SCENERY STEALS THE SHOW

PP0

They were the first public museums in Paris. Free, usually open and filled with light. Because of their prestige, artists fought over their commissions. Plus, as a new show demonstrates, they didn’t just pay for art – they also restored and publicized it.

We’re talking about the church, which took pride in its art. At the Petit Palais, some of its hidden gems are on display. But the really stunning thing is the scenery; from shafts of light to dramatic placement, it’s all here.

PP6

There’s real drama, sex and violence in the work. There are also gorgeous props, from giant gilded Bibles (the one below is three feet high!) to the humble tools used for restoration. In Paris, the art lover has long been spoiled.

PP2

18th Century Masterpieces in Paris Churches runs at the Petit Palais through 9 July 2017

PP

VOTING IS USELESS

RissCartoon

Charlie Hebdo‘s Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau wrote this on 25 March 2015 before another election. It was less than three months after two men murdered twelve of his colleagues and almost killed him. It’s the best piece I’ve yet read about voting.

“It’s useless going to vote, it’s pointless voting for the left and worthless voting for the right”. The way abstentionists think can be summed up in a few words. But now such thinking has perhaps reached the point of actually becoming a new philosophy. We’ve had existentialism, positivism, structuralism, Marxism; today we have abstentionism.

The abstentionist is a demanding fellow. There’s only one condition under which he will make the effort to get up and wash his face, grab some breakfast, put on his briefs, attire himself in pants and coat and shoes, go down and hit the street, march along the pavement, breach the doors of a polling station, say ‘Bonjour’ to its staff, step into a voting booth and put his ballot into the box: he must be accomplishing something. He will do this if, and only if, it is not useless. Because an abstentionist has more to do than risk losing his time if something should turn out to be worthless.

He nevertheless smokes three packets of cigarettes a day and, apart from making him a candidate for cancer, exactly what does that accomplish? He spends hours in front of the telly watching moronic series and, except for increasing TF1’s share of the market, this furthers what objective? The list of what an abstentionist does to no purpose is long. So why, in a life replete with such pointless elements, should voting be the one thing he refuses? An abstentionist will play Loto, with only a million-to-one chance of gaining anything and his refusal to go vote still remains implacable. With the abstentionist it’s not imagination in command, it’s the irrational.

For abstentionists, politics is an investment. “I’ll consecrate ten minutes for voting only on condition I see dividends right away.” Your abstentionist is the citizen as consumer. I vote like I purchase, it’s obligatory that I get something back. Applied to democracy, this consumerist ideology augments the percentage gained by the National Front in every election. No matter the actual number of French people who vote NF; the electoral system will retain just the percentage.

Now this reasoning by the users of credit and loyalty cards has started to affect an unforeseen group of citizens – writers. Or at least one writer, Christine Angot, who in the March 7 issue of Libération published a column titled “It’s Worthless Writing Columns”. Faced with the gathering momentum of the National Front, faced with the barbarism that destroyed art in the Mosul museum, she became convinced that, to combat such horrors, little can avail and that little hardly entails writing columns. In other words, Angot has discovered that writing isn’t magic. Writing is only writing and it transforms nothing.

What is needed, then, to restore the desire to write columns? That the morning after a publication, the guns will go quiet and the National Front’s voters – touched by grace, like Paul Claudel behind his pillar in Notre-Dame – will suddenly take up reading Kant or Spinoza? Well, that’s not going to happen. Thus what actual good can come of writing or creating anything?

That imbecile Picasso, when he painted Guernica did he believe Franco would be frightened into ceding his power? That cretin Aragon, was he thinking that, just because he wrote La Rose et le Reséda, the trains of deportees would make a U-turn and take everyone to the Côte d’Azur instead? Did that dickhead Delacroix imagine that, after he painted Liberty Leading the People, Liberty was going to ACTUALLY guide the people? Crazy just how many naïfs have put their faith in the magical powers of creation. Yet we still have citizens who abstain and, with Angot, we now have abstentionist writers. Abstentionist writers who will not write unless they affect the world; after all, their personal pride is at stake.

The only ones who don’t believe all this are the National Front. For thirty years, they’ve distributed tracts when no one was reading them. They kept yelling slogans even when no one was listening. They traipsed from door to door all the while those doors wouldn’t open. Over more than thirty years, the National Front have continued all this pointless work. Pointless, at least, on the face of it. When Christine Angot called a halt, why did they ever continue? Because: they know that time works differently when you believe in what you think than it does when you don’t. If you believe in what you’re doing, time is not the important thing.

These days, if Google’s homepage takes too many moments to load, you hit the roof. If your phone won’t connect within seconds, it’s an emergency. Today even the very idea of waiting has become unbearable. So why would it occur to anyone to keep up the fight ? It’s a total pain in the ass, those hours sticking up posters that will get shredded in half an hour. Those whole mornings spent in the market, tracts under your arm for some program that almost certainly will not be realised. And yet the National Front’s campaigners, they keep the faith. Like the dung beetle who just keeps rolling his piece of shit, over those thirty years the NF militants have, inch by inch and yard by yard, insinuated their ideas into French society.

We know the National Front’s ideas in all their evil and infamy. But the reason a voter files that ballot marked “Marine Le Pen” isn’t just because of their deluded, hate-filled program. It’s also because he’s become impressed with the very persistence of those who campaign for it. The utter determination with which, over decades, the same arguments get repeated persuades the undecided that, when it comes to the NF, there is something stronger there than in other parties.

Because compared to the National Front, everyone else has dropped the ball. Left off always campaigning, left off condemning them, left off uniting against them, left off always repeating the same old arguments in response to the same old lies, left off yelling the old slogans that counter-balance the old insults. Even the cartoonists have left off drawing Le Pen, eternally and forever spewing out her bile in every direction possible. The NF intends to wear us down to nothing and, already, the NF has us ground down. Some among us no longer believe in the usefulness of writing. So let’s stop writing our columns. Soon enough the NF will write them in our places.

Some among us no longer believe in the usefulness of voting. So let’s stop dropping our votes in the ballot box. After all, the NF has already filled it up for us.

Charlie Hebdo, No 1183, 25 mars 2015

HISTORY AS A DISCO BALL

Mir3

It’s one of the world’s oldest, finest centers of craft. But the Gobelins keeps its soul up-to-date. For every show, they invite an artist – who takes his or her own crack at the theme.Fabric2

Their just-opened A Seat in Society features amazing furnishings. From Louis XIV’s parlour to the Revolution to Napoleon, the items are historic.

But what makes you stare are their preserved fabrics. You have to wonder just whose derrière made those evocative rips.

Mir4

The modern work, however, steals the whole show. By Jacques Garcia, it’s a disco-ball history – mixing classic tapestries and chairs sleeker than sports cars. But the key element is provided by mirrors.

You look up or down and fall into a fantasy.

Fab4

Sièges en Société is on through 24 September 2017 at the National Mobilier des Gobelins-Paris

Mir2

Jacques Garcia is one of the busiest artist-designers in Paris. He’s done a million things, from the Louvre to local nteriors. One of my favourites is his altar at the artists’ church, Eglise Saint-Roch.

Fabric3