The Paris Modernism class combines lectures and readings with intensive experiential learning. Using Paris as our classroom students explore the city visiting galleries, attending performances, and immersing themselves in the Modern Art of Paris.
Check out the images below to learn more about our days in Paris.
Day One: Arrival
Today the students arrived! Arriving from across the globe; our class met at the Résidence Pension du Palais in the 6th arrondissement. Situated in one of Paris’s most charming neighborhoods, the quarter is full of boulangeries, student cafes and flower shops.Directly across from our pension is the Jardin du Luxembourg; these beautiful public gardens were built for the court of Marie de Medicis in the 17th century and today the gardens host a museum, modern art installations, petanque courts, fountains and a large pond. The gardens attract Parisians students, families and artists alike; in the pond, children sail model boats, directing the action with long wooden sticks.
After everyone arrived we explored the neighborhood, the metro, and took our first walk through the Luxembourg Gardens to the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s hard to describe the first time you see the Cathedral perched on the corner of the river and surrounded by the hum of Parisian life…. This was a delicious first taste of Paris.
Back at the Pension we shared our first meal and talked about the art lectures and events that will take up our two weeks in Paris
Day Two: Class begins with Modernism & The Art of the Question
After a breakfast of hot chocolate, coffee and baguettes we met in our lecture room and began with an overview of the themes of the course. Pairing images of artistic work with the course readings and discussion, the morning lecture reviewed overall themes and concepts of Modernism. Referencing specific art, the group located and discussed ideas and theories that frame the dynamic innovations defining this movement. The resources of the city will guide our understanding of the significant role Paris played in the foundation of Modernism.
Day Three: Age of Astonishment
Our second full day in Paris began with Mary's seminal lecture on Nijinsky, Stravinsky, and Picasso - tracing the historical developments of dance from the royal courts of Italy through classical ballet up to Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. Just a few days after the one hundredth anniversary of the premier of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) in Paris in 1913, we were introduced to this pivotal modernist event that created an uproar through music, movement, and costume. Mary discussed the importance of this collaboration across the art forms: art, music, choreography, and dance. For visual context, we then viewed an excerpt from the Joffrey Ballet's recreation of Le Sacre du printemps.
That evening we were once again welcomed by Claire Verlet, this time at Paris' magnificent Théâtre de la Ville. Claire invited us into the Sarah Bernhardt room where she introduced us to Portuguese journalist and critic, Tiago Bartolomeu Costa, who spoke to us for more than an hour about Portuguese art, theatre, and dance.
We were lucky to be in Paris during the festival Chantiers d'Europe, which in 2013 was honoring Lisbon. Chantiers d'Europe seeks to highlight new artists and independent companies, often at the beginning of their international careers, and Tiago gave us a lovely introduction to both the contemporary Lisbon arts scene and to the two performances we would see: "What I Heard About the World," presented by Companhia Mala Voadora with Third Angel in the cupola, and on the main stage later that evening a performance of Fado music - "one of the grandest mysteries of Lisbon," according to the program - by Carminho.
As Tiago said about the performances, I would say about day two in Paris: "It's beautiful because it's not something we can take home with us."
Day Four: Art History at The Musée d’Orsay
Today we had a lecture at The Musée d’Orsay by Art Historian Anne Catherine Abecassis. Anne Catherine situated us in this former train station, built for the Universal Exposition of 1900, at the advent of the electric engine. In the 1980s the outdated rail station was converted into a museum and it now displays art works created between 1848 and 1914. Anne Catherine’s lecture grounded us in the beginnings of the modern transformation of the visual arts. She showed us examples of traditional notions of aesthetics, painting and beauty during the 1860s and then compared these to the works or Courbet and Manet whose canvasses were creating a sensation with their painting style and subject matter. Anne Catherine used Courbet’s “Burial at Ornan” and Manet’s “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” to elucidate the transformation that was taking place in painting. These two artists were the launching point for our discussion and lecture on how the rules and techniques of painting were moving away from the academy and evolving into a modern form.
Day Five: Ballets Russes & The Pompidou Center
In the morning we had a lecture on the iconic Ballets Russes dance company.
Working in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, this company and itsgroundbreaking art serve as an avenue to explore themes of modernity. Under the guidance of impresario Serge Diaghilev, choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky and composer Igor Stravinsky developed “Le Sacre du Printemps,” a controversial and revolutionary collaboration. The Ballets Russes attracted artists from every art form: Matisse, Picasso, and Roerich designed costumes and Stravinsky composed seminal music scores, among others.
In the afternoon, Anne Catherine continued her lecture at the Pompidou Center. This contemporary art museum located in the center of Paris provided the background for the continuation of our lecture on modern painters. Looking at the paintings of Matisse, Delaney, and Picasso, Anne Catherine rounded out the discussion of the major transformation that took place in the visual arts at the beginning of the 20th century.
Her lecture culminated in a discussion of Duchamp’s ready-mades and the symbolic role the works played in bringing forth the conversation: What is art? What are the essential characteristics of art? And who defines art?
Day Six: Reseach as Social Network & Kontakhof
As part of our ongoing conversation and exploration of
research, Bill Gillis' lecture today
provoked a new way of wrestling with this
academic tradition. Bill set the lecture stage
with a question about how the conversation
of reserach happens. In his lecture he asked
us to think about reasearch as
a social network, and think critically about
who the guest list includes in our own research:
ie the authors, the reserachers, and professors
who have contributed to the cannon of
Modernism and should inform our own reseach.
