Friday, August 9, 2013

The Art Set: Size Matters!

Ron Mueck's Studio, January 2013
© Ron Mueck
Photo © Gautier Deblonde
The Art Set: Size Matters!
by Charlie Scheips

You can appreciate life in Paris on both the grand or a small scale — often at the same time. There are charming small parks or squares throughout the city from the miniscule Place de Furstenberg just off the rue Jacob — where you can still visit the home and studio of the great 19th century painter Eugène Delacroix — to the enormous Bois de Boulogne at the edge of the city’s 16th arrondissement.

Marielle Worth.
This past weekend, my friend Marielle Worth invited me to stop for a Kir Royale aperitif at her apartment in the Passy neighborhood before we walked over to the nearby Bois de Boulogne to have lunch.

Our destination was Le Chalet des Iles on an idyllic island in the middle of one of the park’s artificial lakes. After a boat ride lasting a minute or so, you disembark just in front of the restaurant. The restaurant is really a complex of buildings with two terraces and various spaces for large-scale parties or an intimate lunch or dinner with a friend. In no place do you see a single building — you feel miles away from Paris.

After a delicious lunch we took the pathway around the island where dozens of people of all ages were enjoying sunbathing or a picnic while boaters leisurely sailed around us.

Parisian-born Marielle is directly descended from the founder of haute couture Englishman Charles Frederick Worth. In the 1960s she landed a job as an assistant to Diana Vreeland in New York at Vogue. She followed that by going to work for designer Bill Blass during his heyday. Before retiring a few years ago, she managed the American Friends of Blérancourt — that supports the wonderful Château and gardens restored and donated by Anne Morgan — the daughter off financier J.P. Morgan. It is now called the “National Museum of French-American Friendship.”
A view of Le Chalet des Iles in the Bois de Boulogne.
Table for two at Le Chalet des Iles.
A post-lunch stroll on the Iles.
Anne Morgan, along with her friends decorator Elsie de Wolfe and literary agent Elizabeth “Bessie” Marbury were major figures in fundraising and humanitarian aid during the First World War. They were dubbed the “Versailles Triumvirate” owing to the house they shared called the Villa Trianon in that town just outside of Paris during the 1910s and early 1920s. The sheer size of these friends' (together with Ann Vanderbilt) contributions to the war effort were truly extraordinary and the museum’s collection includes extensive holdings of artifacts and documentary materials pertaining to that devastating debacle. These ladies were also the founders of the Colony Club — New York’s first women’s social club.

Although Blérancourt gardens are presently open, the Museum is currently closed until sometime in the next year after extensive renovations.
Anne Morgan. Bessie Marbury and Elsie De Wolfe.
There is absolutely nothing small about fashion editor and personality André Leon Talley. I worked with André at Condé Nast for a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s. I last saw him when I was tightly “sandwiched” between him and Susan Train at the staggeringly moving funeral of Yves Saint Laurent at Paris’s Saint Roch church on the rue Saint Honoré in 2008.

André’s larger-than-life-presence is currently being felt in Paris at the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art & Culture with the Little Black Dress exhibition that he curated which is currently on view. This provocative exhibition was originally organized with the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) — who a few years back awarded Talley an honorary doctorate and on whose board of trustees he now serves.
Little Black Dress at the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art & Culture.
Mona Bismarck was one of the mid-20th century’s most fabled beauties. During the 1930s she was widely regarded as the best-dressed woman in the world. Mona had the truly good fortune to marry (in 1926) Harrison William whose utilities holdings made him for a time, one of, or perhaps, the wealthiest man in America.

Mona Bismarck.
Her beautiful hotel particulier on the avenue de New York is situated just below Trocadero and faces the Eiffel Tower directly across the Seine.

Mona was in the news earlier this year as the organization that bears her name decided to part with her famous portrait by Salvador Dali, which sold for £2,281,250 ($3,537,534) at Sotheby’s in London.

