Summer in the City

Programming

Summer for me tends to mean either working on or recovering from a festival, but I still remember fondly the French summer school holidays – Les Grandes Vacances, a seemingly endless 8-week stretch of perfectly free time. However, Summer in the Suburbs wasn’t exactly action-packed, so I would have been grateful at the time for this Mairie de Paris initiative: the Pass Jeunes (Youth Pass), a bundle of free or heavily discounted cultural offers for anyone aged 15-25 and living, studying or working in Paris.

Amongst the 26 free activities, pass holders can choose from admission to several museums, temporary exhibitions, cinema, music festivals (jazz, world, and classical), heritage buildings and sports activities.

13 further activities are offered with a discount: a visit of the Eiffel Tower and the zoo, a river cruise, a hot air balloon trip and more exhibitions.

As an added incentive, there’s a competition to win a few more cultural/lifestyle activities: more exhibitions, singing and circus lessons and free subscriptions to Vélib, Paris’ shared bike scheme. Each voucher used unlocks a password to input on the Pass Jeune website – so the more offers they access, the more likely users are to win rewards.

Here’s my imaginary summer line-up of Grandes Vacances weekly activities – if only I were a few years younger and living in Paris – for a grand total of €8.5.

 

1. Les années 50 at the Musée de la Mode

Not just any 50s fashion but 50s fashion in France – Givenchy, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, Christian Dior, Jacques Griffe, Pierre Cardin… Here’s a teaser in French with sweeping views of the outfits on display.

 

2. Ballon de Paris

Billed as the biggest in the world, this hot air balloon changes colour to indicate the quality of air, from red for very bad to green for excellent.

Here’s a Go Pro video filmed 2 years ago – according to the comments, the orientation is all wrong, but it’s still a nice view.

There’s also a permanent webcam to see Paris from the sky whenever the balloon is up and flying.

 

3. L’Etat du ciel at the Palais de Tokyo

I try to go to the Palais de Tokyo whenever I’m in Paris, because it’s actually quite small and exhibitions i’ve been to so far felt slow-paced and spacious. I also like the fact that it’s right next to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (which permanent collections are always free to visit).

L’État du ciel – a title borrowed from Victor Hugo’s essay Promontoire du songe, in which the author wrote that “the sky’s normal state is at night” – is “a homage to many artists’, poets’ and philosophers’ reflections on the physical, moral and political factors that shape our world”. Artists include Ed Atkins, Camille Henrot, Steve McQueen, Tony Oursler, Dominique Ghesquière and more, with a focus on performance and time-based art.

 

4. JR au Panthéon

The Panthéon is a 17th-century neoclassical church that has been used as a burial place for eminent French citizens – all men except Marie Curie – since the Revolution. It is currently one of 9 heritage sites hosting a participatory photographic installation by artist JR, whose mobile “Inside Out” photobooth van travelled through France earlier this year to collect photographic portraits.

The Panthéon is undergoing major renovation work, and the commission is a great way to draw attention to the building and its signification in French history, whilst questioning its function as a place of consecration of the great and the good by infiltrating it with 4,000 anonymous portraits.

The video below is in French but shows lots of views of the installation.

 

5. Jeux, Ruses et Hasards at the Forum des Images

3 short films – Zig-Zag, Le Jeu de l’Oie by Raoul Ruiz, Le Coup du Berger by Jacques Rivette and La Boulangère de Monceau by Eric Rohmer, as part of the “Goût du Jeu” thematic retrospective, surveying the notion of play in films. There are many more of the 70+ films that I would like to discover or watch again, but this selection of shorts by 3 great filmmakers seems like a safe bet.

 

6. Marc Ducret – Tower Bridge at the Paris Jazz Festival

Marc Ducret’s Tower Bridge is a project based on “an attempt at transposing in the musical world a short chapter from Vladimir Nabokov’sAda, in which the writer weaves a whole labyrinth made of mirrors, memories and correspondences, eventually building a form which in turn leads to his other books, themes and emotions”  (from the press release). The 12-piece band incorporates two-third of the excellent Trio Journal Intime (Matthias Mahler on trombone and Frédéric Gastard on bass saxophone), so it’s got to be good.

