Purple Magazine
— Paris Issue #31

bob nickas

a vist to paris

text by BOB NICKAS

What I like about Paris? That it’s still there. I live in New York, which is disappearing day by day. I’ve been here since 1984 and often travel. Whenever I come back, something has been lost, replaced by another shitty pile of “luxury living.” It’s a predictably boring rant, I’m aware. Yet in stark contrast to Paris — which I know almost as well as my own city, visiting since ’86, more than 30 years now — New York feels erased in a particularly reckless way. Let’s face it: developers are destroyers. Look at our fake president. Ever since plopping a blubbery ass on the throne, his “program,” or pogrom, has been to dismantle everything built prior, anything beneficial to people, peace, justice, and the environment. The only way for developers to make money is to keep building, for which you need land, always at a premium. They have to maximize small, expensive sites, going ever higher. In another century, one that ushered in skyscrapers, notions of ambition, progress, and all that, there were men, for it was them (not forgetting Ayn Rand) who, Godlike, aimed Heavenward. Today’s “masters of the universe” have no vision. Next to a historic six-story building, a 36-story plastic tower? What they don’t understand: for a city to have a skyline, it needs a sky. Paris has this, which allows for more sunlight, whenever there’s sun. I went just a few weeks ago, and although October is not the brightest of months — still beautiful, still there.

As usual, I ambled around. Paris is a walking city, and that’s important. I enjoy Los Angeles, but you don’t see much from a car, no exercise for the body, for the muscle of your mind. In Paris, you look at people, often who care to be seen. As Bill Cunningham observed, if you want to know anything about style, you have to be in the street. What people wear tells you about the times we’re in, both for better and for worse. In Paris last spring, I saw the Martin Margiela retrospective curated by Olivier Saillard, the best show I’d seen in a long while. I didn’t think of it as fashion — although it was in the Galliera, when it might have been across the street at the Palais de Tokyo — but as sculpture, the kind of iconoclasm that delights in upending the established order. We could use some of that right now.

Museum-going this time was fine art: Franz West at the Pompidou, Egon Schiele and Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Vuitton Foundation. What can I say? The challenge is to keep the artists alive in showing their work, especially when they were characters in the movie of their life. When I mentioned to an Austrian friend that Franz West, had he not been an artist, could have been an actor, the immediate response: But he was! As one enters the show, he’s there on a small monitor, 21 years old, play-acting for the camera. You can’t take your eyes off him. Farther on, beyond his body and his hand (in wonderful early drawings), he recedes, replaced by surrogates, some more animate than others. In a video, West, speaking but unseen, having no idea for a show in Brussels, says he decided to empty his studio, sending many years of works he never knew what to do with. No selection, no hierarchies, all the orphans, misfits, and strays left behind: that would be the exhibition. Only an artist thinks this way. Curators don’t, but should. Doesn’t this museum have a habit of ruining an artist? Remember the disastrous Mike Kelley show in 2013. Call it the curse of the Pompidou. In the Franz West show, a young child threw a screechy tantrum, a pacifier in his mouth hurled at, nearly hitting, a sculpture. Looking at the boy, I said, That’s just how I feel.

On line for the excellent Schiele exhibition, a youth emerged as if from one of the drawings, by way of Bowie, attenuated in his form and screwed-out hair. Bill Cunningham would surely have photographed him. The Basquiat show, despite going on and on — loans mostly from collectors and dealers who never knew him in life — had little to do with keeping the artist alive. An infamous image in the last gallery, a skeleton on horseback, Riding Death, one of his worst, so the final scene, as in a predictably bad movie, ends with a romantic/tragic corpse. Fitting for the postmortem collectors who continue to profit, keeping the art market alive.

The trip’s highlight, a Gio Ponti retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, with the architect and designer’s 1970 project for the Centre Pompidou on view. Not only would his building have been beautiful, as opposed to the hulk of pipes and scaffolds rusting there now, but Ponti’s plan, with past and future reflected in how we sustain ourselves — by way of food and culture, body and mind — also would have preserved the old market of Les Halles. If only…

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Paris Issue #31

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