Three exhibits in Paris: Culture without pain
Manny Gonzalez (The Philippine Star) - December 6, 2013 - 12:00am

Are you below 18? Keep reading, just don’t tell your Mommy.

First-Timer? As a first-time visitor to Paris, you should: climb the Eiffel Tower; picnic on a quay at the downriver tip of the Ile de la Cité; sip a coffee on the Champs Elysees; climb the Arc de Triomphe; climb the steps to Montmartre (lots of climbing in Paris); marvel at the stained-glass windows in the Notre Dame; ride a Bateau Mouche (or at least the Batobus) along the Seine; and spend three hours in the Louvre trying to find the Mona Lisa (the only help I can give you is that it’s probably not in the Egyptian Wing, but you can never be sure).

As a second-time visitor to Paris, you should: window-shop in Place Vendome (plohss vahn-dohm); window-shop along the rue Faubourg St. Honoré (hrew fow-booohr sant-on-o-RAY); rummage in the flea market at Porte de Clignancourt (klin-yahn-kooohr); sip tea at Angelina’s on the rue de Rivoli; hire a taxi to take you around the Bois de Boulogne (bwa de bu-lon-yh) after dark to see the prostitutes; and polish your French pronunciation.

Now, if you have already been to Paris a few times and are wondering what else you can do here, consider acquiring some culture. Keep reading, it’s really not that bad.

In order to help you out, during my last stay I unselfishly devoted considerable time to this subject. Here is what I came up with.

Nude Guys. The Musee d’Orsay is best known for its collection of Impressionist works. Indeed, some people make it a point to go there on their first visit. Some even get in, if they are smart enough to buy a ticket online in advance. (The rest get to stand three hours outside, then give up. I did, once.) Anyway, a year or so ago, a museum in Vienna came up with a new idea, and it was to mount an exhibition of art showing, not to mince words about it, naked guys. And why not? The male body is one of the most beautiful things around. Take mine, for example…

But enough talk about me. This special exhibit came to the attention of the Orsay museum guys, who said “Moi aussi” (“We are French; they are just Weenies”). (You do know, don’t you, that the word “weenies” comes from Vienna sausage?)

Hence this exhibition: “Masculin: L’homme Nu dans l’Art de 1800 a nos Jours (Naked Guys).”

They did not allow photography in the special exhibit, so all I can show you is the publicity poster and one image that I bought a postcard of. I will say that they covered (or, rather, uncovered) the subject fairly thoroughly, but let me highlight a few elements.

Let’s Hope It Was Photoshop-ped. First was this nude guy with the helmet. He’s Mars, also known as Hermes. A pair of artists called Pierre et Gilles has come up with what is arguably a new art form: the painted-over photograph. Pierre et Gilles had quite a few works on display, and all of them were stunners. As were their models. But nothing frontal. Then there was a lot of religious stuff, in which assorted saints, and Christ, were shown pretty bare. But nothing frontal. And finally, the piece de resistance, photos of some of the French national soccer team, proudly displaying horse-size equipment dangling halfway down to their knees. I don’t know if those photographs were Photoshop-ped, but for the sake of my vanity, I will assume so. Unfortunately, they did not sell postcards of these soccer team’s, um, members.

Fashion and Jewelry. Across the river from the Musee d’Orsay, guess what? There is more to the Louvre than the Louvre. The right-hand building wing is actually the Musee des Arts Decoratifs (“no paintings, no statuary, mostly Furniture”). They currently have a “Bijoux Contemporain” (modern jewelry) exhibit, which is really an excuse for showcasing some of the great fashion houses of Paris, notably Chanel and Lanvin. If you are a woman, you will want to spend all day here looking at actual Chanel gowns, lots of videos from past seasons, and some jewelry, all casually interspersed with the standing exhibit, which is Furniture.

The standing exhibit is actually pretty interesting, and includes old jewelry, old toys, recreated rooms from mansions, and similar stuff. Because the Bijoux exhibit is randomly arranged among the regular displays, at one point, you are suddenly presented with a provocative-looking mannequin about to spread her legs (see picture). Don’t get your hopes up too high. This was the steamiest item I could find. But it is still a good exhibit.

Nude Gals. And what visit to Paris would be complete without naked women? I found just the thing for all fans of this general category of Culture. The Musee Jacquemart-André is an old mansion whose standing exhibit is pretty tame — furnished rooms, some oils, a nice atrium. But its curators are on the ball. Last year, they brought in a Venetian Paintings exhibit with Canalettos, Guardis, the works. This year, perhaps getting wind of the Orsay’s Nude Men, they came up with “Desirs et Voluptés” (“Hot Victorian Chicks”).

We normally associate the word “Victorian” with “sexually repressed” but in fact that happened only after Prince Albert died. When she was still a blushing bride, Queen Victoria described with some enthusiasm how easily she had an, um, happy ending every time she and Albert fooled around. Anyway, after Albert died and sex officially became publicly undesirable (though there are rumors of several post-Albert lovers), one of the few outlets remaining for dirty-minded men was oil painting. It was okay because it was Art.

My favorite is this one by Frederick, Lord Leighton. Leighton was a leading figure in the Victorian art scene. If you are ever in London, drop in on Leighton House, which has some of his stuff plus many works by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who was also represented in the Jacquemart-Andre exhibit. This painting was a gift to some Irish lord, and is supposed to represent the nymph of a river that ran through his estate. See token river at very bottom.

And so, as you see, Culture can be really entertaining. And invigorating.

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