Saturday was a day of full exploration: Sam and I hit the ground running. Hard. Way harder than I thought we would. We first walked from my apartment all the way to the Champs-Elysees, stopping for an afternoon coffee in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, and then making our way to the great arch and somehow managing to sneak in for free (I swear it was by accident).
The Arc de Triomphe is truly magnificent: I didn’t understand until I was standing under it, looking up and around and every which way, and admiring the grandeur and detail of its architecture. What struck me about it, though, is how perfectly it fits in with everything else in Paris. It seems almost too perfect – as if it was created as an afterthought to the structured and organized city, as if it is there as an eternal reminder of Baron Haussmann and his Parisian makeover. The arch blends in too well, it is beautiful but doesn’t take us back to the ancient and more interesting history that the city has to offer. I felt, standing under it, as though it was another tool designed to remind us of the power of the government and the importance of our loyalty. Though beautiful, it lacks the unique qualities of many other landmarks, ones that have stories and histories and quirks (even the Eiffel Tower has a story: upon its conception in the early 1900’s, a big group of artists, intellectuals, and writers wrote an angry letter against its construction, calling it an “eyesore”).
We walked back down the other side of the Champs-Elysees, and stopped into the Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton (Louis Vuitton Cultural Space), which was recommended by Courtney with too much enthusiasm to resist. Courtney was right – the gallery is absolutely fantastic. I was floored by this small but impressive exhibition: the attention to detail creates an environment where you are curious and intrigued by the meaning of the works, and the organization pulls you in to a story rather than just letting you be a casual observer of art without meaning.
The current exhibition, running from October 1 until January 9, is titled “Qui Es-Tu Peter?”, which means “Who Are You, Peter?”. The exhibition is centered around the story of Peter Pan, and the universal themes that it represents: the fear of adulthood but the inevitable plunge we must all take, the feeling of being trapped once we get there, the passing of time and the realization of death, and the idea that we are always children at heart. One of the first works presented is “Everland” by Gregoire Bourdeil, a short film presented behind a diving board mounted on the wall. We see a girl, dressed up like Wendy in the dress of a young girl, tied up as she “walks the plank”. She appears to be walking on the board mounted on the wall, and as she jumps off we realize that she is falling away from innocence and childhood and into the world of grown-ups. When she lands, she is shown tied up and gagged, as if being held captive. I cannot pretend that I am an art critic, but this was the interpretation that seemed clear to me: as a 20 year-old on the brink of facing reality, I understand the feeling of entrapment. “Everland” was one of my favorite works in the gallery, not only for its simplicity but for its ability to be understood.
My other favorite work was “Les enfants au tresor”, a video installation by Arnaud Kalos. The video shows a group of small children running their hand through old coins, enjoying and basking in the luck of finding real buried treasure. However, when one steps in front of the screen, we see the shape of our body and eerie images floating amidst the black of our shape. Kalos’ work is brilliant, and it not only engages the viewer but makes us think, wonder, and question. Why are these images projected on such a happy occasion? Where did this video come from?
Lucky for us, the Espace Culturel provides each visitor with a complimentary book with pictures, biographies, and explanations of each work in the gallery. Brilliant! For once, accessible art! How many times have I wondered through the Louvre or the Centre Pompidou and thought to myself, “Gee, it would be really great to actually understand these paintings for once!” Well by golly, Louis V got it right. The little book is a lovely souvenir, and offers a way for even the most art-ignorant (ahem…) viewer a way to understand and interpret the works. Again, floored.
As it turns out, Kalos was a child when he discovered real buried treasure while walking outside one day. The video used for the installation is actual video footage shot by his mother in the 70’s, capturing Kalos and his siblings running their fingers through 6,000 Roman coins that they literally stumbled upon. It is wondrous and childlike as you watch them marvel at the coins. However, upon stepping in front of the screen, we see another perspective: the coins are from the 3rd century of the Roman Empire, when it was being torn apart by civil war and a constant change of bloodthirsty leaders, all but 2 of which were murdered. The images that float on the screen when we step in front were created by Kalos after the images of the tyrannical leaders that are printed on the coins, a reminder that often the wonders of childhood are destroyed by the realization of truth.
The exhibition was everything I hoped for and more: even the order of it made sense. We began with an introduction, progressed to colorful, light works that reminded us of childhood, then onto the middle stage where we start to come to terms with growing up, and finally the end works where we accept it and face the new challenges of adulthood. The gallery is attentive to its audience, and every last detail is thought out and deliberate. I am no art critic, but I thought that this exhibition was amazing, and I would recommend it whether you enjoy art or literature or are just looking for something a little different to explore.
Our day ended in the Latin Quarter, where Sam bought Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” at Shakespeare and Company, and where I played around with his professional camera, snapping photos of the shelves upon shelves of books. A bookstore is always a good way to end the day, especially when it includes a sparkling view of Notre Dame and the glistening Seine. Ah, Paris, je t’aime!