Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Fellini, La Grande Parade, Jeu de Paume
Given the paucity of exhibitions in Paris this Fall, despite my reluctance, I went to the latest installation at the Jeu de Paume: “Fellini, La Grande Parade”. The text at the entrance to the exhibition announces that it is a visual laboratory of moving and still images, texts and sounds, by and about the great Italian film director, Federico Fellini. Even though it is one of the only national museums in Paris that exhibits contemporary art, on hearing of this as a planned exhibition I was skeptical. I wondered why we needed to visit and exhibition of Fellini paraphernalia rather than go to see his films.
Unfortunately, my reservations were well-founded. Rather than a visual laboratory —which gives the impression of a kind of experimentation through juxtaposition of different media to create surprising results — Fellini: La Grande Parade, might better be described as an overwhelming and incoherent cocktail of image forms.
What I find most disturbing about these exhibitions at major Paris museums and galleries is that the images are completely emptied of all value. (See my review of the recent Warhol exhibition at the Grand Palais) And so clips of Fellini’s own films, those he admired, documentaries about him, about Anita Eckberg, and about Marcello Mastroianni are represented on large flat-screen monitors or scrims in very poor reproduction. This representation might be conceptually challenging, but the image is so impoverished through reproduction and editing that even Fellini’s biggest fans will not want to watch the clips from beginning to end. The curators proudly announce that this “visual cocktail” is not in any particular order, certainly not chronological. While they might see this as a drawcard, for visitors to the exhibition, the lack of explanation, context and logic to the installations results in a bombardment of texts and images —from magazines, journals, newspapers, and so on — that had this viewer losing interest very quickly. It is true that the energy of the exhibition evokes Fellini’s enthusiasm for life, but the conglomeration of display objects became one big blur after the first couple of rooms. However, this said, the one set of images I was delighted to see were Fellini’s famous dream books. Fellini’s recording of his dreams in pen, ink, and gouache are both aesthetically sumptuous and fascinating. This said, however, the content is still no more revealing than any of his films —the proliferation of over-sized women’s breasts and buttocks in the dream images comes as no surprise.
Ultimately, my question was answered: Parisians and tourists alike would do well to spend their time at Place de la Concorde by having coffee in the Tuileries. And then, those in search of Fellini magic should head down to the Cinémathèque to see the complete retrospective of the great filmmaker’s work. Certainly, there is nothing on display at the Jeu de Paume that will give greater insight into Fellini or his filmmaking than watching 81/2 and La Dolce Vita again.