8 January 2014

Paris Exhibitions (3): Art Deco and Male Nudes

Previous posts covered two recent retrospectives of Braque and Vallotton at the Grand Palais in Paris which will be transferring to other locations. This post is about one exhibition which continues and another which ends shortly and seems unlikely to transfer.

Art Déco

1925, quand l'Art Déco séduit le monde (1925, when Art Déco dazzled the World) is at La Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine at the Palais de Chaillot. It centres on Paris’s 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs and Industriels Modernes, the name of which led to the coining of the term Art Déco, but extends overs the interwar period from 1919 to 1940. (At the outset the relationship of Art Déco to the preceding style of Art Nouveau is explained and its evolution in art (Tamara de Lempicka’s Portrait de Suzy Solidor,1933, left), architecture, furniture, fashion, cars (1927 Bugatti type 40 in front of a mural, La Vigne et Le Vin (The Vine and Wine) by Jean Dupas, for the Bordeaux pavilion at the 1925 Expo, below) and other areas are all covered in depth. However, despite the exhibition’s title, its point of view is French rather than global. The emphasis is also on the highest levels of design and elaborate workmanship (and selling price at the time no doubt) rather than the mass market manifestations of the style. There is also little about Art Deco internationally where, in its more monumental forms, it probably deserved the label of “Aztec Airways” (enthusiasts might find a V&A webpage on the 1925 exhibition and this recent book review by Bevis Hillier interesting).

1925, quand l'Art Déco séduit le monde now finishes on 3 March.


Masculin / Masculin. L'homme nu dans l'art de 1800 à nos jours (Masculine/Masculine The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day) at the Musée d’Orsay is what they say it is. It comes with the almost inevitable warning “some of the pieces presented in the exhibition may be shocking to some visitors (particularly children)”. Which presumably the curators felt is still the case, having taken advice from the Leopold Museum in Vienna who put on nackte männer. von 1800 bis heute (nude men. from 1800 to the present day) last year. Although Margaret Walter’s The Nude Male: a new perspective was published as long ago as 1978, the subject remains controversial as reactions to the release of the video for the show (now on YouTube) demonstrated last year.

The Musée d’Orsay was able to draw mostly on French sources for the ancient sculpture and high academic studies of the (exclusively) male nude and then widens out from, for example, Muybridge’s photography to an increasingly international and homoerotic selection covering the last 100 years or so. The British contribution includes a Bacon triptych, a Hockney ‘splash’ and a Ron Mueck (Dead Dad, 1996-97, below William Bougereau’s Egalité devant la mort, 1848 (Equality before death) above) but no Beardsleys. Presumably because it includes a nude female, Tate Britain’s Stanley Spencer, Double Nude Portrait: The Artist and his Second Wife, 1937, perhaps one of the most unsparing depictions of male nudity, would have been excluded. France’s own Pierre & Gilles are well-represented among the contemporary artists (Mercury on the left of the poster above and Vive La France, left).

The exhibition concentrates on Western art and its starting date would have excluded any of the erotic 17th-century Japanese shunga (again usually with females), as on show recently at the British Museum. I suspect that the British, inventors of the seaside postcard and home to Grayson Perry’s Scrotal Sac, may find the tone of Masculin / Masculin resolutely high-brow, an exception being Orlan’s L’Origine de la Guerre, 1989 (The Origin of War; find it here, an ironic comment on Courbet’s original which was discussed in a post here last year). 

Masculin / Masculin ends after an extension on 12 January, and, although transfer to another location was discussed, then closes finally, as far as I can tell.


Anyone interested in the classical male nude might like to read Brian Sewell’s review of The Male Nude: Eighteenth-Century Drawings From The Paris Academy at London’s Wallace Collection (ends 19 January).

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