I was lucky to be taken around the Little Black Dress exhibition by SCAD’s Molly Rowe. I learned that SCAD [www.scad.edu] have four campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, Lacoste, France and Hong Kong. They also have their own museum [www.scadmoa.org].

Molly explained to me that they are also using the occasion of the exhibition’s presentation in Paris to encourage more European students to study at this truly international university. I particularly liked the fact that a current graduate student, Adam Kuehl, did all the photography for the catalog for the exhibition.

If you are looking for the definitive history of the “little black dress” this is not the show for you. While conventional histories credit Coco Chanel with creating it in 1926 with what Vogue called her “Ford” dress — a reference to the automaker’s famous quip that “any customer can have his car painted any color as long as it's black" — the little black dress’s history is much more complex. But that is another subject for another time.
John Demsey, curator André Leon Talley, Carine Roitfeld, and Riccardo Tisci at the Little Black Dress exhibition opening at Fondation Mona Bismarck, Paris. Photo Stéphane Feugère.
Instead, this exhibition is centered really on contemporary fashion from primarily the past two decades. The oldest dress in the exhibition predates Chanel’s supposed original by two decades — Mariano Fortuny’s gorgeous, pleated shoulder to floor “Delphos” gown of 1907. Other classical fashion examples include: a Cristobel Balenciaga from 1957; a Pierre Cardin from 1960; a 1962 Chanel from when Madame still ruled the House she built; a late Madame Grès from 1977 and an Yves Saint Laurent from his Fall/Winter collection in 1999.
Oscar de la Renta, 2012
Autumn/Winter 2012
Permanent collection of SCAD Museum of Art
Last Year's Model (left) Prada worn by Linda Evangelista; (center) Commes des Garcon worn by Marc Jacobs; and (right) Marc Jacobs worn (and actually owned) by artist Rachel Feinstein all on the occasion of the MET's 2012 Costume Institute party. Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel
Spring/Summer 1990
Reproduction of Salvador Dali's portrait of Mona Bismarck
But, for contemporary viewers, perhaps emphasizing the enduring power of the little black dress in recent times is a novel way to capture fresh interest. It’s certainly a way to learn about fashion in our own times for a general audience. Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel is a history in itself and one of the centerpieces of the exhibition is his truly “little” black dress that Anna Wintour wore for the 2006 MET Costume Institute party, and subsequently donated to SCAD’s collection.

The catalog for the exhibition.
Click to order.
Familiar names of today abound: Prada, Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney, Chado Ralph Rucci, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein and Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy — to name a few. But in the more than 50 dresses presented I discovered designers I was not familiar with including Prabal Gurung and Cushnie et Ochs. There is also a little black dress from a recent SCAD alumnus named Alexis Asplundh.

In our celebrity-mad culture there is too much emphasis here for my taste about who actually wore the individual dresses to one over-hyped event or another — usually as a loaner from the designer. There are also big stretches on the definition of “little” in many of the garments on view.

But overall, the show is all about glamour in one form or another — and it's definitely something we need more of in this oft-dreary world of flip flops and casual dress. It looks great at Mona’s house, with the walls painted a custom flaming red inspired by Talley’s mentor Diana Vreeland. So if you can see Little Black Dress before it closes on September 22, you’ll be glad you did.
On the other side of Paris, near Denfert-Rochereau on the Boulevard Raspail is the magnificent Jean Nouvel-designed Cartier Foundation. I’ve been going there since soon after it opened in 1994 — although the Foundation has been presenting fabulous exhibitions of contemporary art since the early 1980s. The transparent glass and steel building is now one of Paris’s most successful examples of contemporary architecture. One enters through an opening in a multi-story glass wall, and a lush green garden designed by artist Lothar Baumgarten, which surrounds the building.

