Final Dream Wrapped Up: Christo’s L’Arc de Triomphe

Shimmering silver and bounded by red recyclable rope, Christo’s and Jean-Claude’s last project drew throngs of visitors on opening weekend. With the Champs-Elysées closed to vehicle traffic and security guards and police carefully monitoring comings and goings, the L’Arc de Triomphe-Wrapped–unveiled officially on September 18–is the fruition of a sixty-year-old dream. A monumental dream.

Covid be damned, everyone who viewed the masterpiece was in a celebratory mood, masked and unmasked, freely mingling about under a hazy sunlit sky, enjoying the mild weather. Someone was handing out woven sample swatches of the wrapping—metallic silver on one side, bright aqua blue on the other. A few people dressed in costume. Most were content to circle the monument and snap photos with sheer delight.

Imagine the material and preparation and engineering: approximately 270,000 square feet of blue-backed silver polypropylene, nearly 10,000 feet of the same plastic red cording, and a structural support of steel slabs weighing 150 pounds so as not to harm the arch’s friezes. It was approved by the France’s Center of Monuments Nationaux and supervised by Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s nephew Vladimir Yavachev. According to Roger Cohen in his New York Times article, “Building the cages whose steel bars pass an inch or two from the outstretched hand or foot of a frieze or a funereal relief was painstaking. So was rappelling down to work under the overhangs of the cornice. In all, 1,200 people labored on the wrapping.”

The Arc stands at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, now nicknamed—on an amusingly plastic-wrapped sign—Place Christo & Jean-Claude. Seen from the twelve roads that radiate from the Place, this imposing monument is a natural tourist site with a 360-degree view of Paris atop its observation deck.

Originally commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoléon to glorify France’s Grande Armée’s victories of 1792, this colossal and neoclassical arch—was thirty years in the making. Napoléon did not live to see its completion. It was erected fifteen years after his death.

Since then, the Arc has been witness to history: Among many highlights, in 1885, mourners passed by to view Victor Hugo in his coffin; returning WWI French soldiers marched beneath it; Nazi soldiers stomped through it during their WWII Occupation; French and US Military paraded around it in victory, in 1944. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies beneath it, and each night the eternal flame is lit in remembrance.

This posthumously completed dream—36 years after the couple wrapped the Pont Neuf, Paris’s oldest bridge—is a fitting memorial to the life and work Christo and Jeanne-Claude. As they planned, the wrapping moves sensually in the wind and reflects light. I wonder what Napoléon would have thought of it. Like life, it’s fleeting in nature, and will be dismantled on October 3rd.

L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Paris, 1961-2021.
On View: September 18-October 3

Renwick Rocks!

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man

Exhibition at Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery is ongoing through January 21, 2019. For more info: exhibitions/burning-man

Ren Truth is Beauty Marco Cochrabe

“Truth is Beauty”  by Marco Conchrane

Pushing the outer limits of their own space, the Renwick Gallery brings the boundless creativity of Burning Man from Black Rock, Nevada, to the conservative confines of Washington, DC.

Since the first sybaritic spectacle in 1986, the dry lakebed outside Reno has been home to phantasmagoric sculptures, whimsical mechanical devices, and radical art. Minus the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the Renwick indulges our curiosity in this countercultural contemporary art scene both in the museum and out into the neighborhood. Pick up a map at the museum to find six street art installations nearby, including the giant Grizzly Bear (photo below) made of pennies. Read more ›

Massena Museum in Nice, France


Massena MuseumMassena Museum, Nice, France 

Housed in a stately, 19th century villa on the promenade des Anglais overlooking the Mediterranean, the Massena Museum —the façades and roofs of which are classified by French Historic Monument Association—offers visitors a viewing of Empire Age salons and furnishings, tranquil English-style Gardens, and temporary exhibits, such as its current photography exhibit, Jean Gilletta et la Cote d’Azur, paysages et reportages, 1870-1930.