 

7. Pierre Henry: Voyage à travers ma modernité at Paris Quartier d’Eté

A pioneer of musique concrète and precursor of electronic music, Pierre Henry has been artist-in-residence at Paris Quartier d’Eté (an annual eclectic programme of performing arts) for the past 7 years. If I had to choose only one of the 6 concerts presented at the recently renovated Carreau du Temple, it would probably be Symphonie pour un homme seul, a musical collage in 12 movements featuring vocal fragments recorded backwards, accelerated or repeated, whistles, footsteps, doors slamming, metallic sounds and a prepared piano, which he composed with Pierre Schaeffer in 1949-1950.

Here is a film of the choreography of the same name by Maurice Béjart, created in 1955 and based on the Eroïca movement of the “symphony”.

 

8. Avec motifs apparents at the Cent Quatre

Large-scale in situ installations by 5 artists at the Cent Quatre, a new(ish) arts centre opened in 2008 on the site of the former municipal undertaker services.

Artists include Pascale Marthine Tayou, Xavier Juillot,  Jérémy Gobé, Alice Mulliez and Prune Nourry.

Centre Pompidou-Metz: Audiences first!

Spotlight

“All our efforts will be aimed at provoking surprise, amazement and pleasure, and at stimulating and constantly renewing the public’s interest for contemporary art.”
Laurent Le Bon, director, Centre Pompidou-Metz

The Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, in Paris, also known as Beaubourg, is a multi-use cultural complex housing a public library, a music research centre (IRCAM) and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, the second largest world collection of modern and contemporary art after MOMA. Opened in 1977 and designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, it is also an architectural statement, exposing its inner workings in Technicolor. The Centre Pompidou is a national institution, but a modern one; and that’s maybe why it was the first in France to open a decentralised outpost in a regional city.

In 2002, the Centre Pompidou considered a number of cities to host this new sister-institution, including Caen, Montpellier, Lyon, Nancy, Lille – and Metz, a 120,000-resident city just south of the border with Luxembourg, birthplace of poet Paul Verlaine, with a history dating back to Roman times and a claim to be the cradle of Gregorian chant.

Vue sur la ville depuis le Centre Pompidou Metz

Vue sur la ville depuis le Centre Pompidou Metz (CC) Dalbera

Le centre Pompidou Metz

Le centre Pompidou Metz (CC) Dalbera

Amongst other factors that guided the choice of the hosting city, Metz could offer the access to a large new potential audience (northern France, Belgium, Luxembourg and western Germany), an ongoing revitalisation project via a new “cultural quarter”, part of a wider political strategy to invest in the creative economy and, pragmatically, “the necessary financial capacity to invest in such a project”.

Construction started in November 2006 and the new museum was inaugurated in May 2010. Conceived by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, known for his innovative work with paper and cardboard tubes, the 20,000m2 building is topped by a wood-and-teflon roof inspired by a Chinese hat. The surrounding landscaped gardens are designed on sustainable principles.

Roof detail - (CC) airdecker via Flickr

Roof detail – (CC) airdecker

Footbridge through the gardens - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Footbridge through the gardens – (CC) Dalbera

3 years after its official opening, the Centre Pompidou-Metz is the most visited temporary exhibitions space in France outside Paris, with a record number of visit of 600,000 in its first year of operation (May-December 2010) and around 500,000 annually.

The 5-to-6 annual exhibitions are unique to the museum and not simply scaled down from previous Parisian incarnations. The “essence” of the programming choices is aligned with the original Centre Pompidou’s mandate to be “a leading centre of information, exhibitions, research and initiatives in numerous fields of contemporary creation” and is complemented by multidisciplinary events and performances that can take place in all indoor and outdoor spaces. Young audiences and families are also catered for, with workshops, special events and dedicated guided tours.

Right now, visitors can enjoy an in-situ installation by French artist Daniel Buren; a selection of works from Sol LeWitt’s personal collection; an exhibition on the history of aerial photography;  an visual and acoustic immersive experience to dive into the Beat Generation; and a retrospective of Hans Richter’s work.

Sol LeWitt - "Wall Drawings" - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Sol LeWitt, “Wall Drawings” – (CC) Dalbera

Daniel Buren, Echos d'échos, 2013 -  (CC) Mark Feldmann via Flickr

Daniel Buren, Echos d’échos, 2013 – (CC) Mark Feldmann

The wide appeal of the artistic programming goes hand in hand with a progressive pricing policy, with a sliding scale admission fee, from €7 to €12, depending on the number of galleries open on the day of purchase, just like in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. An annual membership pass granting unlimited admission costs €33 the first year, €27 afterwards, and admission is free for everyone under-26, but also for teachers, artists, journalists, seniors, Centre Pompidou employees, job seekers, disabled people and their assistant. Performances – dance, music, theatre… – are priced between €5 and €20. Artists’ talks are free, screenings and other educational opportunities cost €5. Guided visits are offered in French, English, German and French Sign Language.

