Saturday, April 11, 2015

Out & About: Exhibits: Au Temps de Klimt

There is no excuse for being bored in Paris.  None.  Zero.
     So it's off  to an exhibition on Klimt and his fellow artists of Austria’s Secession Movement, which is to say their equivalent of Art Nouveau.  It blossomed from around the turn of the century to the beginning of World War I, whose grim realities put an end to the gilt and carefree-ness of the Art Nouveau period.
     The show displays 15 of Klimt’s major works, including Judith, Salome and especially his Beethoven friezes.  These are artworks that won’t be seen outside Austria for the coming decade, so it was a perfect opportunity for me, especially as I live only five Métro stations away.
     In addition to Klimt, there are works by most of the other artists you may have heard of - Mucha, Egon Schiele, Moll, Kokoschka... - and many you probably haven’t.  180 documents, photos and artworks in all.
     The first room is dedicated to works on Paris, including Klimt’s “Philosophy”, which won the gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris.  Then a few steps down brings visitors face to face with Klimt’s three huge Beethoven friezes. In the background, an audio system plays The Ode To Joy because the friezes were meant to personify the composer’s 9th Symphony.  The first frieze is women floating at the top of the room, their bodies elongated, their eyes closed.  Are they sleeping?  Are they wingless angels?  And who is the golden knight they are flying toward.  The middle frieze is the strangest to me.  Beautiful women, except for an old tart with a paunching stomach and sagging breasts - perhaps the future for all those beautiful women? - and in the foreground a hairy babboon.  Evidently these are the dark forces:  the Gorgons with their snake hair-do, and next to them Typhoeus, the deadliest monster of Greek mythology.   The last frieze is salvation through the Arts, and it’s mostly gold and gems.  The audio-guide comes in handy here; otherwise you’ll miss all the meaning.
     About halfway through the show are the other famous gilded works by Klimt:  Judith and Salome.  His two femmes fatales.  Judith leaning her head back lasciviously, eyes almost closed, her neck made longer by a bejeweled golden necklace, her vest open to reveal one alabaster breast. Salome with her lover’s head almost absent-mindedly dangling by its hair from her clutching fingers.  (In fact, Salome is a second Judith here, a case of mistaken identity.)
     There are other portraits by Klimt at the end of the show. Especially one in a black frame that is entrancing:  “Head of a young woman, full face”, her riveting eyes holding you spellbound.  At least they did me.  (I remember it as being in color, but could only find this image of it in black-and-white.  Wonder which it really was.)
     The show also features many lithographs by Kokoschka and drawings by Egon Schiele, as well as very early photographs by various artists.  One theme is trees in landscapes, with works by Moser - including his exceedingly minimalist “Mountainsides” - and Rudolf Jettmar’s strange “Mountain Lake” that is hard to decipher and far more modern than most of the other works in the exhibition.
     For those of you who like pottery, there are several groupings of ceramics by Powolny.  For statuary, there’s Beethoven - to go with the friezes - plus a few other historic figures.  Art Nouveau furniture is also on display here... and if you like it, I suggest you visit the Orsay Museum’s furniture section, often overlooked.

The only setback to this show - and indeed to the entire “museum” - would be if you’re claustrophobic.  The Pinacothèque is a dark and crowded space.  A non-museum created by a man in love with art, it stretches twistingly over the ground floor (and basement level, not used here) of an office building in the very center of Paris.  Its layout is a bit strange, a succession of interconnecting niches, some of which require a switch-back, retracing your steps against the onslaught, much like a salmon trying to swim upstream.
     So far this has been a very popular show, so come armed with patience, both in the line outside of the Pinacothèque and as you snake your way through the exhibition.

