Today the students arrived! Coming from all corners of the globe, our class met at
the Résidence Pension du Palais in the 6th arrondissement. Situated in one of Paris’s
most charming neighborhoods, the quarter is full of boulangeries, student cafes and
Directly across from our pension is the Jardin du Luxembourg; these beautiful public gardens were built for the court of Marie de Medicis in the 17th century and today the gardens host a museum, modern art installations, petanque courts, fountains
and a large water pond. The gardens attract Parisians students, families and artists
alike; in the pond, children sail model boat, directing the action with long wooden
After everyone arrived we explored the neighborhood, the metro, and took our first walk through the Luxembourg Gardens to the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s hard to describe the first time you see the Cathedral perched on the corner of the river and surrounded by the hum of Parisian life…. This was a delicious first taste of Paris.
Lecture in the Pension
We met in our lecture room at the pension and began with an overview of the themes of the course. Pairing images of artistic work with the course readings
and discussion, the morning lecture reviewed overall themes and concepts of
Modernism. Referencing specific art, the group located and discussed ideas and
theories that frame the dynamic innovations defining this movement. The resources of the city will guide our understanding of the significant role Paris played in the foundation of Modernism.
In the afternoon we had a lecture on the iconic Ballets Russes dance company.
Working in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, this company and its
groundbreaking art serve as an avenue to explore themes of modernity. Under
the guidance of impresario Serge Diaghilev, choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky and
composer Igor Stravinsky developed “Le Sacre du Printemps,” a controversial and
revolutionary collaboration. The Ballets Russes attracted artists from every art
form: Matisse, Picasso, and Roerich designed costumes and Stravinsky composed
seminal music scores, among others.
In the evening we headed out to Montmarte for a performance, stopping on the
way to take in the view from the top of Sacré-Cœur. The performance, “The Animals and Children Took to the Streets” was created and performed by the British theatre
company 1927. This theatrical production used projected film, animation, and music to create an imaginative and politically charged dystopia. The performance surprised and delighted, as it asked difficult questions about the disparities in modern day urban cities with inventive technological devices, animation, and charming actors.
Photo by Tristam Kenton for the Guardian
Brassi's Paris at night
In the morning our lecture at the pension, focused on the effect and role of Photography in the Modern Era. The camera, invented in 1829, was still a relatively new medium in terms of artistic creation and production. While early photography was employed to document events, people, and places, the field transformed during the early part of the 20th century as artists claimed this medium for exploration and discovery.
Artists Brassi and Kretez positioned the city and characters of Paris as their subjects, utilizing the technological advances of the portable camera and shooting and developing film in ways that changed the way we see the city and the medium of photography. Photographers Man Ray and Lee Abbot exploited the development process to yield textured and inventive artworks. The work of these artists established photography as its own form, one with an experimental and independent voice.
After the lecture we visited La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, a museum in the Marias neighborhood of Paris, and housed in a stunning hôtel particulier.
The exhibit, L’Object Photographique, un Invention Permanente, thoughtfully curated by Anne Cartier Bresson, paired well with the morning’s lecture as it displayed examples of early photographic work in Paris with various development techniques and materials. The opportunity to see these historic images, placed within a technical context aided our journey through the interplay of modernity and the arts.
In front of the Opera Garnier
We toured the city today with architecture Professor Ulrike Kasper. Meeting at the Opera Garnier, we began our walking lecture with a discussion of Baron Haussmann’s design of “modern” Paris. With Ulrike we walked through the covered glass passages of the 19th century, to the Palais Royal, the Louvre and beyond. She wove together the classic architectural history of Paris with the contemporary buildings and art installations.
With Professor Ulrike Kasper in the covered passageways
We ended the Day with a viewing of sculptor Anish Kapoor’s ‘Leviathan’ at the Grand Palais. ‘Leviathan’ is a powerful blend of architectural creation and art installation. The work is an enormous sculptural made of nylon and canvas that envelopes and surrounds its audiences. The sculpture soars above the audience to cathedral like heights but this scale is tempered by the human, womb like quality one experiences inside the sculpture.
Myrian Gorfink's Dance “Time Drawn” inside the Anish Kapoor sculpture
We began the experience by entering directly into the work, which is molded into three large pods. Viewing it from the red interior, the hue is cast upon all of the entrants and deepens the vital life like quality of the work. At this exhibit we attended a modern dance performance, Time Drawn, created by Myriam Gourfink, and staged inside the sculpture. The dancers were positioned on the floor of the sculpture and their slow, controlled movement added to the hypnotic sensibility of the sculpture.
After the performance we exited the interior of the work, to view the outer shell that appears as a deep purple giant rubber ball. The pronounced geometric shapes cast by light filtering through the 1900 Grand Palais iron girders onto the structure offered a stark contract to the interior.
At the Grand Palais with Anish Kapor's 'Leviathan' at the Grand Palais'
Professor Anne-Catherine in front of Courbet's Burial at Ornans
Today we had a lecture at The Musée d’Orsay by Art Historian Anne Catherine Abecassis. Anne Catherine situated us in this former train station, built for the Universal Exposition of 1900, at the advent of the electric engine. In the 1980’s the outdated rail station was converted into a museum and it now displays art works created between 1848 and 1914. Anne Catherine’s lecture grounded us in the beginnings of the modern transformation of the visual arts. She showed us examples of traditional notions of aesthetics, painting and beauty during the 1860s and then compared these to the works or Courbet and Manet whose canvasses were creating a sensation with their painting style and subject matter. Anne Catherine used Courbet’s “Burial at Ornan” and Manet’s “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” to elucidate the transformation that was taking place in painting.
Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe
These two artists were the launching point for our discussion and lecture on how the rules and techniques of painting were moving away from the academy and evolving into a modern form.
Anne Catherine continued her lecture today at the Pompidou Center.
This contemporary art museum located in the center of Paris provided the background for the continuation of our lecture on modern painters. Looking at the paintings of Matisse, Delaney, and Picasso, Anne Catherine rounded out the discussion of the major transformation that took place in the visual arts at the beginning of the 20th century.
Duchamp's "The Fountain"
Her lecture culminated in a discussion of Duchamp’s ready-made “Fountain” and the symbolic role it played in bringing forth the conversation: What is art? What are the essential characteristics of art? And who defines art?
The class in front of the Pompidou Center.
At Jacques Remus's studio
We were given a tour of the studio of musician and installation artist Jacques Remus today. He works in the Frigos studio, a building that houses over 25 artists on the outskirts of Paris. Originally built after WWI to provide refrigeration for meats and groceries on their way into the central Paris markets, the building has been commandeered by artists and boasts a lively and creative atmosphere.
Jacques’s work brings together science, sculpture and art. It is a sensory delight. We saw two of his studio spaces, each uniquely designed both to support his initial explorations and to house his final creations.
After touring the work, we traveled to the Musée des Arts Forains. This private Museum houses Fairground Art from the 18th and 19th century. We rode on a carousel, peddled bicycle rides from the 1890s, and we danced to music created by Jacques and installed using contemporary software in this magical space.