Photo of the Week

ParisUpdate-ParisNight

The view from the Théâtre de l"Odéon at dusk. Photo: Françoise Deberdt-Meunier

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Paris Update What’s On

Links to events happening this week in Paris.

Left Bank gallery crawl
> Open house at 50 galleries for Art Saint Germain des Prés. Various venues, Paris, May 18-June 3.

Gold in galleries

ParisUpdate-CarreRiveGauche-Passage AH 0

“Passage” ((2017), by Aude Herlédan. At 1831 Art Gallery during Carré Rive Gauche.

> The Carré Rive Gauche, an association of Left Bank galleries, celebrates its 40th anniversary with an event called ExtrORdinaire, featuring gold in works of art. Various venues, Paris, May 18-June 3.

Literary evening
> The Nuit de la Littérature in Belleville and Ménilmontant presents 20 foreign authors reading their work in French. Various venues, Paris, May 27.

 English-language theater festival
> Paris Fringe returns for its second year of English-language theater and comedy. Various venues, Paris, May 18-28.

Hollywood glam
> Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich and more in classic films from Hollywood's Golden Age for the Glamour cycle. Forum des Images, Paris, May 3-31.

French film with English subtitles
> Lost in Frenchlation shows Etienne Comar’s Django, preceded by a themed cocktail party (€4.50). Studio 28, Paris, May 26.

Virtual reality
> Drop in on Saturday or Sunday from 2pm to 8pm for a free virtual trip at the VR Express festival. Forum des Images, Paris, through June 30.

Dance in historic sites
> Monuments en Mouvement offers free dance performances in national monuments like the Pantheon in Paris, the Abbaye de Cluny and châteaux. Various locations, through Oct. 21.

African culture festival
> The 100% Afriques festival showcases dance, theater, music, fashion, design, art, food and more from all over the continent. La Villette, Paris, through May 28.

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Hot Topics - C'est ironique !

 

Checking Out the Action at the Auction House

It’s Amazing the Crap
People Will Buy – Twice

Paris Update Botero Pool Dogs

Where else can you find a genuine Botero hanging right next to a dogs-playing-pool painting?

I happen to live just a few blocks away from Paris’s main auction house, Salle Drouot, and I like to drop in once in a while to see what’s on sale. Admission is free, and with all the diverse and sundry stuff on view it’s like visiting either the world’s most luxurious flea market or the world’s motliest museum.

On most days there are a half-dozen auctions and another half-dozen rooms where you can peruse the goods to be offered in upcoming auctions. On my most recent visit, there was a room full of jewelry:

Paris Update Jewelry

17, 28, 55, 69... If they were prices instead of lot numbers, some of these baubles would be in my price range.

...a room full of books:

Paris Update Drouot Books

Just a bunch of old books. But take a closer look at that tome in the upper right...

Paris Update Astrologie Judiciaire

Published in 1739, it contains a treatise on “astrologie judiciaire” – “legal astrology.” Must have been the 18th-century equivalent of DNA testing.

...a room full (and I mean full) of Oriental rugs:

Paris Update Rugs

Can you believe it? They wouldn’t let me in just because I was carrying a large takeout coffee and having a sneezing fit. Go figure.

...and a couple of estate sales whose inventory could only be described as “miscellaneous”:

Paris Update Teddy Bears

Right next to these slobber-stained teddy bears was a batch of sorry “Surrealist” paintings...

Paris Update Dali Imitator

Lot number 143: an ounce of skill, a gram of imagination, and a metric ton of admiration for Salvador Dalí.

The crowd at Drouot – and it’s always crowded – is every bit as miscellaneous as the merchandise, but essentially it breaks down into three groups of approximately equal size. First there are the gawkers, like me, who are there merely to see what there is to see. Then there are the collectors and bargain hunters who come to bid at the auctions.

And the third group is the professionals, the dealers in antiques, collectibles, objets d’art and art, who are there to get their hands on underpriced items that they can resell for a profit. Naturally, these people approach the whole experience differently. For them, time is money. Although judging from the way some of them behave, time must also be food, sex and possibly air.

I wouldn’t call them rude. I would call them rude merdeheaded jerks who can kiss my asking price.

I’ve been going to Salle Drouot off and on for more than 20 years, and there are always a few pros who seem to resent the fact that the place is open to the public. They are not shy about shoving people out of their way to get into a crowded auction room. Or hurling insults at anyone who has the audacity to complain about their audacity.

Exacerbating this situation, Salle Drouot has the narrowest escalators in town. They’re only wide enough for one non-Boteroesque person per step, and yet some of the serious auction-goers somehow manage to run up and down, plowing through the throng like a bull in a china shop. Or a jerk in an auction house.

After nosing around, and getting professionally elbowed, for half an hour, I decided to stay put for a while and watch an auction in progress. The one I picked was selling off the resalable chattels of a branch of a prominent family of French industrialists.

Judging from the fact that their artworks, furniture, silver, crystal, clocks and keepsakes were on sale in an auction house, I would have to guess that the family members who owned the stuff are now deceased. And judging from some of the artworks, I would have to guess that at least one of them died of bad taste.

Most of the paintings were actually quite good, although not outstanding, and sold for around €200 apiece. But it seemed that as soon as a truly heinous waste of canvas came up for sale, the bidding went through the roof.

This painting was offered at €50 and sold for €800:

Paris Update Crap Painting 800 euros

I don’t know which is worse: the painting itself or this photo of it from Drouot’s online catalogue.

This indifferent vase of flowers sold for €3,000, up from the starting price of €100:

Paris Update Mediocre Painting

It has a kind of Matisse-y quality, I guess, but I didn’t see what the fuss was about.

But the painting that I would have nominated for the Stomach Turner Prize fetched the highest price of all, selling for €6,000. Here it is on the Salle Drouot Web site:

Paris Update Frightening Painting

Suggestion for the Drouot “To-Do List”: find someone who knows how to use a camera.

If that grotesquerie had been hanging in my house when I was a child, I would still be in therapy. And this was not the only disquieting item in the sale. There were hundred of lots, comprising thousands of pieces, some of which were, to put it diplomatically, pretty freaking weird.

Three of them in particular caught my eye, starting with this paragon of fine traditional craftsmanship:

Paris Update Carved Cow Skull

Let’s be generous and call it a “decorative piece.”

And the osseous relics on offer extended beyond the bovine family. In a display case nearby was this precious curio:

Paris Update Bone Model

As Jack Kerouac would have said, looks like a hip joint.

Wouldn’t that make a nice paperweight? Or bludgeon?

But strangest of all was this – and I choose the term carefully – thing:

Paris Update Daphne Coffin

I hope it’s a carrying case, but it sure looks like a burying case.

This raises several questions:

What exactly happened to little Daphné?

Was that hip bone hers?

Is the rest of her still in there?

I never did find out the whole story – before the Daphné casket came under the gavel, I had had enough of the close air, close quarters and close calls with pitiless pros and decided to get out of there.

I came away empty-handed, but with a full wallet. And a new understanding of the expression “skeletons in the closet.”

Note: In a bald-faced violation of C’est Ironique policy, here is some actual useful information: Salle Drouot is located at 9, rue Drouot in the 9th arrondissement, Métro Richelieu-Drouot, and is open Monday through Saturday, 11am to 6pm. Most of the auctions start at 2pm.

David Jaggard

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