On the Left Bank, a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, is the large structure you see pictured above. The French designer, Patrick Blanc, was the first to create buildings clad in vegetation and what a beautiful idea that is. This building is the Musee de Quai Branly, the home of France’s “ethnographic” collection. It inspired Picasso and Matisse. And inspirational they are.
This stone sculpture, half animal, half human, is Oceanic but could easily be a modern work by Brancusi or Zadkine.
To enter the museum, you walk up a long ramp, in the dark, as a river of lit words, in the various languages of the peoples represented in the museum, appears underfoot. “What the hell is that?” Alan said as we stumbled up the ramp. “Art, Honey” I replied. When you get to the top, the happy guy pictured above waves at you. The dim lighting prevails, as you can see.
To add to the confusion, scores of tiny school children are dashing about, calling excitedly in shrill voices. You can’t see them and you are afraid you will step on them. Glass cases are filled with scary guys like this.
Is it not slightly masochistic subjecting tiny children to these frightening works? Apparently, it’s part of the national toughening up in France. “Don’t worry dear” I said to Alan. “Imagine having to be the class parent on this outing.” He grimaced. “That is a truly scary thought,” he said as he dodged a tot hurtling like a missile in his direction.
We continued on and things got better. We tried to stay ahead of the school groups.
Ahhh, fabrics. How I love them. And this museum offers a feast. These are batiks from Java.
Zoom on these, if you can. The needlework is incredible.
These colours and designs, representing Cambodian, Middle Eastern and Afghani peoples, literally take my breath away. I am moved by these works in the way I would be by a Van Gogh. They found these patterns and designs compelling and I do, too. So viewing their art I feel united with them as we share aesthetic values. At the same time I felt slightly uncomfortable standing in front of all these captive goods, emprisoned as they are in plexiglass. These remnants of the French colonial enterprise, housed in the beautiful modern museum, are mute. They cannot say what might be said about suffering, greed and loss.
Enough said, I suppose. Returning to inspiration, it is perhaps not accidental that the week after Quai Branly, I was up at the Marché St. Pierre in Montmartre. Here, at the foot of Sacre-Coeur, a host of discount fabric stores offer their wares to dedicated hunters. The main shop, a department store offering five floors of fabric, was a trove of fabric finds.
A couple of trips later, I had bought many metres of cloth for the coming pillow line at the gallery this summer.