Monet, Mondrian, and Modern Art

8 JAN 2017

Having to pay just 7€ for entry into a museum is not so bad, even when under the assumption that it would be free. Typically, the first Sunday of every month here allows free entry into museums and historical sites, and we assumed, incorrectly, that this second Sunday would warrant the same since the first Sunday of the year was a holiday. A portion of our group decided to spend a little free time to check out the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain. Its glass, Mondrian-esque walls certainly make quite the appearance in the surrounding old town. We each look quite ridiculous, I am sure, waltzing through the avant garde and postmodernism trying to appear as if we understand any of what we see.

As it turns out, I am certain we explore the museum backwards. It seems to be constructed in such a way that the visitor can explore the modern works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then continues on a winding path through mid- to late-20th century works, and upstairs to late-late-20th century on into the 2000s. I think that I can appreciate the newness and the protest and the cerebralness of modern art, however, I am not a fan. Mondrian may have made straight lines and colored squares famous, but you will not see a print of his work hanging in my house. Picasso is world-renowned for his Cubism… cool. I may be critical, but there are some fine Impressionist works by Sisley and Monet, so my visit is not absolutely “wasted.” All-in-all, there are actually two pieces I really enjoy.

One is a stained glass window work by either OTT Frères Strassburg or QTT Frères Strassburg I guess by the imprint toward the bottom of the work. According the the information sign adjacent, the artist was anonymous, though. Vitrail Allégorie du Printemps, or Allegory of Spring, as it is called, is dated as being made in 1900. The detail is sharp, and the colors are bright. Now this is something I think I would not mind having in my house.

The second work I am a little ashamed to say that I do not recall the artist of, nor the date. Perhaps, on a free-admission day, I will return and gather the proper details. Seeing the works of the 21st century, with their single lines or dots on a single-colored backdrop remind of seemingly equally ridiculous works of a canvas covered in a single shade of gray or white. But behold, I turn a corner into a dimly lit room to witness this work of art, this beauty in an ugly world, this… wait, no. Here it is, the solid, single-shade-of-white, oil on canvas. I get that I do not get it. I understand that I have not researched it. I know that there is more to this than meets the eye.

But as I stand here, face-to-face with a museum piece prominently displayed, I am in awe of how this could have happened and curious as to know why it did. At what point does a person go, “Aha! I have it! Bring the white paint, that ever-so-bright-single-shade white paint. I will create my masterpiece here and now. Will I include some interesting textures? No! Will I make sure the paint strokes are all of a direction or pattern? No! Will it look like an expertly painted, flat wall? Yes!” To which the art collector replies, “This piece truly speaks to my heart: cold, desolate, a frozen tundra of… well, the absence of color. Yes, I will pay a small fortune for it.”

Am I being too harsh? I think not. I imagine Monet and Picasso faced similar criticisms for their new styles. I assume, maybe, that this work and its brethren will share similar spotlights. For what reason, though, I know not yet.


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