Pompidou and Circumstance

So, I can see the Centre Pompidou from our bedroom window. It’s a huge glass rectangle surrounded by tubes and steel cables, designed by Renzo Piano back in the 70’s. From the plaza side [I’ll explain in a minute] it looks like a giant hamster cage/ant farm; the escalator is on the outside in a glass tube, going diagonally from the 1st floor to the sixth.

At its scale for the neighborhood, it’s a bit of a landmark anyway, and we’ve spent a lot of time just sitting in the plaza on the non-street side of the building, where you can do everything from have an old vietnamese guy serenade you with Smells like Teen Spirit on the guitar to have another of many, very zealous portraitists try to draw your picture [“You have a good nose,” they say and while I can’t prove it I think they say this to everybody] to nothing at all. People just sit out in front of this monstrosity (in a good way), have lunch, make out, smoke, talk, whatever. It’s pretty awesome, as tens of thousands of people live right around here, rents seem to still afford a huge variety of shops and restaurants despite or maybe because of the old underground mall next door (Les Halles), and the Pompidou serves as a kind of pass through destination for all and sundry. We actually came to it often during the last stay here, just to take a pause and sit outside.

Yesterday, we went inside the museum for the first time and, without being too dramatic, it changed a lot of what I thought about the building. First it’s a great building from the inside; the tube escalator is better than it is even curious from the outside. But most of all, it’s a great modern art museum, my new favorite [drawing from a, needless to say, shallow well].

We saw two exhibitions, neither of which I particularly liked, and one I especially did not. Lucien Freud L’Atelier; I already knew I didn’t like his painting, now confirmed. But there were some things about it that were good, just not the people in his pictures, who he seems to loathe. Other buildings, rooms, plants, even a dog appeared several times… all remarkably well done. Then the other exhibit, Dreamlands. The program says the goal of this exhibition “of more then 300 works is to show how the World’s Fairs, international exhibitions and amusement parks have inspired significant developments in urban design and urban life.” An ambitious mouthful and you can partially imagine the building of the Eiffel tower, Dali on Coney Island, lots about Vegas, some about EPCOT. But there was the Rem Koolhas book, Delirious New York, that I’d never heard of and they had some images from that. Then two Philip Guston paintings, one I had seen before. But thing was, interspersed with all of this on the sixth floor galleries were… staggering views of the city. All the while, you never feel lost in the labyrinth that some museums exhibition spaces can be.

So, this is already really long but, the only reason I was writing any of it was because of the permanent collection on the 4th and 5th floor. Debouffet, Leger, Bonnard, but also a lot of Picasso and Braque, one room of their back and forth images in particular that was great, each painting practically the same thing. Sculptures by Brancusi throughout, it was great to see this stuff after a day of work. And when I say stuff, I mean like this.