Thursday, July 1, 2010

June 7th -- Bienvenue à paris

Students arrived from all corners of the US and met at the Pension du Palais, our home for the next two weeks. The pension sits on the edge of the Luxembourg gardens, in the 6th arrondissement and provides an ideal location for accessing the city.

We spent the day familiarizing ourselves with our new neighborhood, the Paris Metro, and the local speciality food shops, including an inviting boulangerie.

After reviewing the course schedule, we set out on a walk to explore our new city. The beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg; built for the court of Marie de Médicis and now open to the public, attracts students, families and artists alike. Leaving the gardens, we continued down Boulevard Saint-Michel to the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral. Standing in front of the cathedral we reveled in the first of many arresting Paris sights. Revived by the walk and the stunning views we returned to the pension and enjoyed our first group dinner . Most of us were off to bed after dinner for some much needed sleep.

June 8th -- Modernism & the Ballets Russes

We dove into the course content today. 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 that define this movement. The resources of the city will guide our understanding of the significant role Paris played in the foundation of Modernism.

During the second half of the day we focused on dance and the ground- breaking collaboration that created the Ballets Russes. Under the guidance of impresario Serge Diaghilev, choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky and composer Igor Stravinsky developed "Le Sacre du Printemps," or "The Rite of Spring." The Ballets Russes attracted artists from every art form: Matisse, Picasso, and Roerich designed costumes and Stravinsky composed seminal music scores. Watching the accompanying video clips of the re-staged Joffrey Ballet performance we began to see and understand the revolutionary nature of the Ballets Russes and its far-reaching influences. .

June 9th -- Théâtre de la Ville & Musée d'Orsay

This morning we met with Claire Verlet, the dance artistic director at the Theatre de la Ville. We were privileged to have Claire lead us on a tour of the theater and then present an insightful discussion of the philosophy behind dance programming at the national French theatre. She also discussed the theatre’s commitment to developing long-term relationships with their artists. Claire’s rich background as a contemporary dance performer and an arts administrator enhanced the presentation of dance artist Susanne Linke’s work. Claire defined the German dance legacy that informs Linke’s work; thus, we were better prepared for the powerful performance event that we would view later in the week. It was an exceptional opportunity to learn about contemporary European dance and arts programming.

In the afternoon we had a lecture at the The Musee D’Orsay by Art Historian Anne Catherine Abeccasis. 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. First, we walked upstairs for a look at an ornate, highly decorated waiting room that was very much in fashion when the train station was built. This room served as a visual reference point for the rest of our lecture. In order to better contextualize the revolutionary style the modern painters were adopting, we were asked to think about this room as a benchmark and indicator of poplar tastes for beauty and art at the beginning of the 20th century. We moved from these traditional notions of beauty 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 Dejenure sur Le’ Herbe” to elucidate the transformation that was taking place in painting.

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.

June 10th -- Baron Haussmann's Modern Paris & Le Vernissage

We toured the city today with architecture Professor Ulrike Kasper. We met at the Opera Garnier and 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 architectural installations.

That evening we attended a vernissage, an art opening, at the Palais de Tokyo. The show “Dynasty” brought together 40 contemporary French artists. The event took place at both the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d'Art moderne and was packed with contemporary art, fashinistas, and burgeoning artists. Attendees spread onto the outdoor veranda that connects the museums, enjoying the pulsating music, dancing, and bonhomie.

June 11th -- Frigos & Centre Pompidou & Savion Glover's Bare Soundz

Today was an experience unlike any other: we visited the studio of composer Jacques Remus. A contemporary composer, Jacques creates music installations that integrate technology, sculpture and performance. His studio is housed in the artists squat “Frigos,” once a meatpacking facility; this hive of creativity now houses dozens of artists. Jacques let us experience first hand one of his creations. He invited students into a ‘performance space’ where their hands and body would control musical accompaniment. Moving their hands and their bodies students created sounds interacting with a motion capture keyboard.

After this studio tour Jacques treated us to a private tour of the Fairground Art Museum. This magical place is home to fairground antiques, carousels, and rides from the 19th century. We were invited to experience these antique games, including a bicycle merry go round from the 1890’s. The carousel was powered by our peddling, and as we moved the ride faster we cheered with delight. Jacques worked with the Fairground Art Museum to re-imagine the sound scores for the many different events and today fifteen computers drive the different visuals. The venue most certainly cast a spell on us!

Late this afternoon we met with Art Historian Anne Catherine Abeccasis 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. 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?

Théâtre de la Ville presented tap sensation Savion Glover's Bare Soundz and we were lucky enough to secure seats to this sold out performance.

June 12th -- Le nouveau photographie & Théâtre des Abbesses

Today Professor Shea presented a lecture about photography and its relationship within the context of the modernist movement in Paris. Photography, like painting, was experiencing a significant transformation, changing the traditional methods of representation and documentation. Photographers such as Atget, Kretesz, and Man Ray were experimenting with their subjects, compositions, and developing processes. This experimentation yielded wonderful visuals and new techniques such as solarization and rayographs and influenced many of its contemporary artistic movements such as Surrealism, Futurism and Dada.

In the evening we attended a performance of choreographer Susane Linke’s work. It was a stunning show comprised of five solo compositions, performed by Linke and three other dancers. The work was evocative and beautifully danced. The formal production elements, lights, costumes, and props were integral to the conceptual work and they enhanced the powerful impact of the overall work. A bathtub in the second solo became an animated partner to Linke's character in the performance. The lecture on the Ballets Russes and Claire Verlet’s talk framed this expressive performance in the context of Modernism.