No longer the center of the world, Paris is still mistress of seduction—at least in name. Just listen to its current lineup of arousing exhibitions: When Art Deco Seduced the World (Palais de Chaillot), Desires and pleasure (Musée Jacquemart-André), Masculine/Masculine: The Nude Man in Art (Musée d’Orsay), Undergarments, an Indiscreet History of the Silhouette (Les Arts Décoratifs), and Brassaï, for the Love of Paris (Hotel de Ville).
No doubt marketing departments are working overtime–all meant to entice the museum visitor and recapture Paris’s timeless influence on art and culture. When the exhibit titles are not being seductive, they are nonetheless romantic or dreamy or poetic. Witness this nostalgia for the glory days: The Renaissance and the Dream (Musée du Luxembourg), Jean Cocteau, a poet at the Palais Royal (Palais Royal Gardens), Etruscans, a hymn to life (Musée Maillol), Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera: Art in fusion (Musée de l’Orangerie), The Springtime of the Renaissance (Louvre).
My favorite thus far? When Art Deco Seduced the World.
If Botticelli’s Birth of Venus coasted on a clamshell in a wave of gentle beauty to inspire an Italian Renaissance ideal of divine love, Art Deco stormed the gates of modernity with geometric power lines. Sweeping aside traditional Beauty, Art Deco influenced not only Parisian architecture and by default the world’s, but also the modern woman and every aspect of industrial design.
The exhibit indeed seduces by clarity of exhibit design and a fascinating collection of objects: clothing for the liberated woman of the 20s and 30s, furniture for the modern home, objects that represented speed, glorifying and accessorizing cars and boats. See Suzanne Lenglen in a scandalous tennis outfit as a hood ornament and perfume bottles in the shape of ocean liners by Jean Patou.
The exhibition also recreates a room devoted to 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs and Industriels Modernes–from which the name Art Deco derives– and ends with a large playroom for kids and adults to experiment with the patterns and shapes and lines of Art Deco’s early days.
Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine, Palais de Chaillot, October 16, 2013 – February 17, 2014.