Paris’ place at the centre of the art world hardly needs any introduction, and we’re certainly going to remind you that the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou (to put them in chronological order) are all worth a visit if you’re a first time visitor to Paris. If you needed another excuse, all three are within easy reach of the Marais (especially the last).
But if photography is your thing, rather than painting and sculpture, then you might prefer the Jeu de Paume, a gallery with an interesting past in the north-west corner of the Jardin des Tuilieries. Originally opened in 1861 to house real tennis courts (the game is called ‘jeu de paume’ in French, hence the name), it became home to art works stolen from Jewish owners during the German occupation of Paris in the Second World War. After the war, it showcased some of France’s finest impressionist paintings, which subsequently became the backbone of the Musée d’Orsay’s collection across the river.
Last year’s Diane Arbus retrospective at the Jeu de Paume photography gallery was a sell-out success, with her black-and-white photos of some of the darker, seedier elements of 1950s and 1960s Americana seeming strangely out of place in the middle of the Tuileries.
It seems the curators are keen to repeat their success with their latest retrospective, which covers work by Berenice Abbott, another female American photographer. Born in 1898, Abbott came to Paris to learn her trade in the 1920s, shooting alongside Man Ray before becoming a successful portrait photographer.
Some of her best-known work, however, is found in the ‘Changing New York’ series, a collection commissioned as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal programme. If some of the photos seem familiar, that’s partly because they’ve achieved iconic status in their own right, but also because they are as fresh a look at New York City as they were eighty years ago. And as with Arbus, seeing these very American photographs in the centre of Paris makes for an arresting contrast.
WHAT: ‘Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), Photographs’ temporary exhibition
WHERE: Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, 1, place de la Concorde, métro Concorde
WHEN: until 29 April 2012 (other exhibitions to follow)