Paris Via New York: A Tale of Two Ex-Parisians

From frequent contributor Betty Guernsey:

This month the Museum of Modern Art, in a bold and adventurous move, is hosting not one but two exhibitions dedicated to former Parisians – one a Parisian by birth, the other by adoption.

The first, “Max Ernst: Beyond Painting”, continues through January 1 and surveys the career of the pioneering Dadaist and Surrealist painter and sculptor. Ernst, born in Germany in 1891, became an adopted Parisian in 1922, albeit somewhat scandalously, in a ménage-à-trois with Surrealist poet Paul Eluard and his wife Gala, an arrangement which lasted through most of what is known as his First French Period 1923-1940).

In 1942 he married Peggy Guggenheim and entered into his New York Period (1941-1953), assisting with fellow exiles Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall in the development of Abstract Expressionism. He later returned to Paris, where he began his Second French Period (1959-1970) and died in 1976.

Mysterious, intensely psychological, and extremely accomplished, his works plumb the depths of the frequently erotic subconscious, with intriguing titles such as “The Hat Makes the Man”, “The Robing of the Bride”, and “Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale”.

The second, “Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait”, continuing through January 28, explores the paintings and prints, along with occasional installations and sculptures, of the groundbreaking feminist artist whose prolific body of work has also been described as Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist.

Born in Paris in 1911, to a family involved in the arts, Bourgeois graduated from the Sorbonne before immersing herself in the Parisian creative scene. In 1938 she married American art historian Robert Goldwater and returned with him to New York City, remaining an adopted New Yorker until her death in 2010.

Here she studied at the Art Students League and refined her thinking into issues of domesticity, family, sexuality, and the female body, many of her works incorporating household fabrics, linens, embroideries, and texts in both English and French.

Most famous, perhaps, are her “Femme Maison” series, and her “Mamans” – mammoth sculptures of spiders, alluding to the strength of the mother in spinning, weaving, nurturing, and protecting – one of which is dramatically displayed in MOMA’s second floor Atrium.

Merci beaucoup, Betty!

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