Listening in at the Pinacotheque de Paris

I go to Paris often to visit family, but I’d never been to the Pinacothèque de Paris until recently. What lured me there? The exhibition Modigliani, Soutine and the Legend of Montparnasse.

Exhibition announcement outside the Pinacothèque de Paris. Photo: Brooke Rosenblatt

Exhibition announcement outside the Pinacothèque de Paris. Photo: Brooke Rosenblatt

I’ve had a soft spot for Modigliani ever since the 2005 Phillips exhibition (and I suspect Paul does too). The Pinacothèque’s exhibition features the collection of Jonas Netter, a trademark agent who amassed his collection in Paris in the 1920s. His drawings and paintings by Modigliani blew me away! I also had my first opportunity to see a painting by Modigliani’s partner, Jeanne Hébuterne.

While I loved looking at the artwork, what surprised me most during my visit is the way that the Pinacothèque conducts tours. Not surprisingly, the exhibition was crowded–think wall-to-wall people. Entering one of the galleries, I saw a group of about twenty focused on what I presumed to be a tour guide. As an educator, I tend to be one of those people who glom onto tours, so I tried to listen in but didn’t hear anything. That’s when I realized everyone in the group was listening to the guide through a handheld device and headset.

I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t eavesdrop, but at the same time, this method was a revelation! The galleries were extremely full, and the Pinacothèque’s system provided a tour for those who wanted it, while not disturbing visitors who preferred to look at the art on their own. I spoke with the guide after the tour, and she confirmed that the devices deliver great sound quality.

The experience delighted me, especially as we have just started using assistive listening devices in the galleries at the Phillips. While we don’t yet have enough devices for each person on a tour to have his or her own, the system has been very well-received by those who have used it. Personally, I enjoy using it when I’m an a very crowded tour; it eliminates a lot of background noise and focuses me on the guide’s remarks.




The Metaphysical Architecture of Modigliani

Experiment Station readers may recall the Modigliani: Beyond the Myth exhibition at the Phillips in 2005. The past ten years has seen an increase of interest in Modigliani who was the subject of the Phillips show and three other major traveling exhibitions. Recently, D.C.-based biographer Meryle Secrest, who specializes in books on art world figures, such as Salvador Dali, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Sir Kenneth Clarke, completed a biography of Modigliani.

Secrest’s biography of Modigliani walks the tight rope between a scholarly and popular read. Secrest’s scholarly goal is to reveal that Modigliani, infamous for his self-destructive behavior that included prolific drug use and dissolute living leading to his tragic death at age 35, has not been properly recognized a tuberculosis sufferer. This disease, from which he suffered first as a child and ultimately contributed to his death, nearly killed him before he reached his 15th birthday. Consequently, Secrest writes about the disease extensively. One learns in great detail not just  how tuberculosis afflicted Modigliani the reason it was known as consumption: “because that’s what it did; immediately or by slow degrees, it would consume the lungs and infiltrate the body until the flesh had burned away and the victim could count his ribs.”

As an avid admirer of Modigliani and someone who tries to read everything I can about him, Secrest’s book was intriguing to me not because she offered new insights on his work, but rather because she helped me see his work in a new light. Continue reading