The current exhibition is of the Australian-born, London-based sculptor Ron Mueck. I wasn’t really a big fan of hyper-realistic sculpture until I first encountered Mueck’s work almost two decades ago.
Ron Mueck platform poster in the Paris Métro.
The crowd waiting for entry into Cartier Foundation for the Ron Mueck show.
A view from the garden of the Cartier Foundation.
I remember as a young teenager being amazed by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Janitor by American artist Duane Hanson that appeared to be almost the real thing at first glance. But over the years, the fiberglass that Hanson’s used to create these sculptures began to age and, as fashions changed too, they seemed more kitsch than good art.

I understand the Milwaukee Art Museum recently undertook an extensive restoration of that sculpture — I’d like to see it again.
Restoring Duane Hanson's Janitor, 1973. Polyester, fiberglass, and mixed media; 65 1/2 x 28 x 22 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Friends of Art M1973.91. Photo credit John Nienhuis. © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
But Ron Mueck is something completely different. The first work I ever saw by him was in the now legendary Sensation show. Entitled Dead Dad, Mueck created an unbelievably realistic sculpture of his own dead father laid out on the floor cut in his burial suit and tie. If that were not jarring enough, instead of being life-size it was approximately only around a quarter life-size. It emphasized our own individual smallness in the cosmos for me.
Ron Mueck, another Dead Dad, 1996–97
Ron Mueck, Boy, 1999
Another dizzying encounter I had with a Mueck sculpture came when I first witnessed his Boy, 1999 at the Arsenale of the Venice Biennale in 2001. This time, a young boy, shirtless and shoeless in short pants — was crouching — but he was gargantuan! With hands over his head almost touching the ceiling of the enormous building. A few years ago, Mueck was artist in residence at London’s National Gallery. That exhibition, of several of the works he created during his residency there, confirmed to me that he was using scale — both large and small — in ways that were at once poetic and arresting.
Couple under an umbrella
© Ron Mueck
Photo © Thomas Salva / Lumento for the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, 2013
Detail of Couple under an umbrella.
Self-portrait of the artist
Mask II, 2001
Mixed media
Anthony d'Offay, London
© Ron Mueck
Photo courtesy of Anthony d'Offay, London
Exhibition Ron Mueck, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, April 16 › Sept. 29, 2013
Drift, 2009
Mixed media
Private Collection
© Ron Mueck
Photo courtesy of Anthony d'Offay, London and Hauser & Wirth
Exhibition Ron Mueck, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, April 16 › Sept. 29, 2013
Woman with Sticks, 2009
Mixed media
Courtesy Hauser & Wirth
© Ron Mueck
Photo Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, London.
Exhibition Ron Mueck, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, April 16 › Sept. 29, 2013
Detail of Woman with Sticks, 2009.
The Cartier Foundation show is the best show of Mueck’s work I have seen to date. Three new sculptures by the famously (read meticulous) slow-working artist are cause alone to see the exhibition. There are nine sculptures in all including his Man In A Boat from 2002 that I first saw in London.

When I first met Caroline Godin of the Foundation's press office, she told me that photography was not allowed in the galleries — but that she would happy to send me press images for this article. I asked if any of the photos contained people, as it is impossible to understand the scale of these works from mere photography alone. She agreed and allowed me to snap some photos so that you can better see the amazing power of these works.

The exhibition continues through September 29th.
Finally, after my hamburger binge of last week, I want to calm many of my reader’s fears that I am living in Paris for a month on hamburgers. I haven’t had a hamburger all week — and just the other night, my friend, architect William Foucault came over for a home-cooked dinner.
A healthy chunk of Roquefort with a side salad.
The menu, prepared by me, was perfectly ripe melon with paper thin slices of prosciutto, paillards of filet of pork sautéed in butter and lemon, salad, and a nice piece of Roquefort finished with a compote of mouthwatering white peaches and strawberries and galette St. Michel butter cookies. The bottle of refreshing Saumur Champigny helped wash it down.

À bientôt!
A compote of white peaches and strawberries and galette St. Michel butter cookies for dessert.
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