As the primary and inexhaustible landscape photographer of the Riveria, Gilletta documented its art and culture, commercialism, and tourism. According to Gilletta’s great nephew, “…nothing escaped his lens,” as he captured a time in flux, casting that lens on the modest and humble as well as the privileged. On construction sites, railways, and bridges. On market vendors, washerwomen, presidents and princes. He recorded rural life and the high life of Nice and Monaco among other sites. From fashionable spa towns, olive groves, and snow-covered mountain peaks to the 1887 earthquake, he was an exemplary reporter and witness for his times.

A 19th century Cartier-Bresson, Gillette preserved those times–forever gone or transformed–through at least 10,000 photos as he tooled around the Cote d’Azur on his three-wheeled, motorized bike—an example of which is on exhibit. In addition to snapping photos, he was also a prolific publisher of postcards and books.

Massena Museum Cut out photo 2The delightful exhibit opens with head cutouts of peasants of the day. Go ahead, stick your head though the opening slot and journey back in time. (I did; Noel was less enthusiastic.) The guards will take your photos. The balance of the exhibit holds numerous original photo prints of people at play and work along the seaside and in the country. The photographs are small and require time and close-up inspection, but to get a sense of the larger exhibit, the designers have created life-size impressions projected on the walls in each room recreating the ambience in which Gilletta worked. In addition to the photos, there’s a three-wheeled, motorized bike that Gilletta tooled around the Cote d’Azur setting his sights on images to snap. A large box camera he used is also on view.

The show recalls an insouciant time along the Cote d’Azur through five principle themes: Nice the resort capital of France, Nissa la Bella (Nice the Beautiful–the city’s unofficial anthem. Listen on YouTube:, By the Mountains and the Valleys, Under the Azure along the Coast, and The News in Pictures.

The exhibit closes March 5, 2018.

The Museum’s permanent collection displays the history of Nice from the 19th century up to the end of 1930s. Highlights include Napoléon’s death mask and Josephine’s tiara with its glittery gemstones, gold, and pearls.

Massena Museum view from window

Practical Info

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11-6, winter; 10-6, summer.

Closed Tuesdays and certain holidays

Tickets: 6 Euros or buy a 7-day pass for 20 Euros (Access to all 12 municipal museums and galleries for 7 days in Nice)

Location: 65, rue de France (ticket entrance)

Henry James and American Painting

Henry James and American Painting Exhibition at The Morgan Library, NYC

On View through Sept 10, 2017

Henry James (photogravure above in 1906 and painting of him in 1862) equated the art of the writer with that of the artist, declaring he saw no difference in their acts of creation. In The Art of Fiction, he wrote, “… the honour of one is the honour of another.” Fascinated with the visual arts, James often explored the artistic process, inspiration, and influence of art in his novels.

I thought I’d run in, glance at the Morgan Library exhibit for a half hour and be on my way, but I lingered for two hours. So engaged was I that I read the accompanying wall text—a rarity for me when many museum labels are often, in my humble opinion, a bullshit attempt to be erudite but are frequently just obtuse. Instead, I found myself absorbed in the text, laughing aloud at entertaining stories and James’ numerous observations about his artistic circle of friends such as James McNeill Whistler, John La Farge, and John Singer Sargent among others. Many of his friends were players in James’ novels, and their lives were fodder for his plots. Much of this is clearly evident in images and text selected.

Early in his career, James himself attempted to paint, but–determined to avoid mediocrity–opted instead to write painterly novels, clearly an inspiration to the co-curators, Declan Kiely, head of the Morgan’s Department of Literary and Historical Manuscripts, and novelist Colm Tóibín. They collected an enticing selection of artwork–paintings, drawings, watercolors, sculptures, photographs, as well as the written word–books, manuscripts, and letters from museums and private collections in the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland. They have assembled vivid stories of artistic connectivity. It’s an inspired exhibit.

