Going Places, Picture Perfect

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Musée Jacquemart-André

Our recent trip to Paris deserves at least one more post and this time I want to focus on a slightly lesser-known tourist attraction we managed to visit,

Museum Jacquemart-André

er-jacquemartandre

Category: Places

Find it in: Paris, on Boulevard Haussmann (some 10 minute walk from Champs-Élysées)

What it is:
It’s a quite unique little museum that boasts a few impressive works of art – including Rembrandts and Botticellis – which, even more interestingly, is housed in the original location: a residence of the museum founders. A couple of filthy rich art collectors (no really, they were insanely rich, if you think of it), Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, spent their lives buying works of art that caught their fancy and, dying childless, bequeathed the collection together with the house to the state to make it into a public museum.

How I found it:
It was actually our second visit to the museum, though the first one without a temporary exhibition so that we could focus on the permanent collection. During our honeymoon stay we saw an interesting exhibition of less-famous Pre-Raphaelites there and when our plans to go to Amiens fell through this year, we decided to revisit Jacquemart-André instead.

Summary judgment:
Obviously you can see more impressive art collections elsewhere in Paris but the building itself and the story of the museum make for a lovely visit.

Best things about it:
I loved seeing the building with a lot of its original 19th century decor preserved and, as we took the audioguides, we learnt a lot about the historical background, which also fascinated me, particularly the details of the life of people who could entertain every fancy and never worry about money.

Worst things about it:
The gift shop doesn’t come up to the standards of gift shops in other museums. And if you think that’s minor, I understand why, but visiting gift shops is one of the reasons we travel. It is what it is.

Other pluses (and yes, bullet points):
✤ Feminist skew. The whole story you hear on the audiobook focuses on Nélie, her rise to fortune and her life as an art buyer. You barely learn anything about Édouard – except that it was really his dream at first. I found it refreshing.
✤ Also, let’s not overlook the art. There might be so much more to see in the Louvre, Orsay and other places but if we had a museum like this here, everyone would be clamoring to see it. Some pieces the museum hosts are really worth seeing.
✤ Charming courtyard through which you enter the museum is well worth sitting in for a few minutes, preferably with a croissant or a pain au chocolat. (And we did.)
✤ Details of presentation allow the visitors to easily imagine the life of the married couple. These are really small things, like music in the ballroom but they improve the experience.
✤ Last but not least (I dislike this expression), I value the overall optimistic feeling of the exhibition. It’s nice to think of people who did live leisurely and followed their passions (well, Nélie did anyway). History is too full of gloomy stories.

Other minuses:
✤ That’s in no way the museum’s fault but we came too late to see the cafe.
✤ Uccello’s painting was being renovated – again, just our bad luck but a pity, too.
✤ Some commentary on the audioguide concerning some paintings (e.g. Chardin) basically listed things that the painting showed. Thank you, that’s all very useful and superfluous, but how about a little analysis?

How it enriched my life:
The visit proved both educational and charming. It was also my first time ever using an audioguide which I’d always considered pointless, and it convinced me of their usefulness, even though they prolong a visit extensively.

Fun fact:
It might be obvious to those of you who know more about history of architectural inventions than I do, but the house had pneumatic walls that you could let down and combine three rooms into one gigantic ballroom. How steampunk is that?!

Follow-up:
I will probably not return soon for a regular visit but it’s a lovely place for a temporary exhibition and I will be happy to check out any that I might come upon.