Just as Louvre-Lens was opening its doors in December 2012, just 300 km north-west of Metz, L’Express was announcing that the tourism economic impact of Centre Pompidou-Metz was valued at €70 million for its first year only, a full return on investment on the building cost; however, as the total public infrastructure investment is estimated at €250 million, the municipal authorities remain cautious about drawing hasty conclusions on the net worth of the project. So does the French government, which is not planning to build any further physical buildings in the near future, preferring to let these two projects develop and mature to assess their impact.

A detailed activity report is available on Centre Pompidou-Metz’s website (in French), with varied insights on, amongst others, its communication strategy, audience development policy, and even its HR and financial management.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Dragon, 1998, Metz train station - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Niki de Saint Phalle, Dragon, 1998, Metz train station – (CC) Dalbera

Centre Pompidou-Metz, lobby at sunset - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Centre Pompidou-Metz, lobby at sunset – (CC) Dalbera

This post is part of a series about new museums, inspired by a recent visit to the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum.

All images are licensed under Creative Commons and linked to their original location on Flickr.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao: a democratic folly

Spotlight

One more highlight of my summer away was visiting, at long last, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. It’s only 2 hours’ drive from my family home, so it was an ideal day trip – and a fairly affordable one, too, with tickets priced at €13 (full price), €7.50 for seniors and under-26 and free for children under 12, all including an audio guide. When some galleries are closed for installation, the prices can drop as low as $8 and $5.

The first surprise was the city itself: as references to the ‘Bilbao effect’ usually imply that it was somehow saved from its post-industrial grime, I expected to see at least some signs of this not-so-distant derelict past – so it was a pleasant shock to walk along the wide riverside promenade, watching modern light rail glide by and studying with envy the stunning city centre apartment buildings. Basque towns are usually quite delightful – from posh Biarritz to picturesque Bayonne and maritime San Sebastian – but in Bilbao is on a whole different level: less quaint, more grand and prosperous, colourful and design-conscious.

Footbridge over the Nervión river

Footbridge over the Nervión river

Wheatpasting under 'La Salve' bridge

Wheatpasting under ‘La Salve’ bridge

There would be much to say about the building and the collections, so instead I’ve chosen the cultural tourism angle to look at the inner workings of this so-called ‘Bilbao Effect’.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, close up on titanium and glass "skin"

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, close up on titanium and glass “skin”

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with Daniel Buren's Arcos rojos / Arku Gorriak (2007) in the background

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, with Daniel Buren’s Arcos rojos / Arku Gorriak (2007) in the background

The museum approach has a ritualistic feel to it: visitors slowly ascend towards this modern temple of culture, admiring its exterior signs of grandeur – two giant animals frame the building, Maman by Louise Bourgeois at one end, Puppy by Jeff Koons at the other, highly accessible and recognisable works by household names that look great in holiday snaps.

Maman, Louise Bourgeois  (first created 1999)

Maman, Louise Bourgeois (first created 1999)

Puppy, Jeff Koons (1992)

Puppy, Jeff Koons (1992)

Inside, once over the slight commotion of the ticketing area, groups – mainly families and couples in relaxed casual wear on that summer weekday – are spat out, one by one, audio guide set to their own language in hand, ready to give themselves to the experience(s) laid out for them.

Atrium, looking down

Atrium, looking down

Atrium, looking up

Atrium, looking up

One of the very first things that all visitors get to hear, when they listen to the first orientation track and stand in the majestic atrium as instructed, is that the museum was created through a partnership between the Guggenheim Foundation, the Basque Country autonomous community, the province of Biscay and the city of Bilbao – and that it was very much intended to offer access to the highest standards of art and architecture to everyone.

The terms of the 75-year agreement are defined as such in an article published in The Art Newspaper:

The Basques agreed to cover the $100 million construction cost, to create a $50 million acquisitions fund, to pay a one-time $20 million fee to the Guggenheim and to subsidize the museum’s $12 million annual budget. In exchange, the Guggenheim would manage the institution, rotate parts of its own permanent collection through here and organize temporary shows.

