The time I visited Le Jardin de'Hiver

In March of 2007, I and some friends rented an apartment in Paris for two weeks. I blogged about visiting the Pompidou Center...


We went to the Pompidou Center today. I'm glad we made it; I had suspected we might not. It's right in our neighborhood, just a few blocks away, so we walk by it almost every day, which makes it easily disregardable.

I was hungover and headachy today (my traveling companions all drink more than I, so I tend to drink with them); spent the morning recovering on the couch, and got up with what one of my companions described as 'dandelion hair'. All of which is to say, that I did not do the Pompidou full justice, but rather focused on the 4th floor: contemporary art from the 1960s to the present.

Much of this floor showcased pieces that defined or engulfed space; that were rooms unto themselves, or larger than human scale, often in three dimensions. My immediate and clear favorite was Le Jardin d'Hiver, by Jean Dubuffet. Since I'm a philistine, I only knew Dubuffet's name from a line from a King Missile song:

Why not just once
Try to live a day
In a leisurely way
Like in those paintings
by Dubuffet

And actually, now that I've seen some of Dubuffet's work, I have no fucking idea what King Missile was singing about, because Dubuffet's paintings are anything but leisurely. They're full of crazy primordial energy, reminiscent of Haring in their simplicity of line and shape. Big, abstract, curves with fat black ruled outlines.

What made Le Jardin d'Hiver so entertaining to me is that it's a three dimensional representation of Dubuffet's very two dimensional style of art. Dubuffet has built - or perhaps 'extruded' would be a better word - a grotto with curved edges and pitted, irregular surfaces, painted it all white, and drawn thick black lines around all the bas relief.

The photo doesn't really do justice to the depth of the divots, bumps, channels and valleys in the walls and floor, but basically, it's a fun-house representation of his work. And you get to walk inside it. It's like entering an acid trip cartoon version of a cavern on the moon. In Dubuffet's translation of two dimensions to three, he questions not only the function of art, but the very idea of a room, or made space.

I found this piece so compelling that I wanted desperately to be part of it. If I lived in Paris I would have gone home, made a matching costume, come back, and spent the day inside it. I settled for finding a me-sized divot opposite the entrance, and sitting cross legged inside it. Then, I waited. When people entered, I watched them curiously, as part of the art would, unafraid of making eye contact because I belonged. Two teenage girls left hastily and I wondered if I might not be frightening people; me, with my dandelion hair, crouched in a crater, still, but coiled, like a wildman prepared to spring...

I moved on. But next time, costume.