Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Branly

I've been waiting for years to see the Musée du Quai Branly, the Chirac-sponsored national museum of, er, nonliterate? or do we mean nonwestern? cultures? or is that art? I'd read appreciative and also critical reviews, but had to see it for myself. I have, now, and have no idea what architect Jean Nouvel (most of whose other work I love) was trying to do. The big space is shapeless and dim, objects appear to float in the gloaming, clustered casually in not-quite-geographical or historical ways, radiating their own light, but it's hard not to feel you're in one of those halflit places where Europeans fled the bright sun and vitality of the tropics, or - and - a big warehouse of colonial loot where enervated Europeans explored the dangerous allure of the "primitive." Maybe with time this will become a beloved space for Parisians, enjoyed for its vague amorphousness in a city otherwise so clear and geometrical. But if the intention was to transcend exoticism, think again! But maybe that wasn't the intention.
On the other hand, the Aboriginal art doesn't look half-bad against black - at least the old bark paintings. The new acrylic works (more than any museum in New York can boast), which were, after all, made for galleries, look a little odd spotlit in the semi-darkness.

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