Far from art for art’s sake, this public investment is a concerted effort of regeneration through culture, and it seems to have paid off:

In its first three years, almost 4 million tourists visited the museum, helping to generate about €500 million in economic activity. The regional council estimated that the money visitors spent on hotels, restaurants, shops and transport allowed it to collect €100 million in taxes, which more than paid for the building cost.
(Wikipedia via Financial Times)

Museums are increasingly used as “urban economic reactivators”, as outlined in this 2009 article found on Scholars-on-Bilbao, a public online archive of “academic works that analyse the urban regeneration of the city of Bilbao (e.g. strategic plans, infrastructures, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and dilemmas, cultural tourism, gentrification, uneven development, creative industries, artists … etc)”.

Authors Beatriz Plaza and Silke N. Haarich conclude:

The case of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a symbol for the modern use of museums and their possible impact to change the fate of an entire city region. However, the reality is that the change was also due to a traditional strategy of urban revitalisation of a former industrial area in the heart of Bilbao. In addition, it was part of a wider strategy for structural change and economic reanimation of the province of Biscay and the Basque Country which included important investments in transport and environmental infrastructure, housing and entrepreneurial initiatives and industrial projects.

So if museums can play a key part in cultural regeneration planning, it is worth noting that they’re only the highly visible cherry-on-the-cake in the redevelopment and reputation of a city. In Bilbao, much of the work was started before the museum was erected – new subway system, new city airport, new bridges over the Nevion river – and much accomplished afterwards: Bilbao’s mayor, elected two years after the Guggenheim was built, just won the World Mayor of the Year 2012 Award for “transforming (a) declining city”.

View across the river Nervión

View across the river Nervión

Tall Tree and the Eye, Anish Kapoor (2009)

Tall Tree and the Eye, Anish Kapoor (2009)

Moreover, infrastructure needs to be connected and animated: this is when the intricate web of partnerships that supports an appealing cultural tourism offer comes into play. How to get there, where to stay, where to eat, what else to do: to every successful city break, there’s a myriad of negotiations, reciprocal agreements, media investments and decisions to be made.

“Cultural tourism is not a quick fix”, says Helen Palmer, director of Creative Tourist Consults: beyond partnerships, it takes leadership and a “brutally honest appraisal of (the) collective cultural offer”.

I couldn’t really speak for Bilbao as it was siesta time when I came out of the museum, but for a sampler of what’s on offer, this Guardian Travel feature is a good start.

Siesta Time

Siesta Time

I will continue this museum series in further posts, (virtually) looking at Centre Pompidou-Metz (2010), Louvre-Lens (2012) and Marseille’s MuCEM (2013).

All photos @artoffestivals – click on image for large version

The Art of Weather

Programming

The Manchester Jazz Festival just ended this past weekend (on the flamboyantly playful sounds of Journal Intime, a French trio featuring a mighty bass saxophone) and despite fears of flooding, the damp Mancunian weather didn’t succeed in deterring music fans from their annual rejoicings.

Is it because the British weather is a little bit more awful than anywhere else that Britons are so obsessed with it? “Talking about the weather” is apparently the number 1 self-identified national trait (according to the same poll, other top qualities include “being overly polite”, “gossiping with neighbours over the garden fence” and a “fondness for mowing the lawn”, painting a charming portrait of a nation).

While manners, back-stabbing and gardening would all make great themes for a festival, for the purpose of this post, I will focus on what really matters to most people, looking at a few artistic explorations that embrace the elements.

How it feels

On my very first visit to Tate Modern in 2003, I came across one of the Turbine Hall site-specific installations by chance, and was transfixed by pretty much everything about it: the space itself, for its scale and the sheer ambition of repurposing it; the way the artist invested it with deceptively simple means; and the public’s joyous abandon of museum etiquette.

The Weather Project, by Olafur Eliasson, featured a giant sun, hanging high at the far end of the cavernous Turbine Hall and radiating a warm and soft orange glow. Looking up, the ceiling seemed to shimmer, just like on a hot summer day.

Weather Project, Olafur Eliasson, 2003, Tate Modern

On further examination, the sun was in fact a half circle of light, reflected to form a full figure, and the mirrored ceiling was not made of a single piece, but covered in hundreds of slats, creating a vibrating illusion. A light mist added to the heat-wavering summer feeling, so powerfully suggestive that the best way to enjoy it was to lay down and bask in it, just like in a park or on a beach.

