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The gamble(s) of modernity
le-paris-de-la-modernite - ARTACTIF
January 2024 | Reading time: 26 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About the exhibition Le Paris de la modernité (1905-1925), which opens to the public on 14 November and runs until 14 April 2024 at the Petit Palais in Paris.

I might as well tell you straight away: this exhibition is a real stunner! In terms of the number of works of art on display, the renown of the works of art on display, but also in terms of food for thought.

After "Romantic Paris (1815-1858)" and "Paris 1900, the City of Entertainment", the Petit Palais is devoting the final part of its trilogy to "Modern Paris (1905-1925)". And it's a sight to behold! A firework display of works of art was needed to evoke these twenty whirlwind years in Paris, marked not only by the Great War, but also by an extraordinary creative ferment. Parallel... or consecutive? Both, Captain. The madness of trench warfare only added to the madness of modernity that suddenly engulfed France. The horrors experienced at the front by the Poilus only accelerated the daring of artists in the face of murderous absurdity, as did the liberation of women who found themselves in charge at the back. Corsets were shattered as much as shells. And I'm not even talking about the industrial and mechanical explosion that accelerated the world...

What will art market experts be saying in a century's time about the works of art that were created during or just after the war in Ukraine, the Israeli-Palestinian massacre... in the hope that there will be an aftermath? All against a backdrop of galloping artificial intelligence, just as industrialisation and economic growth were at the time of modern art! And against a backdrop of rising religious extremism at a time when secularism was being established in 1905 with the separation of Church and State. The extent to which history repeats itself cannot be overstated. The extent to which contemporary artists, with their talent for sensing and feeling what the times are telling us, are warning bellwethers. To think of what finally followed the "belle époque of modernity" is chilling. But let's get back to our 'innocent' exhibition... called 'Le Paris de la modernité', not 'Le pari de la modernité'... which we're not so sure has won the day.

As Maureen Marozeau wrote in the November issue of Beaux Arts Magazine, noting that "a 1911 aeroplane, Cubist canvases, jewellery by Cartier, costumes from Nijinsky's Ballets Russes, a ready-made by Marcel Duchamp, a 1913 Bébé Peugeot sports car, African art statuettes, a camouflage helmet from the American army... are all on show in one and the same place", this exhibition devoted to "a splendid period in Parisian history, Le Paris de la modernité (1905-1925) promises a total immersion in the City of the World's past. "The Paris of Modernity (1905-1925), an exhibition devoted to "a golden period in Parisian history, promises a total immersion in the City of the World's past. " It has to be said that "Juliette Singer, chief curator, was the sole driving force behind this project, which took months of confinement in 2020 to mature. The meticulous selection of works is a reminder of the creative power and cultural influence of the capital, which the Great War ultimately did little to curb.

The exhibition features nearly 400 works of art by Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, Marie Laurencin, Fernand Léger, Tamara de Lempicka, Amedeo Modigliani, Chana Orloff, Pablo Picasso, Marie Vassilieff and many others. Through fashion, cinema, photography, painting, sculpture and drawing, as well as dance, design, architecture and industry, the exhibition brings to life the wild creativity of the years 1905-1925. The exhibition is both chronological and thematic, and its originality lies in the geographical area on which it focuses: the Champs-Élysées. This area was at the heart of the modern movement. Every year, the Grand Palais plays host to the very latest creations at the Salons d'Automne and des Indépendants, with works by Douanier Rousseau, Henri Matisse and Kees van Dongen among many others. And let's not forget that the 1905 Salon d'Automne opened the ball with the roar of its Fauves!

Yes, Camoin, Derain, Manguin, Marquet, Matisse and Vlaminck: all exhibited in Room VII of the Grand Palais, their works of art for sale in 1905 were deemed unacceptable by art critics as a whole. At the time, they were described as "shapeless bariolages", "delirious brushes" and "a mixture of bottle wax and parrot feathers".  A bust placed in the centre of the room prompted Louis Vauxcelles to write: "It's Donatello among the wild beasts". The phrase was so popular that the room was soon renamed "la cage aux fauves". This did not upset the artists in question at all - on the contrary, they went on to become the illustrious champions of Fauvism. Nor did the art dealers, who immediately saw the potential of this artistic modernity.

And the journalist from Beaux Arts Magazine reminds us: "Into this breach seeped what would gradually become a torrent. Cubism, Futurism, the influence of non-European arts... young talents were showing unlimited audacity, as if it were necessary at all costs to bury the 19th century and invent a new world." Well, well, "inventing a new world"... That's another expression that has particular resonance today, isn't it? Isn't the contemporary art market full of demanding works of art for sale, demanding a world where nature is finally protected? A world where nationalities and religions could live together in peace on the planet? A world that has learned from economic crises and pandemics?

When I said that this exhibition gives you a lot to think about... In fact, it's hard for me to talk about it in artistic terms! Even the journalist from Beaux Arts Magazine has chosen the historical angle to tackle the subject, which she unfolds over eight superbly illustrated pages. It's worth pointing out that the exhibition also aims to highlight the role of women during this period. Artists such as Marie Laurencin, Sonia Delaunay, Jacqueline Marval, Marie Vassilieff and Tamara de Lempicka played a key role in the avant-garde. A symbol of female emancipation, the garçonne silhouette was immortalised in the novel of the same name by writer Victor Margueritte in 1922. Joséphine Baker was also the embodiment of the garçonne, part of a growing movement towards mixed races in French society. The West Indian Aïcha Goblet, a famous artist's model, was immortalised by Vallotton. Personalities such as Max Jacob and Gertrude Stein built bridges from the underworld to the most glamorous social circles. The poorest met the richest in Montparnasse, and the luckiest attracted the attention of generous patrons, such as Chaïm Soutine and the American billionaire Albert Barnes. Artists and tourists from all over the world made Paris more than ever the "capital of the world".

But let's also come back to the geographical aspect of this exhibition, whose scenography by Philippe Pumain plunges us into this teeming and fascinating period, punctuated by numerous films by René Clair, Fernand Léger and Charlie Chaplin. During the First World War, the Petit Palais played an important patriotic role, exhibiting mutilated works of art and Mimi-Pinson cockade competitions. In 1925, it was at the centre of the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, where the traditional, Art Deco and international avant-garde pavilions rubbed shoulders, although for a privileged few, modernity meant a certain "art de vivre". A stone's throw away, on what is now the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, then known as the Avenue d'Antin, the great couturier Paul Poiret moved into a superb private mansion in 1909. He made his mark by organising the memorable "La Mille et Deuxième Nuit" party there in 1911. The premises also housed the Barbazanges art gallery, where the famous painting often cited as opening the era, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, was revealed for the first time in 1916. The war was not over, but art had its way.

After the war, the art gallery Au Sans Pareil on avenue Kléber opened its doors to Dada and Surrealism. On Avenue Montaigne, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées played host to the Ballets Russes and then the Swedish Ballets until 1924, with creations such as Relâche and La Création du Monde. In 1925, Joséphine Baker caused a sensation with her Revue Nègre. She frequented Le Boeuf sur le Toit, which moved to rue Boissy d'Anglas in 1922, where Jean Cocteau attracted the Tout-Paris.

In short, I can only recommend that you follow your visit to this exhibition with a themed walk around the district, humming "Aux Champs-Elysées"... and not before you've had a chance to recharge your batteries!

Valibri en RoulotteArticle écrit par Valibri en Roulotte

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