a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘modern art’

what turns you on? ;)

You will either be relieved – or disappointed – but this is a G-rated post.  We are finally back in London.  At the rate I’m going I will be hitting Frankfurt airport again before I have dispensed with London… but I try to squeeze in some thoughts when I can…

So… the header relates to the small epiphany I had while I was roaming the cobblestones in East London, frequently lost or disorientated, but enjoying even those moments.

I live in a city where sport rules.  People are fit.  People do sport.  People watch sport.  People talk sport.  I’m not anti-sport – and fitter than the average North American – but I always feel like a freak in my hometown.

Cause sport just doesn’t turn me on the way art does.  I do enjoy the endorphin high from a good run – or the wonder of the landscape when you hike here in nature’s wonderland – but I am equally thrilled by a great building or awed by a visually and intellectually challenging piece of art.

So, without question, London turns me on 😉 Architecture, art, theatre, music – and some of the greatest intellectual achievements of mankind.  Each trip is different – but I always come away knowing a little more – and having my worldview challenged – and reshaped.

There were a number of intellectual experiences on this trip to London but this post will be about the Tate Modern.


I’m not always sure what to make of modern art.  There was a time when it seemed to be following the “Fifty Shades of Grey” route… it just needed to be shocking, not necessarily great art.  I saw quite a few head scratching exhibits and came away convinced there was no way the general public was going to walk away enlightened and I just decided it was stupid art…

As this blog demonstrates, I am not afraid of having an opinion 🙂 And I am a huge fan of making the world a smarter place, but elitist bullshit designed for a clique that excludes most of the population… you will not be getting a “like” from me on facebook.

And art straddles that complex space.  It is meant to be more than just pretty pictures.  So, I will always be enamoured of the Impressionists… and they were shocking in their time.  But I also love the idea of art as a vehicle to ask questions about – and hopefully change – society.

So I try to understand modern art.  And definitely toss myself into its wake to see what happens…

And at the Unilever Series at the Tate stuff does happen!  Sadly, this is the last year of it.  And I just realized it was happening.  I went to see some exhibits in the Tanks… hey, it sounded intriguing 🙂  They were OK – but what was more interesting was the history of the Unilever Series at the Tate.

A number of years ago now I went down a slide at the Tate.  Not exactly what you usually do at a museum!  And I tried to avoid it! 🙂  Because it wasn’t a slide made by an engineer… it was a slide made by an artist… so it looked like my cashmere sweater was not going to make it out alive…

But I had met these cool English guys at Whistler.  One was an artist and the other an art aficionado so that was how I ended up at the Unilever Series.  And they graciously offered to hold my sweater so I could go down the slide…

At the time I didn’t realize I was part of art history – and the Unilever Series!  But it was one of the puzzle pieces in helping me understand modern art, the idea of conceptual art… The slide was meant to have people participate in the art… and you did… it was rough and not terribly slidey… German engineers would have designed it so that you went from the fourth floor to the ground in a couple of seconds!  But then it wouldn’t have felt like an experience… worrying you might get stuck in the tube – and having to push yourself through at points – made it an experience… both for you and for the spectators watching you…

While I might have entered the slide reluctantly, this time I was trying to find the Unilever art… it’s meant to be conceptual and maybe not so obvious…

I had noticed on the way in there was a lot of movement in the Turbine Room… and some of it looked choreographed… but not in an obvious way… but after I’d spent my time in the Tanks, I stood and watched for a little while…

Obviously that was the “art” for 2012… random groups of dancers who looked like art students but then would spontaneously combust in a modern dance piece that had them moving fluidly amongst the crowd… being disconcerting but never actually touching someone.

I was thinking about trying to photograph it so was standing still for a while… when some older gentleman approached me…

Strangers talk to me all the time so I was suspicious right away… it was more like an actor’s monologue than a conversation.  Apparently he and his wife had just moved into this “ready-made community” and they wanted them to join the local council.  He went on for quite a while and it was strange – but entertaining.  I wondered if I was being filmed 🙂

Finally he asked what I thought about “ready-made communities”.  I think I might have made his day 🙂 I live in a city where planning is an important foundation of the metropolis so first we discussed that.  The concept of zoning and approving development to “create a community” a concept I am very familiar with – and have seen work well.

But the most interesting part of the conversation was when I talked about the sense of community I experienced as a child growing up in a small town.  It’s a genuine community.  And, if you don’t want people to know your business – or expect you to participate in the community – a bad choice.  But it also means the community keeps tabs and knows what is going on in a way that is really difficult in a large city like London.