In this short video interview below, the artist talks about the Weather Project and another experiment on perception, Your Blind Passenger (2010), a long tunnel with very limited visibility and changing levels of light, reproducing extreme fog conditions. He explains his interest in creating collective experiences where people can explore social constructs – such as “the weather” – and define their own singularity as part of a collectivity.

The Weather Project is as much about how we relate to the weather, real or imagined, as it is about the way the museum setting – yet another social construct – shapes our perception and understanding. The artist thought carefully about the viewer’s experience, even choosing himself the marketing messages to control the visitors’ expectations, as explained on the Tate’s website.

This emotionally charged review in the Telegraph is a good starting point to delve further into the Weather Project experience, and a few copies of the exhibition catalogue are still circulating (US / UK).

How it sounds

Music critic Alex Ross, author of the excellent The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, has published a new collection of essays under the title Listen to This, exploring many different genres, periods and artists, from Schubert to Björk, with the same attention to context and reception.

One of these texts, originally featured in the New Yorkerfollows composer John Luther Adams on his musical journeys, as far as Alaska. Adams is passionately interested in environmental questions and his compositions and books are based on his research on climate and natural phenomena, as he explains in this short video portrait.

The Place Where You Go To Listen, an immersive data-based light-and-sound installation (also used as a title for a creative writing piece and a book on the ecology of music), is located within the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North. It is described as such on their website: “(an) ever-changing musical ecosystem (that) gives voice to the rhythms of daylight and darkness, the phases of the moon, the seismic vibrations of the earth and the dance of the aurora borealis, in real time.”

There is nothing romantic or figurative about Adams’ notion of the weather, as he declares himself in the video above: “I’m not interested in telling you a story”. The music of the world is what you hear when you listen.

Whilst The Place Where You Go To Listen is, in a way, composed by nature, John Luther Adams uses a variety of compositional devices in his other works. Many audio excerpts are available on his online catalogue and on the Audio Guide of Listen to Thisfor a more recent creation, this video excerpt of the première of Inuksuit at the Armory gives yet another flavour of John Luther Adams’ sense of sound-in-space.

How it looks

The art of weather can veer from the collective experience of the social body to a focus on the singularity of the listener; it can also be purely contemplative, creating a safe distance between the viewer and the elements.

Stormy skies, hazy mornings and glowing sunsets abound in Romantic and Impressionist paintings, and on this occasion I’ve discovered a fantastic free resource, WikiPaintings, a non-for-profit Arts Encyclopedia online since December 2011 that already contains over 100,000 works. William Turner and Monet are safe bets for expressive skies, and a quick search on series returns the following results.

William Turner - Landscapes Series

William Turner – Landscapes Series – WikiPaintings.com

Claude Monet - Houses of Parliament

Claude Monet – Houses of Parliament Series – WikiPaintings.com

Land Art also provides a fairly obvious catalogue of weather-related works, from Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels to Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field. Although these works happen in situ, and not on canvas, distance is almost ineluctable, due the number of conditions needed to experience them in person.

James Turrell - Skyspaces

James Turrell – Skyspaces

On the other hand, James Turrell has circumvented this inherent contradiction of Land Art – which should be experienced on site, but realistically will mainly be encountered in a mediated form – by creating a replicable experience with his Skyspaces. The artist’s official website lists 47 such structures, dotted all around the world, all unique in shape, proportions and design, but providing a similar experience: an intense view of the sky, sublimating natural phenomenons such as sunrise, sunset and the passing of clouds.

Like Olafur Eliasson and John Luther Adams, James Turrell’s experiential art can be likened to a phenomenological approach, inviting the visitor to sharpen their focus, become conscious of their own consciousness and pay attention to the interrelation of the collective and the singular.

In other words, he is far from encouraging the weather chit-chat, and on the contrary is often quoted for saying:

I want to create an atmosphere that can be consciously plumbed with seeing like the wordless thought that comes from looking in a fire.

More elements

The weather in art is certainly a hot topic, and recent installations are playing in their own ways with storm, rain or wind. To explore more elemental works, from clouds, fog and snow to rainbows and midnight sun, here’s a nice top 10-type compilation of “art installations that imitate weather”.

Last but not least, the world’s only Festival of Weather, Art and Music (WAM) is taking place in Reading, England, in September 2013. Amongst scientific talks and sound installations, it most excitingly features a free “Weather Factory” event, a mass experiment pitching as many people as possible against one laptop to predict the weather using nearly 100-year old methods.