Not Your Common Art Forms

A step back from major museums of Paris

by Kenley Alligood, Kaity Howard and Ina Salvaleon

When you think of museums in Paris, you typically think of those that house famous paintings and sculptures, particularly the Musée du Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. But, there are numerous lesser-known museums that are worth the trip.

Most Paris tourists will hit the highlights in the few days they are in the city. But, if you’re willing to veer off that path and explore other art forms (as well as avoid massive tourist crowds), you may leave with a greater appreciation and knowledge of art.

Three not-to-miss sites are Musée du quai Branly, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume and Art Ludique. These museums feature exhibits of unique art forms such as tattoos, claymation and photography.

Musée du Quai Branly

Just down the road from the bustle and crowds of the Eiffel Tower lies a building covered in plants, a living wall. This unobtrusive sight is part of the Musée du Quai Branly, one of Paris’s newest museums and home to artifacts from Africa, Oceania, the Americas and Asia. The museum boasts a massive permanent collection of which only an incredible 0.007% are on display at any one time.

Currently on display and closing on 18 October 2015 is a special exhibit called “Tatoueurs, Tatoues,” which means “Tattooists, Tattooed.” It allows visitors to explore the history and origin of tattoos and their significance in various parts of the world over time.

Shock & awe

One of the first things a visitor to the exhibit will see is a mummified hand in a glass case with barely visible blue bands up the length of the forearm. Initially, this was a bit of a shock for me, but it set the tone for what would be a whirlwind of color and imagery and for an art form that has relied on shock factor to gain its notoriety.

Tattoos: A history

Jack Boyer
Jack Boyer

The exhibit, artistically directed by Tin-Tin, a prominent French tattoo artist, seems particularly designed to shock the guest, playing on the social mores that have followed tattoos for many years now. It follows the progression of tattoos in Europe, beginning with their significance to tribal peoples and their sudden decline when they became a way to mark dangerous criminals. Tattoos made their return to popularity when various military corps and organizations began to adopt them. Almost simultaneously, tattoos were seen as a curiosity and took center stage in the sideshows of Europe and the Americas in the late 1800s.

The exhibit then moves regionally, beginning with Asia, specifically Japan, then covering Oceania, Africa, and tribes of the Americas, including the “urban tribes” of modern-day cities. This section of the exhibit in particular shows the intricacy and skill involved in such an art form, as many traditional tattooing methods are still practiced by various tribes out of respect to their ancestral traditions.

The works of the masters

Jessie Knight tattooing a client
Jessie Knight tattooing a client

One of the most fascinating things about the tattoo exhibit is the special collaboration that its designers and supporters had with some of the most prominent tattoo artists from around the world. Over thirty artists worked to create special “dream” artworks for the exhibit, examples of tattoos they hope to one day create. Their works are scattered throughout, as the visitor meanders leisurely along the winding path, appearing on both canvasses and silicone body parts made specifically for the Branly.

This exhibit is a chance to learn about and explore the history and significance of an art form that is quickly becoming a cultural norm around the world. Whatever your opinions on tattoos, everyone can learn something at the Musée du Quai Branly. No tattoos required.

Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume

On the other side of the Seine River and to the west, Jeu de Paume is a museum for modern and postmodern photography that stands at the edge of the Tuileries Gardens. On display until 27 September 2015 is the Germaine Krull exhibit. Although Krull was one of the most famous women in the history of photography, her work was not largely studied.

The Jeu de Paume exhibition includes prints from collections that have just recently been made available. It mainly features Krull’s photographs of Paris from 1926-1935. Most of her work during this time period was for books and magazines as she is a pioneer of modern photojournalism.

A visual story

As you walk through the exhibit, you follow Krull’s story as she progresses from an industrialist perspective to a more feminist approach. And she did so while working as a photojournalist for numerous publications. Krull even published her own books with her photographs.

Street Fair, Slide, Foire du Trône, Paris, 1929
Street Fair, Slide, Foire du Trône, Paris, 1929

In Krull’s work featured in Jeu de Paume, you notice there are some consistent aspects, tying the whole story together. Her photographs are moments of everyday Parisian life, which she captures particularly with her favorite elements. These include cars, women and hands. Much of her work incorporates these aspects and unifies the exhibition.

An interesting technique that I noticed Krull liked to use is double exposure. Many of her photographs in the exhibit included two or more images superimposed on top of each other. This would allow her to include all of her favorite subjects in one photograph.

This exhibit allows you to follow the career and life of an artist through her photographs. You can experience a connection with the artist regardless of your passion or knowledge of photography.

Art Ludique 

A young museum in a city full of history, Art Ludique take visitors on a never-before-seen journey of how “art takes shape” in their Aardman Exhibition.

Aardman, an animation studio based in Britain, is best known for the characters Wallace and Gromit.

One of the sets for Wallace and Gromit show Aardman Animation's attention to detail.
One of the sets for Wallace and Gromit show Aardman Animation’s attention to detail.

The exhibit, curated as carefully as the claymation figures were shaped, greets the visitor with a clip from the Oscar-winning short film Creature Comforts.  After watching a claymation polar bear fumble through an interview about the zoo four times, I approached the rest of the museum in a whimsical mood.

From the Blank Page to the Screen

It all starts with a blank page. Peter Lord and Nick Park, a couple of the men behind the famous characters, begin their creative process with sketching. However, the characters never look like the way they were first imagined. Original sketches show the redrawing and development of characters like Wallace and Gromit.

The characters then take shape in the form of physical clay figures who would then be painstakingly manipulated into a claymation film. The figures are placed in intricate sets and lighted just as a Hollywood film.

Get the Audio Guide

Just do it. Audio guides can often be an overload of information that distract you from what you are looking at. But, I was surprised by the funny and interesting history of Aardman and their processes as told by a man with a thick French accent. I even saw children laughing while listening to guides.

It’s the Dessert

“I hate to say it, but I liked this better than the Louvre,” I said.

Visiting the Louvre is the museum you feel like you have to visit because it’s famous. It’s the main course of a meal. But, any of these three museums are the dessert. During your stay in Paris, make sure you don’t fill up on the main course. Leave room for the dessert.


One thought on “Not Your Common Art Forms

  1. I think I would like the “little” museums better than the larger more famous ones. Interesting subject.

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