So… in the end… he thanked me for the conversation… I walked away having not only SEEN the art – but having BEEN part of the art… and – most importantly – we agreed, if you want to be a badass criminal, you better move to the city… in proper communities, you will be sanctioned by your peers to behave better… kind of like how you can’t steal from your own grandmother… food for thought… what all great art should be…

le perfect mixte

For those of you not familiar with France, un sandwich mixte is just a ham and cheese sandwich.  But, like most things in Paris, “just” is not part of the vocabulary.  Having at least one proper sandwich mixte is always my goal in Paris.  The bread needs to have that perfect combination of crunch and softness.  The cheese needs to be sliced at just the right thickness with the perfect depth of flavour. And I don’t know what they do with the pigs in France but ham never tastes the same in other places.

This time it took three tries.  But when it finally arrives… on a sunny day, in an outdoor café, accompanied by a great glass of St Emilion, you say “oo la la” under your breath 🙂

I did try to squeeze a little culture in between the adventures in merchandising.  I had noted in the hotel’s tourist info that the Palais de Tokyo was reopening and doing some kind of 48 hour culturathon apparently.  The Palais de Tokyo is not for everyone but if you appreciate modern art, it is worth the trip to the 16th arrondissement.

The first time I went I was sick in Paris so only managed to drag myself there late in the afternoon.  Too late for the Musée d’Art Moderne but early enough for the young, hip open into the evening Palais de Tokyo.  Sometimes I look at really modern art and think, “OK, the artist is just making fun of us.  Or he was VERY high when he thought this was a good idea…”  But sometimes it’s provocative, inventive or just pretty.  My favourite piece this time was a little of each.  I’m not quite sure what it means but it was fascinating to look at – and very pretty.  I took a photo so you can decide for yourself.

The Musée d’Art Moderne was a bit more conventional but also included an

an installation that mostly just looked wild and crazy.  But maybe that is all art needs to be…  I would recommend a visit to both – and then a stop at the surprisingly great café right next to the métro.  If you are lucky, the sun will be shining, the light will descend on all that elaborate seventeenth century architecture and you will know there is nowhere else you could be but Paris.

And when it is time for dessert – or a snack – or breakfast 🙂  I have had them at all three times this trip.  My newest Paris obsession – macarons at Pierre Hermé.

It all started in 2003 when Sean requested macarons from Ladurée as “payment” for our free accommodation in London.  A sweet price to pay 🙂   At that stage in my life, I had some passing knowledge of a macaron but had never had one in Paris and knew nothing about Ladurée.  It wasn’t exactly knowledge one acquired in small town Manitoba.

For several years I thought Ladurée macarons were “la bombe” but then I read about some upstart called Pierre Hermé in a magazine.  And I started dissing Ladurée.  Not a very French thing to do…

It’s not that Ladurée macarons are bad.  It’s just that Pierre Hermé is that little slice of heaven on earth that is Paris at its finest.  I managed to sample almost all the flavours over my five days in Paris.  (Luckily you walk a lot in Paris.  The Paris métro is a cardio workout without having to put your gym gear on.)  The most dangerous part – and one of the reasons he has become so famous – is that the flavours are seasonable and always changing – so it becomes a classically existential totally Parisian question – can one ever try all the flavours of Pierre Hermé macarons?  Certainly not on one brief visit.

Conveniently (dangerously???) you can buy them at a number of different outlets 🙂  They even have an outlet on the shoe floor (yes, an entire floor!) at Galeries Lafayette – it’s almost a little too much pleasure to handle in such a small space 🙂

My favourite is the Infinement Vanille – vanilla taken to a level of perfection only attainable on French soil.  This trip I didn’t spend much time on food except for les sandwiches mixtes and macarons but on my final night I had a sublime meal at the Murano Urban Resort that reinforced all the stereotypes about French food and wine that I hold so dear.  Wildly it was the first time I ever had a well-done steak sent from the kitchen!  Normally you have to order it a little more ‘done’ than you would in North America and the risk is blood, not char.  Obviously, some miscommunication had occurred but I just had to show a piece to my French server and it was whisked away and returned in a perfect, slightly bloody form.  No self-respecting French person would have eaten it  🙂

I can still remember introducing my mom and my niece to the concept of crème brulée in Paris.  They were hooked from the first bite.  Paris does that to you.  Take a few bites in the right places and you will be hooked for life.  Paris will ruin you.  It will be like a youthful love affair you never quite recover from.  But never regret.  The things that change your life.  Make you a bit of a snob.  But allow you to experience life on levels you never even knew were there before some French speaking guy named Paul seduced you – and made you try his paté…  I’ve loved paté ever since…

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