Bill provoked us by asking us to think about
reseach as a party & social netowrk of ideas.
In the evening we attended a performance of
Kontakthof, by the Pina Bausch Company.
Kontakthof,of is one of Bausch's seminal works.
Created in 1976, the piece is set in a church hall and the dance theatre the ensues is an uneasy discourse between men and women. The movements, costuming and violence in the piece display a post-war German aesthetic. Unforgettable and difficult, we were lucky to be in the audience.
Day Seven: Modern Paris Architecture Lecture
We toured the city today with architecture Professor Ulrike Kasper. Meeting at the Opera Garnier, we marveled at the stunningly decorative reception room, the grand staircase, and the Marc Chagall ceiling with its whimsical representations of dance, music, and opera. We began our walking lecture with a discussion of Baron Haussmann’s design of “modern” Paris, the Opera House was one of the significant designs in this restaging of Paris. With Ulrike we walked through the glass covered passages of the 19th century, to the Palais Royal, the Louvre and beyond. She wove together the classic architectural history of Paris with the contemporary buildings and art installations.
Day Nine: Musée de l’Orangerie
We began the day with a visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie. This museum houses eight of Monet’s Nymphéas or Water Lily paintings, created between 1916 and 1926. These canvases were his culminating works and he gifted them to the city of Paris before he died in 1926. The Orangerie building was renovated and reopened in 2006 and this renovation yielded architecture and design that support and accentuate the beauty of the work. Olivier Brochet, the architect who designed the modern renovation, allows a gentle diffused light to bathe the paintings.
Day Ten: Moments in the Every Day
We began the day with a debrief of two performances, Pina Bausch's Kontakthof and the Béjart Ballet's performance of Light. Mary led us through a discussion of both works, looking at each performance critically through description, context, interpretation, and evaluation.
Afterward, Meg gave a wonderful lecture on "Photography & Film, New Ways of Seeing," looking at how both mediums combine art and technology. As modern photography moved away from pure documentation (no more family photographs here!), photographers began experimenting with new compositions where the "characters" in their photographs became light itself, or a fork, or shadows on pavement. Meg discussed Atget, Kertész, Brassai, and Willy Ronis. Through a discussion of each artist we kept our eye firmly focused on Paris, looking at how each photographer tried to capture what most spoke to him about this magnificent city - different moments in the every day. Likewise filmmakers were using new technologies to create an entirely new medium and oeuvre. We looked at Man Ray as a modern photographer and filmmaker, as well as les frères Lumières and their famous cinématographe and Georges Méliès and his filmic experiments with fantasy and play.
That afternoon we went down to the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume where we saw two exhibits of modern photography, an exhibition by Lorna Simpson and "Phantom Home," by Ahlam Shibli. Afterward we strolled into the Tuileries Gardens where we convened a research roundtable, and over scrumptious crêpes the students made their final presentations to the group.
Having worked over the two weeks to develop their projects, this gave the students an opportunity to share their research plans with the group and to entertain questions and get feedback. It was a great way to bring together much of what we had been studying and to see how that work had shaped and influenced everyone's research trajectories. It was also a wonderful opportunity to relax in the beautiful Tuileries Gardens and enjoy a delicious snack together.
Day Eleven: Au Revoir Paris
It may have been the final day of the course, but it was action packed!
We spent several hours in the afternoon with sound sculptor Jacques Rémus, in his studio at Les Frigos. Jacques is a visual artist, a sculptor, a composer, a musician, an engineer, and a biologist. Among other things, Jacques is known for his large scale sound installations - sculptures that he builds often using found objects, like old washing machines, and then turns into musical instruments that he programs using computer software. Here he experiments with sound and movement, inviting the students to actively engage with and participate in the art he is creating.
That evening, we once again went to the magnificent Théâtre de la Ville, where we saw A Gesture that is Nothing But a Threat, a modern performance by Portuguese artists Sofia Dias and Vitor Roriz that combined theatre and dance in an exploration of the intimate relationship between movement and the spoken word.
Afterward, Claire Verlet invited the students to attend a reception for the artists, where they were able to engage with the performers and ask questions about their backgrounds, creative process, artistic decisions, and craft. It was a phenomenal up-close-and-personal opportunity to engage with some of the performers whose work we had been so fortunate to see.
Following the reception we headed off toward the famed Pont Neuf where we boarded a boat for a lovely river cruise along the Seine - the perfect culmination of the course, all of us together on the final night, reminiscing, taking photographs, floating through the city of light as the sun began to set.
Day Eight: Monet's Garden
We ventured outside of Paris today to see Monet’s gardens. A train ride to Vernon, followed by a 5km bicycle ride led us to this Impressionist’s most famous muse, Giverny. The bike ride takes us through the town of Vernon, over a river bridge, and along a bike path revealing expanses of farmland with grazing animals and age old timbered homes and working barns. A cool overcast day accommodated the free spirited ride.
The Giverny gardens have been restored to their original design and include thousands of blooming flowers: peonies, roses, lilacs and the iconic Japanese bridge. Our assignment was to photograph the garden. We explored with an eye towards our own photographic renderings and discovery.