Monday, June 18, 2012

A Shocking Exhibition

On the third day of the trip, we continued to check off visiting the “must see” sights of Paris by going to the Orsay and the Arc de eTriomph.  The weather was sketchy, clouds, wind and periodic showers punctuated by a little sunshine at the end.

The Orsay is such a different museum than the Louvre.  Housed in a renovated train station, it is full of light and easy to navigate.  The collection basically consists of art associated with the Impressionists and going forward.

This year, the special exhibit was nude women painted by Degas and it was positively shocking.   Degas never intended most of the images—paintings, monotypes and other kinds of media—to be displayed. They were discovered in his studio after his death.  And I can imagine why.  Perhaps the most graphic was a sex scene among women. While the commentary claimed the image was ambiguous, it wasn’t. 

Grad students lecture in the rain on a bridge over the Seine
There was image after image of women in brothels including an image of a man waiting for a women and the women waiting for clients.  One picture is informally called “The Rape,” and depicted a scene that the commentary said was probably just after an act of sexual violence.  The whole collection was kind of like discovering that Mark Twain had written a trunk load of pornographic novels.

The commentary noted that in this period there was a shift and the goal of art was no longer to capture beauty but truth.  And while Degas was going for the “real”—he urged Gervex to add a woman’s robe and corset to the picture Rolla, which shows a women sprawled on a bed with a fully clothed man standing by, to make it more realistic--I am not sure about what “truth” is contained in these pictures.  Maybe just that men objectify women.

Students politely listen in the rain
After the Orsay, we came to what for me is one of the best parts of the trip.  The  have graduate students, lecture about Zola’s novel The Masterpiece. The Seine river plays an important role in the novel and the lecture is delivered on a bridge crossing the river.  As the grad students talk about the Seine, the students can look at it themselves.  Yes, Paris is our classroom.

Our official LOYOLA U!
We finish the final part of the program by going to the Arc de Triomphe.  Paris has at least four great “vista” sights and this is one of the them.  It was also the perfect place to do what has now become a tradition of the students spelling out Loyola in countries they are visiting.  There was a little controversy about adding the U-- nobody wanted to do it--but I think it came out great.

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