Recommended for:
People who love history, Paris or art. People who dream about spending their lives leisurely and with tons of money so they could buy the biggest painters in history.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: 10 Things I Hate about You

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Dior Exhibition

We are back from our almost spontaneous, short trip to Paris and, as usual, Paris delighted us. We saw a couple of our best-ofs, including the Louvre and the towers of Notre Dame and we lived in the middle of the Latin Quarter, which might be the best area we’ve stayed so far in Paris: it managed to be both lively and quiet somehow and we valued it. We also had a bit of an adventure when we missed our flight back (or just the check-in, which was even more infuriating) – in case that never happened to you, keep it that way because it’s not fun. But we managed to return (and it only took 8 more hours and way. Too. Much. Money) so that I can share with you the impressions made by the exhibition

er-diorcouturierdureveChristian Dior, Couturier du rêve

Category: Exhibitions

Find it in: Musée des Arts décoratifs (until January next year)

What it is:
The biggest ad you’ve ever seen – but also a huge exhibition about the career of Christian Dior: his life, his designs and his fashion house, including information about other designers who took over as heads of the House of Dior after his death. It takes up a large part of the museum and shows a lot of archival information, movies and, of course, dresses.

How I found it:
While Arts décoratifs is not the best museum in Paris, it has two advantages: it’s located next to the Louvre and it is included in Museum Pass, a ticket for many museums in Paris. So every time we’re around we drop in because at least twice we saw very interesting temporary exhibitions there – any very well-designed ones, too. The Dior exhibition cost extra so we almost skipped it but the entry to the exhibition that we saw from the hallway looked so impressive that we decided to return the next day just to see the design of the whole thing, even if we didn’t find the theme all that exciting.

Summary judgment:
It is a magnificently looking exhibition about a somewhat interesting subject. But even if you’re not into fashion, it’s likely to impress you with its scale and effort.

Best things about it:
The design is breathtaking. This is clearly an exhibition designed and executed by someone with a keen eye and a huge budget. Every room is governed by a different visual idea – yet not so different as to cause chaos and a consistent dominance of black and white helps to create a classy, unified look. The entrance, which attracted us in the first place, recreates the entrance to Dior’s boutique with smartly placed screens showing movies. One of the early rooms called Colorama contains only glass cases going on and on, full of everything Dior (shoes, cosmetics, accessories, dress models) arranged by color and it’s a brilliant way of showing the scale of Dior’s enterprise. My favorite design bit was the room focused on floral inspirations whose ceiling is completely covered by white paper flowers and leaves: and if that wasn’t enough, each part has different kinds of plants – roses, ivy etc. There is also a white room filled with simple, white models of dresses that focuses on the technical aspects of sewing (complete with a live seamstress that answers questions) followed by a black room showing the history of Dior through iconic dresses (black and red ones). It all culminates in a bombastic room full of ball gowns with a fairy-tale-like lighting and I dare you not to be impressed by the whole thing. That was by far the most spectacularly constructed exhibition I’ve ever seen.

Worst things about it:
This is clearly a huge event in Paris because even two months after the opening you wait in line for the tickets. But worse still, there are so many people inside that you need to manoeuvre through the crowd rather than just focus on the show and it’s pretty hot in some rooms. Sounds like a minor thing but it gets a bit jarring.

Other pluses:
Some of the designs are lovely to look at, particularly in the ball room, even if you are not excessively interested in fashion. I imagine that if you are, it must be a heavenly experience.
Many beautiful fashion photographs from different periods are also displayed, including great shots by Avedon among others. Also, older fashion designers were great sketch artists and you can see some of their sketches.
The exhibition does justice not only to Dior himself but also to other heads of the house who followed him, including Galliano and Saint Laurent, and this, together with other historical bits, has a bit of an educational function.
In the whole opulence of the show it becomes an afterthought but it shouldn’t be: Dior’s artistic inspirations are illustrated with some loaned paintings (from d’Orsay and other places) which by themselves would be worth visiting an exhibition, at least in any other city.

Other minuses:
This is minor but the typeface used on some of the captions is tiresome to read in the highly contrasted light in the black rooms. That would be easy to fix by choosing a different variant of the same typeface. (I had to.)

How it enriched my life:
Actually, it taught me a lot about the history of fashion, a subject of which I have a very loose, blurry idea. It also delighted me with the design of the exhibition, raising the bar of my expectations in this area. So high.

