Roving Eye: Paris Old and New


I went last week to Paris for FIAC, which offered a large congregation of contemporary artworks at the Grand Palais. It was a perfect place for an art fair, beautifully laid out and easy to negotiate. The general consensus in the art world, as I am sure you have read or heard, was that this year’s edition was especially successful.

But as always when one travels for a particular event, additional attractions fill out the experience. In this instance, an extraordinary historic exhibition, “Fra Angelico et les Maîtres de la Lumière,” at the Musée Jacquemart-André, stood out and is worth reporting.

What touched me about this impressive show of Fra Angelico and the many important artists that worked alongside him—Lorenzo Monaco, Massolino and Paolo Uccello among them—was how effectively their work communicated the values of their time. They were deeply religious men, especially Fra Angelico, and their paintings were meant to convey their religious beliefs—not unlike advertising today. They employed light, perspective and narrative to inspirational and dramatic effects.

Soon after leaving the Fra Angelico show I turned my attention to the outdoor sculpture installation at the Jardin des Tuileries, organized by FIAC. I felt the same intensity of belief as I did at the Musée Jacquemart-André in the work of 37-year-old Argentinean artist Adrián Villar Rojas, who represented his country at this year’s Venice Biennale. His 300-foot-long obelisk structure installed in the Jardin, Poem for Earthlings (2011), lay on the ground, looking as if it landed from outer space. It made my heart race and my mind feel like it was exploding.

As in Mad Max, Rojas’s work suggests the destruction of the world and the end of humanity, showing what our final moments might look like. The monumental work, constructed from clay and concrete over seven months, is not meant to withstand the test of time. At the end of the exhibition, in two months, it will be destroyed, as will Rojas’s Biennale installation. Today the world faces serious political, economic and social challenges and Rojas is directing our attention to them, speaking to the fragility of the world we live in and powerfully questioning what the world will look like after its predicted dissolution.

Also in the Jardin des Tuileries, within viewing distance of Rojas’s sculpture, was the work of another talented young artist, Danh Vo. Like Rojas, Vo’s work references monuments, specifically those relevant to the values upon which the United States was founded. Employing a full-size model of the Statue of Liberty, Vo addresses commonly held American notions of freedom and opportunity for all, as well as the burgeoning immigrant population on which the growth of the nation depends. The copper mold of the inside of the statue was broken into individual components, some of which were installed on the grounds of the Jardin. This body of work offers another expression of the dissolution and fragility of Western values. 

The issues that confront artists today are vastly different from those of the 1400s, when art was made to confirm and intensify existing values and beliefs. Artists today are wrestling with the many complex and global challenges—social, political, economic—facing us today. Indeed, they are creating out of the world in which they live, which is no different than any time in the history of humankind.

I am not so sure that I felt particularly optimistic at the end of my day in the Jardin des Tuileries, but great art is undeniable.