A few weeks ago, I saw an ad in the Paris metro station for an exhibit in Marseilles on faces in modern and contemporary art. To my luck, I had plans to go Marseilles this month and friends there willing to go with me.
We visited “Visages, Picasso, Magritte, Warhol…” at Le Centre de la Vieille Charité, a former almshouse in the Panier (“basket”) neighborhood, the oldest part of the city. According to my friend, when he was a kid it was an unsafe area, and he hadn’t been back in at least twenty years. He was surprised to see how clean and calm it is today. We walked through narrow streets and past a pleasant café-strung terrace on the way to the museum. Le Centre de la Vieille Charité was much bigger than I expected. It’s not simply a building, but rather four beautifully arcaded sides surrounding a large courtyard and dome. The soft-colored stone and wide round arches create an ambiance that impressed and charmed me in a different way than the grand gold décor and molding that can be found in many other French buildings. In this courtyard, I felt that I could breathe. The space has a quiet beauty.The exhibit itself did not disappoint. It was organized into three themes: faces of society, faces of intimacy, and faces of the mind and spirit.
The faces of society included paintings and blown-up photos of street scenes from post-World War I up to today. When I saw the Jean-Michel Basquiat at the end of the room, I said, “Now that’s what I came for.” Some time ago, the Pompidou museum had a Basquiat painting on display, but since they rotate their permanent collection every couple of years, it wasn’t there the last time I went. I took the opportunity to experience the one in Marseilles from near and afar.
The faces of intimacy focused more on solitary figures and at times, solitude. My friend pointed out a work that was inspired by “Ooper.”
Who? I asked.
Ooper. Remember when we saw his paintings at the MoMA in New York?
I leaned over to look at the label. “Oh, HOPPER.”
The third group had a bit of magic, fantasy, and illusion from surrealism and the contemporary period. Have you ever seen a Giorgio Di Chirico painting? When I stand in front of one, I always feel like I could step into the scene—that’s how masterfully he creates an atmosphere that is unreal and real at the same time. I find something exciting about his scenes in the blue night.
A leisurely breakfast that morning, a last-minute run to buy flowers before a stop at my friend’s mom’s house for Mother’s Day, and a savory and sweet crepe for lunch meant that we didn’t get to visit the works in Vieille Charité’s dome because I had to catch my train back to Paris. Ah, well. I love looking at the faces of Picasso’s dames, but spending time with real faces is a treat too.