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Photography at the Jeu de Paume (Part 2 of 2)

This is the conclusion of a review of the exhibits at the new photography museum in the Jeu de Paume, by the Place de la Concorde, in Paris. Here is Part 1.

The other exhibit, on the museum's upper floor, is called Éblouissement, and it brings together photographs and a few works in other media that prominently feature the role of light. As you enter the exhibit space at the top of the staircase, you are subjected to the flashing of Guillaume Paris's Numenous (2002), a disc with hundreds of light bulbs flashing in patterns. It is visually annoying, enough to give you a headache, and it emits an uncomfortable amount of heat. Some of the recent photographs that I thought memorable were Michel François's Néon brisé (2002), showing a neon bulb somehow shattered into tiny shards only it its middle section; Graham Gussin’s Know Nothing, Self-Portrait as X—The Man with X-Ray Eyes (2003, from the Lisson Gallery in London), which could have fit nicely with the self-portrait exhibit at the Luxembourg (see review on July 8), because it shows the photographer with oversized jet black contact lenses in his eyes, producing a creepy effect; and Jane and Louise Wilson's South Corridor, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas (1999), a beautiful, greenish tinted study of a tunnel curving gracefully into the distance, which makes the reflections of the ceiling lamps on all sides curve with the structure. Most of the other recent work, including photographs, video, installations, was so forgettable that I didn't even take a single note.

What I did enjoy in this exhibit was the remarkable selection of photographs by early 20th-century masters. There are five photographs by R. Moreau and E. Druet, from the collection of sculptor August Rodin and now in the Musée Rodin, that are various shots of the American dancer Loïe Fuller in her famous veiled costumes (see post on June 7). One is signed by Fuller "A le [sic] maître Rodin," with the advice "Regardez de loin" (look at from a distance). Five other photographs, by Gabriel Loppé and Harry C. Ellis and now in the Musée d’Orsay, show Fuller in her veils dancing through a park. Three photographs by Brassaï titled Le phénomène de l'extase (The phenomenon of orgasm) show a woman reclined on a bed in a deathlike pose. These frame Man Ray's remarkable Femme (Woman, 1931), from the Bibliothèque nationale, made through a process Ray identified as "solarization." André Kertész's Paris, l'été un soir d'orage (Paris, in summer on a stormy night, 1925, from the Centre Pompidou) shows a lightning strike frozen behind the Tour Eiffel.

Most beautiful to me were the series of eight photographs by Man Ray of places in Paris and an interesting exposure of Fireworks (1934) that captured the explosion in an abstract and unusual way. As I looked at one of the Man Ray photographs, Place de la Concorde, Paris (1926, from the Bibliothèque nationale), showing the obelisk of the Place de la Concorde illuminated in the distance behind a darkened statue, I realized that it had been taken from a vantage point just outside the museum. Indeed, if you walk from the entrance of the Jeu de Paume and walk toward the Seine, you will find the statue of Hermes, with a crown and caduceus, on a winged horse in the foreground of the photograph and see the obelisk obscured behind it. As it turns out, there is now in that part of the park an installation of sculptures by Louise Bourgeois (Welcoming Arms, 1996), with disembodied arms in bronze attached to a handful of rock pedestals. There is one pedestal that holds up only a tiny bronze baby’s hand, which struck me as quite strange and lovely. As the wind whipped up and menacing clouds hurtled above the Paris skyline, I hurried off to the Palais Garnier (see post on July 11).

Both shows will remain open to the public at the Jeu de Paume until September 12.

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