Magritte: The Pompidou Centre, Paris

An iconic legacy of 1960’s French Prime Minister George Pompidou and architectural anomaly created from glass and steel with suspended escalators and covered in coloured pipes (blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity and red for passageways), The Pompidou Centre continues to be a thriving arts hub in the centre of Paris. With a permanent museum collection boasting works by Matisse, Picasso, Chagall and Cezane to name a few and host to over thirty temporary exhibitions on its gallery floor each year, I was fortunate enough to visit last week and view their ‘Magritte’ retrospective. The eccentric building feels like an apt home for surrealist Belgian artist Rene Magritte and the hundred or so paintings, drawings and documents collated in this exhibition. His intense interest in philosophy is palpable and evident throughout; from his infamous ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ painting inspired by philosopher Michael Foucault’s 1973 publication of the same name to his constant use of motifs and symbolism. The exhibition is separated into five rooms each focusing on a different theme ranging from chance, to words and images, problems and solutions, the allegory of the cave, and curtains and illusionism. Stunning works including ‘The Philosopher’s Lamp’ featuring a portrait of a man whose nose morphs into a pipe alongside a candle melting in controlled swirling motions, ‘Hegel’s Holiday’ highlighting Margitte’s background in graphic design and advertising using the simple shape of an umbrella with a glass of water suspended at its apex, and my personal favourite ‘Decalomania’ showing the outline of a man in a suit and bowler hat against an optimistic background of a blue sky with clouds beautifully reflected next to the same mans’ silhouette yet this suit is transparent allowing you to see the sky through it. Ignore the daytime queues if you’re in Paris and head over in the evening to see this idiosyncratic show before it closes in January.

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Hegel’s Holiday
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Decalomania
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Another of Mgaritte’s simple but effective creations

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The Historical Experience: Benjamin Franklin House

A narrow Georgian townhouse at the back of Charing Cross train station has been standing since 1730, provided lodgings for Benjamin Franklin (face on the $100 bill, Founding Father of the United States, scientist, diplomat, inventor of unusual musical instruments and more!) for sixteen years between 1757 and 1775, and has been a museum since 2006. To enter, visitors ring the doorbell much like you are paying a visit to someone’s home, are led along a corridor of original wooden floorboards and panelling, and down the stairs to the basement where the ‘Historical Experience’ begins… a small orientation room comprising information boards, an artefact display cabinet, and even human remains from the anatomy school which also operated from the building help introduce you to the House. After a short video, Polly (the landlady’s daughter and close friend of Franklin whilst he was lodging at the House) leads visitors to the Kitchen where flagstone flooring, a Victorian cooking stove, and views of the sunken basements are cleverly integrated with projections and voices that Polly continues to interact with throughout the House to help tell its’ stories. Visitors are then led upstairs to the Landlady’s Parlour, Card Room and finally Franklin’s Parlour – all complete with authentic features from the floorboards, to the shutters on the windows, marble fireplaces, and even the green paint on the walls specially mixed to match flecks of the original paint revealed through spectro-analysis. Typically I find costumed interpretation horribly uncomfortable, however it is immediately obvious that this House employs a professional actress and provides a theatrical ‘experience’ executed to a high standard. Likewise, the fact that it is largely unfurnished lends itself to this type of visitor offering, and it was refreshing to focus on the original features rather than trying to navigate your way through a cluttered house full of replica furnishings.

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