To read more, check out the NYTimes review:


Venetian Women in Palazzo Rezzonico

Venetian Women in Palazzo Rezzonico by John Singer Sargent, c 1880


A Venetian Interior by John SInger Sargent 1880

A Venetian Interior by John Singer Sargent 1880

An Interior in Venice 1898 John Singer Sargent

An Interior in Venice by John Singer Sargent 1898

Mrs. Edward Darley Boit JSS 1887

Mrs. Edward Darley Boit by John Singer Sargent, 1887

Val Lewton From Hollywood to Breezewood at AU Katzen Center

VL Paint CansLast few days to see Val Lewton From Hollywood to Breezewood, a retrospective of one of the most talented Washington (by way of Hollywood) artists. Former exhibit designer for Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, Val Lewton had a supreme and unique command of color and composition. (Full disclosure I’m friends with his widow, Claudia Manizozzi (also a painter), and knew Val from my former Smithsonian days. I also own two of his paintings as well as one of Claudia’s. And I wish I had wall space for more.)

VL Truck Cab

I have long been fascinated with building cranes that pierce the sky at construction sites, marveling how something so industrial can be so elegant against the sky. Val Lewton elevates these same scenes and more with his paintbrush to create penetrating and cinematic close-ups of mundane cityscapes: trucks, construction sites, cranes, shovels, gas stations, cars, highways, taxis, traffic jams, smoke stacks, police call boxes. From wrecked and razed construction sites to massive in your face truck cabs you can feel the power of the movement on the road.

VL Whitehurst Freeway

Val makes the ordinary extraordinary in such diverse images as his colorful, overflowing paint cans and his Dale City depictions of suburban sprawl. All on view just till August 13th. If you miss it, check out the accompanying full color catalog with essay by former Washington Post critic, Ben Forgey.

VLTaxisVLDale City

VL Bee Bee

VL Bee Bee air handler



Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design

Above image from the New York Times A rendering of the virtual reality rendition of the Maison de Verre. CreditDiller Scofidio + Renfro

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design, On view at the Jewish Museum in NYC, November 4, 2016 – March 26, 2017.

Having toured the actual Maison de Verre (Glass House) in Paris, I was curious to see how the exhibit could possibly compare to the ingenious interior design and workings of this 1932 home. But in using virtual reality and clever silhouette images, the exhibit is as innovative as the house was. Chareau combined industrial glass, wrought iron, and precious woods in highly original and daring ways and fine craftsmanship. Many actual furniture pieces and lighting are in the exhibit, but the other surprise was learning that Pierre Chareau and his wife Dollie were patrons of the arts. Several works by Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Amedeo Modigliani, Jacques Lipchitz, and Max Ernst are on view as well. Read more ›



It seems an apt description of our recent presidential election, but, in fact, it’s the title of a fun exhibit at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. On view are forgeries, fakes, and deliberate deceptions in art, archaeology, religion, literature, fashion, commercial products, and documents. (fake Modigliani heads of women below)


Read more ›

Views from Vigeland Park

Views from Vigeland Park in Oslo (,
which as my bike tour leader Paul noted, has the most naked statues anywhere in
the world. Read more ›

Contemplating Picasso in 3-Dimensions

It’s been quite a
while since I’ve seen so many happy, smiling people wandering around an
exhibit. Such is the case at MoMA’s Picasso Sculpture
on view until February 7,

It’s a feel
good gem where you can actually snap all the cell phone photos you want without
guards telling you to stop, and visitors (including myself) were clicking away (see photos below).

have always been a fan of Cubism, the inspired artistic invention of Braque and
Picasso that shattered conventional perspective and more. Credit to Cezanne for
seeing planes and perspective and form differently and leaving a legacy that
broke with tradition. So we come to Cubism and collage and bizarre angles and
shapes that astound me today by forming coherent images. All of which prolific
Picasso took to another level and dimension on view in this  expansive exhibit.

