Issue #205  8/16/2014
Dueling Mapplethorpe Shows and Cartier-Bresson Show in Paris

By Alex Novak

Robert Mapplethorpe was THE hot name this summer in Paris. Not just one, but two major shows were devoted to this artist, who helped bridge traditional and contemporary photography, much as did Warhol for the general art market. His photos were also scoring some big bucks at some of the auctions here.

The first Mapplethorpe exhibit that I saw was at the Grand Palais. Most of the photos in the Mapplethorpe show both here and at the Rodin Museum came from the Mapplethorpe foundation. This show here at the Grand Palais seemed a little lacking in energy and was bizarrely hung sometimes four levels of frames high, so it was often difficult to view images properly. Here they also put some of Mapplethorpe's more X-rated images in a separate room with warning signs. Ironically many of the images in this room were more sedate than some in the rest of this show, which closed last month.

The Musée Rodin show made no such pretentious attempt at reining in titillation. In fact, probably the one photo that got more attention, particularly from female attendees oddly enough given Mapplethorpe's pension for the homoerotic, was an unadorned male organ, aptly named. It was in full salute, one might say, and we are not talking about roosters here either.

The rest of the show, which goes on until September 21st, was mostly paired with Rodin sculpture, and comparisons from one master artist to the other were readily drawn. If you haven't visited the museum here, it really is a "must" for any Paris trip, especially in nicer weather for a stroll in the sculpture gardens. And, if you don't want to wait in huge lines, just reserve your tickets over the Internet even with your smart phone. This is something I often forget to do myself, but it is available at virtually all major museums all over the world. My friend Cecile made our reservation while we were waiting in line, and it saved us nearly a half hour wait.

While at the Grand Palais for Mapplethorpe, I also took in the "Monumenta 2014" show here. This year they built "l'étrange Cité," a massive work by the Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov in the main exhibition hall, where Paris Photo is now held. Each year a major artist from a different country is invited to utilize the massive space of the Grand Palais (some 13500 sq. meters). In this case seven separate rooms plus a massive dome on its side like a cornucopia were built to house different themed works. The "rooms" were gigantic and the cupola was associated with sound. It was an interesting and involving experience.

Another of the many photography shows here in Paris was a major retrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Georges Pompidou. This is still one of my least favorite museum facilities in the world. Cold, uninviting, poorly designed with vast wasted open spaces, plus the worst attitude and service than at any other Paris restaurant.

Despite the shortcomings of the museum itself, the curatorial staff here often puts on very interesting exhibitions. The Cartier-Bresson show was no exception. I found that the opening sequences (it was a huge show) of Cartier-Bresson prints selected largely by date, made sense, but later ones selected by subject often seemed forced and stilted in order to categorize them.

However, lots of great information about this master photographer was presented, and plenty of early and vintage images were in the show that I've never seen before. Most came from the Fondation Cartier-Bresson, another "must" institution to see while in Paris. You can also become a "Friend of the Fondation", which I recommend. Dues and contributions to the Fondation are tax deductible in France and the U.S. The Fondation is located in the 14th arrondissement at 2 Impasse Lebouis.