Internationale in Paris.

Also at the Pompidou: Marcel Duchamp, la peinture même, 24 September-5 January 2015. Maybe the inventor of the readymade didn’t make such a dramatic break with painting as is widely believed, argues curator Cécile Dubray, although, apart from the posthumously exposed Given: 1 The Waterfall, 2 The Illuminating Gas . . . (not really a painting, anyway), the works she cites in evidence appear all to come from before the transitional Large Glass of 1915-23. Plus Modernités plurielles: de 1905 à 1970, 23 October 2013-26 January 2015. You wouldn’t think it from the flashy poster but this rehang of the Pompidou’s collection is a fascinating rethink of our view of modern art, extending its range beyond Europe and north America to include Asia, Latin America and Africa and looking at architecture, photography and the applied arts. A fabulous wall of covers of avant-garde reviews welcomes the visitor with variations in other rooms. Enough to revive the palate of the jaded art-lover.

Sonia Delaunay, Les couleurs de l'abstraction, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 17 October-22 February. You thought 80 Robert Delaunays were a lot, try the 400 Sonias, including a photo of an Orphic car and an Orphic coat made for Gloria Swanson, on show here. While pioneering abstraction with Robert, Sonia had a distinctive personal style, more painterly than her husband’s, and crossed more frontiers into applied arts. She also worked on the Exposition Internationale with him.

Also at the Mam: David Altmejd, Flux, 10 October-1 February 2015. The Flux and The Puddle may sound like the result of a nasty medical condition but is in fact the title of Altmejd’s latest monumental sculpture. Indeed, some of the works have a sort of medical-primer look about them, with a bit of geology thrown in. They explore “dream and nightmare in a mingled ambience of fascination and terror”, the Mam tells us. Although it includes old and recent pieces, the show “takes the form of a work in its own right” with “arachnoid labyrinths” (spiders’ webs, I think) and “mystical and alchemical elements with an aesthetic torn between structure and dispersion”. So now you know.

Les Borgia et leur temps, Musée Maillol, 17 September-15 February 2015, may seem a little tame to fans of the TV series. But, in between the incest, murder and other mayhem, the Borgias were patrons to Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Giovanni Bellini, Luca Signorelli, Perugino and many more. Italian and other European museums have leant works to the Musée Maillol, as have some private collectors.

Oops! Almost forgot ...
Michael Jackson and Bubbles by Jeff Koons on show at the Versailles château five years ago Wikipedia

The Pompidou is organising a retrospective of US kitschmeister Jeff Koons, 15 November 2014-27 April 2015. Why?

Perugino, Raphael’s teacher, Musée Jacquemart-André, 12 September-19 January 2015. Talking of Perugino (and Raphael), the Jacquemart-André follows Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci’s career from Perugia to Florence to Rome and the Sistine Chapel to Venice and throws in Raphael’s name for a bit of recognition at the end - with question mark, since historians are divided as to whether they were actually teacher and pupil.

Fra Angelico, Botticelli. Chefs-d’oeuvre retrouvés, Domaine de Chantilly, 8 September-4 January 2015. If you can bear to stray just a few kilometres from the City of Light, the château at Chantilly has more renaissance works, as well as Italian primitives, from its own collection and from the Louvre, including paintings by Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Sandro Boticelli and drawings by Leonardo and Michelangelo.

Sade. Attacking the Sun, Musée d’Orsay, 14 October 2014-25 January 2015. A mystifying title and a slightly puzzling project. The man who gave his name to a certain sexual orientation questioned limits, proportion, excess, according to curator Annie Le Brun, who thinks his work sweeps away “all our religious, ideological, moral and social presuppositions”. Cue kinky, or at least violent, works by Goya, Gericault, Ingres, Rops, Rodin, Picasso, Douanier Rousseau and others. Plus: 7 ans de réflexion, 18 November-22 February 2015,

Paul Durand-Ruel, the gamble of the impressionists, Musée Luxembourg, 9 October-8 February 2015. Durand-Ruel was a pioneering collector of the impressionists, back when they were considered shocking. The modern art market is also partly his fault but nobody’s perfect. The gallery owner knew and promoted Renoir, Monet, Manet, Pissaro … and the museum by the Jardin de Luxembourg shows 80 artworks, photographs and documents to illustrate his career.

Impression, soleil levant, L'histoire vraie du chef-d'oeuvre de Claude Monet, Musée Marmottan Monet, 18 September-18 January 2015. Monet’s Impression, soleil levant was one of the most controversial impressionist works, giving its name to the movement … and not in a good way, so far as the critics were concerned at the time. The show promises an in-depth study of the work and brings together paintings by luminaries such as Delacroix, Turner and Courbet to back up its case.

Émile Bernard (1868-1941), La peinture en colère, Musée de l’Orangerie, 17 September-5 January 2015. Compared to Gauguin and Van Gogh Emile Bernard could be viewed as a bit of an also-ran but that’s not what the Musée de l’Orangerie would have us believe. He stormed off to Cairo after falling out with the two avant-gardistes and came back with a changed style and a critical pen.

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