artistic genius (despite his less than stellar treatment of women) is widely
recognized and categorized into different periods in so many major museums,
collection, and shows. Images
he painted are sold worldwide and reproduced on every possible surface.

what else is there to see of Picasso’s that’s different? Leave it to The Museum
of Modern Art (MoMA) in NYC to find something NY Times critic Roberta Stone called
a “once-in-a-lifetime

Picasso’s genius—his constant reinvention—is reinforced in
this exhibition of his three-dimensional pieces, covering the periods between
1902-1964, in material as diverse as wood, metal, wire, sand, paint, clay, and
household objects such as cake molds, spoons, tumbled stones, colanders, faucets,
and bicycle seats, among others. He
saw art in discarded and unrelated objects and shaped them into recognizable people
and figures and animals long before the recycling was fashionable.

In addition to his actual assemblages, there are brilliant
and illuminating Brassai photographs of these pieces taken in Picasso’s studios between 1932 and 1945, as well as fanciful forms in Picasso’s
anatomical drawings that almost dance off the page.

While in NYC recently, I saw the exhibit for the second
time and if I were in NYC, I’d go again. A few favorites, though it’s hard to
pick favorites: a radical design for a memorial to Apolinaire that was too
daring at the time and was rejected; “The Venus of Gas” composed an iron burner
and pipe from a gas stove; his amusing, tipsy “Glass
of Absinthe” sculptures, his painted bronze “Crane” with a shovel for a body
and tail stretching its recycled, twisted fork legs and nuts and bolts head.

the suggestive series of “Head of a Woman” where facial features are metaphors
for sexual organs as in various plaster incarnations of Marie-Thérèse, to the whimsical “Bull’s Head” fashioned from old bicycle
parts, don’t miss Picasso Sculptures at MoMA.

His witty, lyrical, ingenious, recycled 3-d creations
often provoke deeper thought and will make you smile, too.

For a thorough, insightful review:

of the pieces are on loan from private collections, various Picasso museums and
homes including Musée
, in Paris,
renovated and reopened in 2014 (scroll down to my end note in my June Blog If you are a Picasso fan and are visiting
the South of France, make reservations to see his last home near Aix-en-Provence, Chateau de

Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye

At the National Gallery of Art reception for Caillebotte exhibition.

This is the last week to see Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. If you love Paris, don’t miss this one. It closes October 4th.

paintings—shades and shapes and inventive perspectives of nudes, river scenes,
still-lifes, landscapes, city scapes, and interiors—all draw you in for deeper

Caillebotte’s name is unfamiliar, that’s because he didn’t need to make money
from his work. His family was wealthy so he often supported artists, amassing
works of Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, Monet and others. But he was a talented artist
whose most famous painting (and museum store often reproduced image) in the USA
is his “Paris on a Rainy Day,” 1877, (see below) from The Art Institute of Chicago but on
loan for this exhibit. (And was my favorite umbrella underside image until it
wore out. Alas, the museum store no longer makes the large size umbrella, just
the mini version.) It’s a moody gem. You can feel the wet cobblestones of
Parisian boulevards.

outdoor scenes there’s the impression of walking over bridges beside
well-heeled ladies and gents from the 19th century. Inside, the intimate
connection is as strong. Gaze at “Floor Scrappers,” 1875, now in the collection
of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It’s a gritty look at laborers in action, but
during the second Impressionist Salon of 1876—having been rejected from the
1875 Academy of Fine Arts
Salon—Caillebotte offended critics by his shirtless workers.

an Impressionist, Caillebotte had a modernist sensibility, and his inspiration
seems to come more from photography. His cropped close-ups, odd angles, and
altered perspective all mesh with a photographer’s eye. Two of my favorites: Young Man Playing the Piano, 1876, and The Boulevard Seen
from Above

After the exhibit leaves the
Washington, DC, it travels to Kimbell Art Museum,
Fort Worth, where it’s on view November 8, 2015–February 14, 2016.

Images from the National Gallery of Art Website: except photo above from exhibit wall.