Giving Modern Art Another Try At the Pompidou Center In Paris

MacDonald-Wright art

Since Paris is one of the best cities in the world to see art, I thought it might raise my artistic and cultural awareness level to visit a museum. Of course, Paris is known for the Louvre, which some say is the best art museum in the world. I went there once before and got lost for hours in the Egyptian section in the basement. When I finally found my way out, I only had enough energy to see the Mona Lisa before my legs gave out.

The Louvre contains paintings created before 1848.  For the newer stuff, I would have to go somewhere else. I hadn’t understood the modern art I’d seen last year in Munich.  So I was determined to give it another try.

Pompidou Center
Le Centre Pompidou in Paris

I walked on a rainy day through Le Marais to the Centre Pompidou, which houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne, the largest collection of modern art in Europe. The Pompidou is a very strange looking building, built in the style called “Post-Modern/High-Tech,” whatever that is.  It looks like the builders went on strike in typical French fashion and walked off the job before completing it.  The building has ugly pipes on the exterior and metal frames that look like scaffolding.  When it opened, Le Figaro (a Paris newspaper), exclaimed “Paris has its own monster, just like the one in Loch Ness.”

After riding many escalators that appeared to be glued to the outside of the building, I arrived on the fifth floor to re-start my modern art education.

modern art
Workers of the world, unite!

This piece reminds me of some 1930s Soviet propaganda extolling the virtues of universal socialism. The colors are too dull and all I can think of is that I don’t want to work there. I would probably hit my thumb with the hammer.

I like the bright colors in these two works.  They would be pleasant to hang on the wall of my office.

Delaunay art
Windows by Robert Delaunay, 1912.
S. Delaunay art
Rythme by Sonia Delaunay, 1938.

It’s interesting that these were done independently, and many years apart, by a married couple.  I can imagine how they might have met in a Parisian cafe….

Robert: “Hey baby, I am an artiste.  Want to see my art? I use lots of bright colors and I like triangles!”

Sonia: “Trés magnifique! I am also an artiste! I use lots of bright colors too, but I prefer circles.”

Robert: “We have a lot in common. Let’s drink some coffee and chain-smoke Gitanes until that little Spanish guy shows up.”

Here’s another piece with lots of bright colors. It puts me in a good mood just to look at this one. Since it is modern art, I have no idea what it is supposed to be.  But the artist called it “The Prophet.”

MacDonald-Wright art
The Prophet by Stanley MacDonald-Wright, 1955.

After looking at lots of paintings of incomprehensible colored shapes, I was yearning to see something I could recognize in the real world. I came across this one that I liked. It made me feel – je ne sais pas.  It is entitled “Young American Girl – the Dance.” However, I can’t pick out the girl and I can’t tell if she is dancing.

Picabia art
Young American Girl/The Dance by Francis Picabia, 1913.

Most famous painters of the early 20th century were men. Being men, if they were going to paint the human form, they would most likely paint a woman. Somewhere I saw a statistic that less than 3% of the artists whose work is displayed in modern art museums are women, but 83% of the nudes shown are female.  This led to the complaint that to get into a modern art museum, women need to get naked.

In this painting, I can finally recognize the girl. I like the color of her dress, and she looks like she might be, ahem, a little cold. Something about her fingers looks creepy though. She’s also way too serious. Since this woman has clothes on, I’m guessing it was painted by a woman.

Lempicka art
Jeune femme aux gants by Tamara de Lempicka, 1929.

Picasso painted lots of nudes. He used wives, mistresses, and lovers as models, but hopefully not ever in the same painting. That would take some world class explaining. I don’t think this woman is attractive, even though she’s naked. She has really big hands and feet, and I think she’s giving me the stink eye!

Picasso art
Femme nue au bonnet turc by Pablo Picasso, 1955.

The only thing I learned during my visit to the Pompidou Center was that the modern artwork that seems to get my attention includes bright colors of abstract shapes or a naked woman.  Or both of those in a single painting.

What bright colors!
What bright colors!


Understanding Modern Art in Munich

Blue Picasso
One twisted blue woman.

I had an art class at college. I was an engineering student but had to take at least one art class to be properly educated. I recall sleeping through most of the classes because they were so boring.

My wife studied art and graphic design. So I make an effort to take her to a museum once in a while. Having recently landed in Munich, we decided to go to the Pinakothek Der Moderne (the modern art museum). It only costs one euro on Sundays, which is a pretty good deal to enter an amazingly large, white, and mostly empty architectural gem.

Here’s a blue Picasso. I can sort of tell what this is, but I’m not really sure. I wonder what drugs old Pablo was on when he painted it.

I can recognize this as a painting that took skill to visualize what it should be and then to get the paint on the canvas in all of the right places. The following painting is different.

Nice colors!

Good colors…, sure, why not. It’s very large, so it fills up a grand space. But what is going on here? It’s just some basic colors. I wanted to say something about this painting, but I held my tongue.

In an adjoining room there was an extensive special exhibition of pencil art on buff-colored paper. Most of the pieces were scribbles – circles, squares, random doodles. I could contain myself no longer.

“Even I could do that!” I said. “It looks like a child’s doodles from kindergarten class!”

A nearby German art class looked at me in horror.  They must have understood me.  After passing through a room full of oblong boulders, each with a hole partially cut into them, we came upon this:

modern art
This is modern art…. I think.

I don’t know what the artist called this piece, but it looks like a pile of metal garbage from the auto wrecking yard. I could imagine the conversation the artist had with his or her parents.

Aspiring Artist: “Mom and Dad, I want to spend tens of thousands of dollars to go to art school at a private university to find my inner artistic being and create modern sculpture out of old car parts.”

Mom: “Whatever you would like, dear.”

Dad: “Garrumphh. %^$#%#$!” You better get a job after graduation…



I next found this piece:

broom art
Modern (broom) art.

I can see the utility for this item. It might be useful for sweeping up sawdust from the corner of a wood shop. I don’t, however, see the artistic merit.

It must just be me. I don’t get it. I am too analytical and practical to understand the artistic mind. For those of you out there who are artists, please explain the merits of the following piece. (I didn’t take a photo of it because, well, I just didn’t want to….)

The piece was a medium sized, colored chalk drawing of a man. The man had a t-shirt on, and no pants. A bunch of balloons were in place of his head. The balloons were tied to a string, which was tied on the other end to his penis. On his t-shirt was a picture of Jesus.

I was glad I got into the museum for only one euro. I got my money’s worth. I think.