France holds US artwork exhibition

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A rare exhibition on film and art on US artworks opens this week in Giverny, the leafy sprawling home of Impressionist giant Claude Monet.

23 July 2008

GIVERNY - Mr Bean wrecking a Whistler or Julia Roberts expounding on a Pollock: in much the way James Bond films help cocktail connoisseurs improve their drinks skills, Hollywood in the past half century has provided key insights into US art.

So says a rare exhibition on film and art opening this week outside Paris in Giverny, the leafy sprawling home of Impressionist giant Claude Monet.

"For Europeans, cinema is the quintessential US art form," said Sophie Levy, chief curator of the Musee d'Art Americain at Givenchy, whose aim is to promote the discovery of US art.

"But we were surprised to see how many Hollywood films actually featured US artworks, especially those made in the last 20 years."

Most film buffs will recall the devastating antics of Rowan Atkinson in the 1997 movie "Bean" by Mel Smith in which he sneezes over one of the greatest US paintings ever, the 1871 work "Whistler's Mother" by James McNeill Whistler.

Horrified, Bean whips out a handkerchief to wipe away the spit, but his pen had leaked on the hanky and he smudges the masterpiece blue. Matters predictably then go from bad to worse.

The "Rocky Horror Picture Show", the cult 1975 movie by Jim Sharman, features another iconic US masterpiece hanging prominently on a wall at Dr Frank-N-Furter's - the unsettling farming couple depicted in "American Gothic", a 1931 work by Grant Wood.

Brian de Palma ("Dressed To Kill"), Woody Allen ("Manhattan") and John Cassavetes ("Minnie and Moskowitz") all throw their characters into museums, with self-obsessed Allen and Diane Keaton musing on the "wonderful energy" of US oils from the 50s and 60s while analysing the ins and outs of their relationship.

"Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese are probably Hollywood's most expert art buffs," said the show's US-born curator Kathie Bourguignon.

Most works featured in the score of Hollywood movies showing at the exhibition, titled "American Art on the Silver Screen", are fakes, added Bourguignon. And some of the reproductions are not even in their original size but were re-formatted to fit into the decor.

The museum had hoped to include far more films from Hollywood at the exhibit, she added, but had stumbled on copyright issues and costs, with film companies demanding between EUR 500 and EUR 1,000 for every minute of footage shown. Disney had offered its footage free.

While in some films, art galleries or museums supply the backdrop to the plot, in others, art-works actually get star billing.

Julia Roberts, playing an art teacher in "Mona Lisa Smile", a film set in1953 by Mike Newell, walks her students into a warehouse to see the uncrating of a giant Jackson Pollock from 1950, titled Lavender Mist.

Faced by grumblings from the class about what they could possibly write about the abstract piece, Roberts says: "You are not required to write a paper ... you are simply required to consider it."

And "would you marry a girl that looks like that?" says a young man staring at a huge contemporary-style sculpture of a woman by Gaston Lachaise in "Shadows" by Cassavetes.

The show runs until 31 October.

[AFP / Expatica]

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