Our Man in Paris

Wed, Jul 11, 2007

A few weeks after the Chris Marker: Staring Back exhibition opened here in May, I went to Paris to deliver to the artist himself some materials related to the show. Of course, Marker had already received copies of the catalogue, which to our immense pleasure he had quickly distributed among his friends, and I'd also emailed installation shots. Almost a year before, in preparing for the show, we'd produced test prints of the digital photos for the show, experimenting with different printers, paper stocks, surface finish, dimensions, etc., and Marker had chosen his preferred combination, so this time I thought I'd bring him a spare print as a palpable fragment of the exhibition.

Armed with that, and in the none-better-than-company of the catalogue essayist Molly Nesbit, I showed up at Marker's wonder-filled lair in eastern Paris on a hot Monday afternoon, where for the next several hours, after a ritual exchange of mementoes, we talked, as a mechanical owl periodically hooted, about politics in their American (Hillary! Obama!) and French (Socialist presidential contender Ségolène Royal had a day earlier given the boot to François Hollande, the philandering father of their four children) varieties, and about literature (from which I learned that Marker had known both Richard Wright and James Baldwin), and about language (Marker explained that the essential concept of ‘staring back' has no exact linguistic equivalent in French, which is one of the reasons he composed his texts for the show in English), and about matters of the day pressing each of us differently.

The next day I visited the Centre Pompidou to see the reinstallation of Marker's Zapping Zone (which Wexner viewers experienced as part of the Pompidou's Passages de l'image show here in 1991), and later met with the Pompidou's new media curator Christine Van Assche, who hopes to do another project with Marker in late 2008. I was only in Paris for a few days so I spent the rest of the time racing from one side of town to the next, one day to the Palais de Tokyo to see the Steven Parrino show (and also to visit their incomparable bookstore) and then down to Bercy to the Cinémathèque Française to see L'image d'après (The Image to Come), subtitled, “How cinema inspires photographers” – in this case, ten Magnum photographers revealing how their still work had been influenced by filmmakers.

Being at the Cinémathèque reminded me of my first exposure to its Frank Gehry-designed building some thirteen years earlier, when it was home to the American Center (which for all intents went out of business after occupying the building for only a few years) and, as it happens, both those visits had been during the same series of days in June, during which falls the longest day of the year, this year June 21; and, then as now, the city of Paris (and other cities throughout France) basically throws itself an all-night party, the “fête de la musique,” with every conceivable variety of music being performed outside – in parks, on corners, along the river, even just on the sidewalk, some of the events officially sponsored but just as many apparently impromptu affairs (like the two competing DJ's facing off across a pedestrian-jammed Rue St-Denis, each playing to his claque by upping the volume). It was still light out when I went to sleep, having closed the window to drown out the marathon concert in the park across the street, entirely dedicated as far as I could tell to American big band tunes from the 1940s – someone else's nostalgia, not mine, but a nice gesture, all the same. – Bill Horrigan

Jean Dubuffet, Vaches au pre (Cows in a meadow), 1954

Reserve your tickets now for Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection, on view Sept 21–Dec 31. Learn more about the exhibition.

Artists featured in Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection

Learn more about the artists represented in Transfigurations at our dedicated website. (Educators will also find curriculum resources to support their K–12 classrooms.)