Today was the final day of the exhibition simply titled Dada at the Centre Pompidou. Paris is a city that doesn’t really embrace modern art. I mean, when your history is thousands of years old, the last 100 years are nothing but a ripple.
But the Pompidou Center proudly holds it’s place in the center of the spiral of Paris, the famous inside-out building which caused such a ruckus during the groundbreaking that women from Parisian society were reported to have thrown themselves in front of the bulldozers in protest.
Although it’s not a far walk from anywhere no matter where you are in Paris, I rarely go to the Pompidou since the lines always seem formidable. But today something in me prompted me to brave the lengthy queue which (as you can perhaps surmise) began a bit too early for me this morning…
I had an unconventional and artistic upbringing.
My mother was a weaver and a spinner. She went to art school with Andy Warhol and Barbara Feldon (best known for her role as Agent 99 on the television series Get Smart.) However, much to my star-struck chagrin, my mother never kept in touch with either. But she was really something. Even in our trappings of upper middle-class suburbia, I would stare wide-eyed as my mother would load up the Mercedes, don her Frye boots, toss her Louis Vuitton handbag in the passenger seat, and speed up to Vermont to spend the weekend on a farm with bearded hippies and shearing sheep with them, afterwards dying and weaving the soft, oily wool into beautiful fabrics.
She’d sometimes bring big, fluffy sacks of wool home and we’d sit on the front porch in the heat of summer (her wearing just a bra and shorts, drinking Miller beer from the bottle), scraping the wool between two wire-bristled brushes to remove any impurities (ie: thistles and sheep poop). Our hands were always dewy soft and fragrant from the lanolin and the lush softness lasted for days and days.
Luckily for me, I was exposed to a lot of art and creative expression, as well as a certain amount of kookiness during my life. How I ended up living in a little rooftop apartment in Paris, writing about baking cookies and cakes for a living is beyond me. I guess I wasn’t destined to work at IBM or perform brain surgery, although I know deep-down that having a son who was a doctor would have made her very, very happy and kept her in far more Emilio Pucci than she could have imagined.
At the Pompidou, the show was astounding and really knocked me for a loop. It led me to think and reflect about so many things while I wandered through the galleries, transfixed by films of illuminated squares and rectangles, and floating mobiles made simply of wooden hangars, the creator managing to find beauty and simplicity in everyday objects we normally take for granted.
Dadaism was a movement, or counter-movement, against the art “establishment”. It’s similar to how the blog was, or is, a reaction against the established ‘media’, where a free-flow of ideas isn’t restricted by economics or politics. It’s where anyone can say and do whatever they please. The other parallel is that Dada was a reaction to the coming technological age and they were rebelling at values they felt were destructive to society and humanity.
There are many political blogs that confront many of the problems in media and politics that traditional sources of information often avoid.
Unfortunately, I don’t read many of them. But I get a fair amount of other vital information from some of the others. For example, I am still trying to find deeper meaning in the break-up of Nick and Jessica. Or when Katie’s gonna pop and Tom and her are actually going to get married.
At the beginning of the Dada movement, many of the artists refused to sign their works. They felt that art should not be about the artist, but about the art itself and the message. Indeed many of the works were collaborations, much like some of the fine collaborative web sites that have sprung up that aren’t about the writer or the originator of the site, but about creating a discussion board and medium for a free-flow of ideas.
As I wandered through the exhibition, I noticed that many of the French artists, such as Duchamp and Picabia, were the most playful of the bunch and would use a urinal, a comb, or combine scraps of newspaper and typography into works of art. Artists from more disciplined cultures, like Switzerland and Germany, were more apt to play with industrial or mechanical themes. And American artists like Man Ray (who lived in Paris) used everyday objects like eyeglasses and cheese graters to make his ‘rayographs’ on photographic paper, combining both the industrial with the ordinary. He saw both in an entirely new way.
In their short time, the Dadaists knocked the establishment on its ear and I left the exhibition both stunned by their message and the magnitude of what they had accomplished. They were rebelling against everything people thought about art and the bourgeois values of their time. And now, even though their art is on display in a museum, valued at millions, it’s still able to convey anger and a contempt for the stratification of the world of art and the greater society.
It’s hard for us today to think that a major scandal could be caused by mounting a bicycle wheel on a stool and calling it ‘art’, or that a urinal simply signed by the artist would still cause rage in 2006. But it does. A man attacked the work of art with a hammer last week. He was the same one who attacked the work about 12 years ago. The piece, unfortunately, is no longer on display.
Once back home, I got to thinking more about why we do what we do. For example, here I use this website to communicate with readers impressions of my life in Paris and sometimes beyond. Wherever I travel and find something to savor and eat, I share it. It’s fun, and I enjoy getting feedback from those of you who choose to leave comments. Some of you comment frequently, and others will pop me a message once in a while. And I read them all with great curiosity and interest.
I enjoy the spirited camaraderie of other people I’ve met who have blogs. I’ve had the good fortune to devour Pierre Hermé’s desserts and tipple a glass of cool Sancerre with a few here in Paris. I got to star in a video, roaming the city streets in pursuit of fine chocolate with a very nice Jewish boy from New York (who, alas, is not a doctor either…sorry mom.) And I’ve swapped chocolate tips while oogling the most luscious photographs from fellow expats in Germany.
I’ve learned about well-aged, syrupy balsamic vinegar by lapping it up with fragrant wild strawberries in Florence. I tasted waffles and ice cream for breakfast along with bottomless cups of good ol’ American coffee in Chicago. And I had a fireside lesson in the art of making confit de canard in Gascony, fueled by a glass, or two, of fine, locally-produced Armagnac.
On the internet there’s few boundries. Want to write about gluten-free pizza? Go ahead! Did you find a magnificent ham at the market that you just had to photograph? Shoot it, and let’s take a look. Was dinner last night amazing? Show us. Had a culinary catastrophe that’s too funny to keep to yourself? Share the joke.
The internet allows us to keep in touch, bound by our love of good food, often accented by our appreciation of other cultures. You may be tethered to your desk at work or stuck in your apartment, but you can take a break and learn about a luscious sweet confection in Lyon, be intrigued enough to try a new recipe for Guacamole, drool as steaming noodles get ladled into bowls at an exotic outdoor market in Vietnam, and explore the vivid spices piled high in the markets of India and Africa.
I just don’t want to get wacked by any hammers along the way.
The exhibition will be at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC from February 19th-May 14th, 2006. And at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from June 16-September 11th, 2006. Don’t miss it.
(Oh, and by the way, thanks mom…wherever you are…)