Fun fact:
As I was looking at the dresses and liking some of them I realized that I would have nowhere to wear a Dior even if I could and wanted to buy one. Not only do I not go to this kind of events often but also the people I meet wouldn’t probably recognize how much money and effort I put into my dress so what’s the point? And this was a happy realization in a way because otherwise I might get frustrated about how I can’t really afford any of those dresses on display.

Follow-up:
Whenever I’m in Paris next time I will check for Arts décoratifs’ new temporary offering, as usual.

Recommended for:
A must for anyone interested in fashion in any way. Even more so for designers of exhibitions. But I believe this exhibition has something to offer to other people as well, as long as they’re interested in history, art or room lighting.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Moonstone

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Bauhaus in Motion

When we were in Berlin we didn’t have as much time for sightseeing as we would’ve wanted but we listed a few attractions we were determined to see and this included the Bauhaus-Archiv, the museum collecting and curating all things Bauhaus. At the time (and still) the museum has been presenting an exhibition called

er-bauhausinmotionBauhaus in Motion

Category: Events

What it is:
A temporary exhibition housed in the Bauhaus-Archiv which focuses on the notion of movement in the teachings and the very history of Bauhaus, the extremely influential design school operating in 1919–1933 in Germany (which you probably knew, sorry). As Bauhaus is such a cornerstone in the history of modernism and we are, to a large extent, modernists at heart, we did feel the deep need to visit the museum. The exhibition itself shows some students’ and professors’ works created in the classes and studios and archival photographs with some – not a lot – information printed on the walls.

How I found it:
I think our friend Z, who was planning her own Berlin trip, mentioned the Archive and then we just found it in the travel guide. We had no idea the exhibition we saw was temporary until we read about it later.

Summary judgment:
It was not a bad exhibition but altogether I found it disappointing (and, frankly, not quite worth the admission price). I would’ve wanted to see at least one of these two things: either four times as many exhibits or a really impressive design of the exhibition that would make the idea immediately clear. Ideally both.

Best things about it:
Some of the exhibits were interesting – many in the predictable way but some surprised me, particularly photos from PE classes (which horrified me in its own way to think that the estimable Bauhaus school tortured its students with PE classes).

Worst things about it:
As I already said, it was too small, which made it both unsatisfactory and random-looking. There were simply not enough exhibits (and not enough space, probably) to tell a captivating story.

Other pluses:
The building is quite nice and located in a curious area: an embassy paradise where all the buildings are huge and house various embassies of more and less exotic countries. It made for a pleasant walk to get there, particularly that the Tiergarten was partly open that day despite the church day celebrations and we could finally see most of this lovely park.
As for the exhibition itself, knowing that this was a temporary exhibition focused on a particular aspect of the Bauhaus’ history makes it better because I can assume that visiting other smallish exhibitions like this one creates quite a detailed knowledge about the Bauhaus. Too bad we live too far to make it a habit.

Other minuses:
The cafeteria was not great. We love visiting museum cafeterias but most of the places we visited in Berlin disappointed in this respect.
Also, I know it was before renovations but the exhibition space wasn’t really that great (neither the architecture nor lighting) and the lack of legible design for the exhibition made it hard to understand the particular selection of exhibits.

How it enriched my life:
I learned about those PE classes in the Bauhaus school. It was also interesting to see the course projects that students made. Also, the trip made for a rather pleasant walk.

Fun fact:
You can’t buy much of proper food in the museum but you can buy copies of original Bauhaus designs, like chess sets and a lot of toys and cups. They are fun to look at but crazy overpriced.

Follow-up:
I imagine when we visit Berlin some time after the renovations in the museum we will be happy to revisit it and hopefully by then there will be a more impressive and well-rounded collection on display.

Recommended for:
People interested in the history of design and modernism. People with no patience for exhibitions that take a lot of time to see.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: God Don’t Like Ugly

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