What to see in Paris: NYU’s Grey Art Gallery director Lynn Gumpert on four shows up now [posted 4/23/19]

“It’s one of those focused exhibitions that illuminates a lesser-known aspect of a well-known artist’s career and deepens your understanding of their oeuvre.”

“Ellsworth Kelly. Windows”
through May 27, 2019
Centre Pompidou

“Theaster Gates: Amalgam”
through May 12, 2019
Palais de Tokyo

through August 25, 2019
Musée Picasso

“Alberto Giacometti—Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler: Flora”
through June 9, 2019
Fondation Giacometti

On a recent trip to Paris this past March, I saw several wonderful exhibitions. The first was a drop-dead gorgeous show at the Centre Pompidou, “Ellsworth Kelly: Windows,” organized around a series of six paintings that Kelly made between 1949 and 1950 while living in France.

Each painting is based on a particular window, ranging from a casement window in a rented cottage off the coast of Brittany to the modernist windows in the Cité Internationale Universitaire’s Swiss Pavilion in Paris, designed in 1930 by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. One work in the series, inspired by a window in what was then the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris (now the Palais de Tokyo) consists of two stretched canvases joined by wooden sticks. It is less a painting of a window than a model of one, and it led to Kelly’s realization—long before Jasper Johns’s flags and targets—that there was no need to compose a picture when the world was full of ready-made ones.

The series is key to Kelly’s development as an artist, and the show brings together all six paintings as well as some 40 related drawings, sketches, and photographs, many of them borrowed from Kelly’s estate. It’s a small show, but absolutely fascinating—one of those focused exhibitions that illuminates a lesser-known aspect of a well-known artist’s career and deepens your understanding of the entire oeuvre.

Ellsworth Kelly, Open Window, Hôtel de Bourgogne, 1949, pencil on paper, 7.75 x 5.25 inches. Ellsworth Kelly Studio. Copyright © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. Photo courtesy Ellsworth Kelly Studio.

I also enjoyed an installation by Theaster Gates at the Palais de Tokyo for which he created a number of pieces. That cavernous space can be very challenging, but the exhibition was successful. It focuses on story of a racially mixed sector of the population of Malaga Island in Maine, whom the governor expelled in 1912. The show had a cohesiveness that I found very compelling.

View of the exhibition “Theater Gates: Amalgam”, Palais de Tokyo, 2019. Photo: André Morin.

Another terrific exhibition was the Calder-Picasso pairing at the Musée Picasso. The director, Laurent Le Bon, has initiated a series of two-person shows there, commencing in 2016 with a truly spectacular one that featured works by Picasso and Giacometti.

Pablo Picasso, Femme dans un fauteuil (Woman in an Armchair), 1947, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 28 1/2 inches. Musée national Picasso-Paris. Copyright © Succession Picasso 2019. Photo: Copyright © RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot.

Speaking of Giacometti, the Fondation Giacometti recently opened a townhouse space and has been inviting contemporary artists to respond to the estate’s collection. Admission is free, but requires an appointment. Remodeled into the Giacometti Institute, the space feels as though it’s someone’s home; there is even a full-scale reconstruction of Giacometti’s studio. Limiting the number of visitors there at any one time preserves a welcome sense of intimacy.

For the current show, which was just about to open when I was there, Theresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler have created an installation centering on an American contemporary of Giacometti, Flora Mayo. The two had an affair in the 1920s when she was an art student in Paris. Flora was forced to return home as a result of the Depression, which had ruined her family, and she ended up working as a cleaning woman. Through a double-sided film installation featuring a shared soundtrack and a reconstructed portrait bust of Giacometti that Flora made circa 1927 (the original clay one now lost), Hubbard and Birchler rescue her from obscurity. (the film and bust were originally commissioned in 2017 for the Swiss Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale.) Although I left in March before it opened, I’ll be able to catch the exhibition when I return to Paris in early June. The Fondation Giacometti is definitely now one of my new favorite places to visit in Paris.

Photograph of Alberto Giacometti and Floya Mayo with Mayo’s bust of Giacometti, c. 1927. Archive Alberto Giacometti. Courtesy Fondation Giacometti, Paris.