Paris: an artistic epicentre

Paris: an artistic epicentre

Paris: an artistic epicentre he ambitious nature of this confirms that, despite its title, this is exhibition can be inferred from far from being a p...

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Paris: an artistic epicentre

he ambitious nature of this confirms that, despite its title, this is exhibition can be inferred from far from being a predictable survey of its catalogue, which weighs in the arts in Paris between 1900 and at just under 3 kg. Not, therefore, a 1968. It has been conceived instead companionable guide, it is best as a sequence of dramatic spectacles. taken home and read at leisure. Its These respond to alterations in theme, various essays do, however, add to concept, and place, for the focus, as our understanding of what is surely we move round this exhibition, shifts the most challenging of all the city-based from Montmartre to Montparnasse, or country-based exhibitions mounted in recent years. Up until the outbreak of World War II, Paris reigned supreme as an artistic epicentre— the capital where one art movement after another broke explosively through the crust of pictorial conventions. Owing to its richness and variety, Ernest Hemingway called Paris “a moveable feast”. It was, and for many still is, as Gertrude Stein once said, “the place you had to go”. France produced some of the most famous artists of the 20th century. Many visitors may, therefore, come to this exhibition expecting to see the familiar, and will find it full of surprises. There is no hint, for example, of Picasso’s blue or rose periods, which are so much a part of Parisian history during the first decade of the 20th century. Instead, the visitor will encounter a handful of his lesser-known works, including a breathtakingly beautiful portrait of his wife, Olga, painted in Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Olga (1923) 1923. The generous scale of from Saint-Germain-des-Près to the this portrait and the mastery of its hanLatin Quarter. Inevitably, in paintings dling, convey Picasso’s genius, but the by Robert Delaunay and Marc Chagall, calmly academic manner betrays no hint we encounter the Eiffel Tower, which of the former revolutionary Cubist, who for some time after it was built detonated the Parisian art world with his (1887) remained the tallest structure in Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1906–07. Europe. It rapidly became a symbol, The absence of this major work again


THE LANCET • Vol 359 • March 16, 2002 •

not only of Paris but also of modernity, the two becoming linked in people’s minds. Outside the artistic cabaret Le Chat Noir, where Yvette Guilbert began her career, hung a notice: “Passant, sois moderne!” It is not surprising that when, in 1909, Filippo Marinetti decided to launch the noisy, anarchic Italian Futurist movement, which took its inspiration from modern urban life, he did so, not in Italy, but in Paris, publishing his Futurist Manifesto on the front page of Le Figaro. The city was also famous for its liberal tradition and for the safety it offered those fleeing religious or political persecution. The museums and free academies in Paris added to it attraction. In turn, the cultural richness of Paris owed much to its cosmopolitanism. Recognition of this diversity is apparent in the first room of this exhibition. Here it is not so much Picasso’s exercises in Toulouse-Lautrec’s style, nor even Matisse’s famous Carmelina, that dominate the room, but Kees van Dongen’s superb portrait of Picasso’s mistress, Fernande Olivier, and his equally striking portrait of the art dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. This is painting at its most vibrant. The absence of any work by the great primitive, the “Douanier” Rousseau, is an important omission. The admiration he aroused in Picasso and others fed the search for an innocent vision. The Cubists found all sorts of ways to refresh the act of looking and break away from tired methods of representation. Their paintings became sites where words and images meet, drawn and painted marks jostle with scraps of papier-collé. The arts were no longer exclusive. Gino Severini incorporated signs from the Metro in The Nord-Sud (Speed And Sound), while Erik Satie, in his music, borrowed Succession Picasso/DACS 2001

Paris: Capital of the Arts, 1900–1968 An exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, showing until April 19, 2002, and then at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, from May 21 to Sept 3, 2002.