Egon Schiele

Au Temps de Klimt:
La sécession à Vienne

Pinacothèque de Paris
8 rue Vignon; 9è
Métro: Madeleine

Feb 12 - June 21, 2015
Daily 10:30-6:30 / Wed & Fri open until 8:30 pm

14 & 11.50 €

A video of the show.  The text is in French, but the images aren't

And another video to explain the Beethoven Friezes:

Friday, April 3, 2015

Recipe of the month: Navarin d'agneau printanier

Lamb.  You either love it or you hate it.
     But I’m ready to bet that if you hate it, you’ve probably only had it over-boiled and served up with mint sauce.  So here’s a chance to try it à la française.
Mont Saint Michel's prés salés
     The French are very proud of their lamb.  And rightly so.  There’s little as delicious and succulent as a lamb who’s been fed on the prés salés, the salt meadows around Mont St. Michel that are under seawater when the tide is high, giving them a delicate, built-in and all-natural saltiness.
     Some of the best I’ve ever eaten was a leg or shoulder of lamb with cloves of garlic tucked into little incisions and then oven-roasted until the skin was golden and crisp.  And then there’s méchoui - a whole lamb on a spit over a fire pit that is slow-roasted all day, al fresco, a tradition repatriated from the ex-French colonies of North Africa and which I enjoyed recently on a trip to Cuba.
     This year Easter falls conveniently in April.  So let’s prepare one of France’s Easter favorites:  lamb with new spring vegetables.  If you’re Christian, this will work in perfectly with the concept of The Lamb of God.  If you’re not, it’s just a spring dish of wonderful things that are at their prime in this season.

  • 3 lb shoulder or neck of lamb cut into large pieces, with bones
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 garlic cloves 
  • a large sprig or two of fresh rosemary (or 1 t dried rosemary)
  • bay leaf
  • salt & freshly ground pepper.
  • ½ bottle of light red wine
  • 6 young carrots, cut in half
  • 6 small young turnips, cut in half
  • 12 spring onions
  • 8-12 tiny new potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • 2 good handfuls (½ c) of fresh shelled peas

Ask the butcher to cut the lamb into 2-3 inch pieces.  Some bones can be left to add to the taste.
- In a skillet, sauté the lamb pieces in ½ butter ½ olive oil until they are well-browned on all sides.
- Put the l
amb into a large stew pot or Dutch oven and sauté the onion in the same pan you used for the lamb.
- When the onion is translucent, add in the whole cloves of garlic, letting them cook for just a minute or two.  (Garlic contains a lot of sugar and it burns very quickly.)
- Put the onion and garlic into the Dutch oven with the lamb.
- Add just enough of the wine to cook off the drippings from the bottom of pan.  These will add lots of flavor to the stew.  Pour the gravy over the lamb and vegetables in the Dutch oven.
- Add the rosemary and bay leaf, plus some sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Pour in the rest of the wine, cover and let simmer for 1 to 1 1/4 hour.  If the liquid is getting low, add a bit more wine, as needed.  (Remember:  the alcohol will cook off, so this dish is fine for children.)
- When the meat is almost done, put the spring onions, carrots, turnips and potatoes into a separate pan and brown them for 10-15 minutes in ½ butter ½ olive oil.
- Blanch the peas in boiling salted water for 5 minutes.  Drain them well.  (If you do this ahead of time, be sure to leave them in the colander under cold running water for 2-3 minutes to stop the cooking and keep the peas bright green.  Then you can set them aside until you’re ready for them.)
- Add the vegetables and the peas on top of the meat and let them steam for about 10 minutes.
- Arrange the meat on a platter and decorate with a few sprigs of curly parsley.  Serve the vegetables in a large tureen or other deep serving dish.
- You can strain the gravy if you want, but personally I like those little crunchy bits.  Pour it over the meat or the vegetables or both... or serve it separately.
Serves 6.

If you want to make this more of a provençal dish, just after you’ve sautéed the onion, add some fresh tomatoes, skinned, seeds squeezed out, and the tomato “meat” cut into 8.
     If you can’t find spring vegetables, you can always use bigger ones cut into pieces.  And frozen peas can be substituted, if necessary.
     If you’re pressed for time, you can make the stew part ahead of time and just heat it up while you’re browning the vegetables.
     The perfect wine with “the delicate flavor of young spring lamb”, according to Julia Child, would be a Bordeaux-Médoc.  Pick a good year.