For personal use. Only reproduce with permission from The Lancet Publishing Group.


is hard to keep hold of the importance of Paris. Only in the final room, when we reach the period that culminates in the events of May, 1968, does the city and its art come together again in a meaningful way. Throughout this artistic tour Paris can seem Janus-headed. We are reminded that it is a city associated with songs, dance, and pleasure in certain quarters with sexual pleasure, where art dealers can find a buoyant market for glowing nudes, like that painted by Modigliani in 1919. But it has also given rise to a darker vision, to the bleak absurdities of Samuel Beckett, to Chaim Soutine’s flayed carcasses and Jean Fautrier’s black paintings. After seeing this exhibition, the touristic image of “gay Paris” rings false. For the viewer comes away aware that the intellectual capital of Europe, this artistic beacon, has a shadowed heart. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

rhythms and harmonies from popular music. Suddenly the division between mass culture and fine art became blurred. All these changes suited the Dadaists and Surrealists who carried these revolutionary tactics further. In their desire to shock and disturb, they deliberately flouted expectations. Man Ray’s Cadeau is an example. Here an ordinary flat iron has a row of nails attached to Amedeo Modigliani, Reclining Nude (Le Grand Nu) (1919) its smooth base, making the concept of ironing an imaginative sombre protest, nothing quite makes up torture. It is odd to find these haunting for the absence of Picasso’s Guernica, works in the central gallery at the Royal produced in Paris in 1937. Nor do Academy, where they are surrounded the issues of mourning, memory, and by geometric abstraction from the midcontinuity that troubled postwar France 1930s. The point here is that the intercome across clearly in the mish-mash war period produced a simultaneity of styles that follow. The Parisian of modernist styles. Even so, it is imposinvolvement with existentialist philososible to enjoy Mondrian’s work fully phy would have been more forcefully when it is crammed together with work expressed if greater emphasis had been by lesser followers of his style. given to the work of Giacometti. And There are further problems with the then as we move through “tachisme” second half of this exhibition. Although into hard-edge abstraction, Op art, and the room acknowledging the period of Kinetic art—in other words movements German occupation is impressive in its that were part of international trends—it

Frances Spalding c/o The Lancet, London, UK

The Refractory Cancer: care or cure? “Cure the disease and kill the patient.” Essay 27, Francis Bacon (1561–1626)

t is reported that prevalence of psychiatric morbidity in doctors is high: in the UK, for example, suicide rates are twice the national average. Research has also shown, perhaps counterintuitively, that palliative oncologists suffer less stress and burnout than clinical oncologists. Could one reason be that caring brings greater satisfaction than the stress of striving to cure, which is often achieved by the administration of unpleasant, toxic treatments that can kill as well as cure, and certainly cause discomfort and pain to patients, whatever the outcome? The prevalent fashion of fighting disease also enlists the willing collusion of many patients. Might it be that those patients with latestage cancer who decide that they do not want to endure months of toxic effects for a very small percentage probability of cure or short life-exten-



sion, but choose instead to spend their remaining months supported by palliation and pain relief, have made a more tranquil adjustment to the certainty of death? On the other hand, should we deny the benefit of hope to those who wish to fight to the end? How far does appreciating the odds enter into such decision-making? Therapeutic choice should always be guided by a sensitivity to each patient’s preferred way of coping— fighting or accepting, rational or irrational, with understanding or in ignorance. Could it be that pain, total dependence, an undignified death, and imposing an enormous strain on a carer, are every individual’s unspoken fears, sparked alive at the moment of diagnosis. Perhaps such fears are why the public cannot discard cancer’s aura of doom and horror, despite improving cure rates? So for now we witness the continuing collusion

between patients and oncologists, backed up by pharmaceutical companies, to defeat this cellular rampage by drastic means. In many instances the result of this approach is that both parties (and the health system) pay a heavy price—emotionally and financially. Palliation’s essential goal of achieving peaceful dying and death is a necessary comfort to all those with a terminal disease. Juggling assessments about how to achieve good quality of life whilst striving to prolong life are utterly individual choices, can change over time, but, for the patient, certainly begin at the moment of being labelled with carcinoma, no matter how early or tenuous its legitimacy in the continuum of carcinogenesis. Learning to balance the disease’s dictates in partnership with empathetic oncologists is the best that patients can ask for. Perhaps palliation really begins at diagnosis if a caring approach predominates? Maybe therein lies the greater satisfaction? Refractor e-mail: [email protected]

THE LANCET • Vol 359 • March 16, 2002 •

For personal use. Only reproduce with permission from The Lancet Publishing Group.