Hey Doll!

During our mid-August break, we visited the Musée de la Poupée Paris which this year, is celebrating its 20th birthday with a permanent collection of more than 600 dolls, created from 1800 to 1959. There are wax dolls, porcelain dolls, wooden, cloth, rubber, celluloid, plastic dolls; creepy ones, googly – eyed ones, disturbingly realistic and adorable ones. I hope you enjoy this time-travel back to the age of innocence, as much as we did!

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But that is not all! For, as you know, in this world, there are dolls and, then, there is:

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Coming up!

Paris, 14 August 2014

Shared photo credits  (Konstantinos & Lia)

Views from the Promenade Plantée, Paris

Recently, I had a lovely five-day-long – mid-August ”weekend” in Paris; which is very unusual, because August in Europe hits the top holiday high, with millions travelling in all directions. In August, all motor-, air-, and sea-ways are stretched to breaking -or sinking- point with sunny resorts flooded by crashing waves of holidaymakers seeking their perceived little piece of paradise.

So, while I usually duck out and away from all the madness, embracing the rare calmness and luxury of a deserted city all to myself, for the second  time as far as I can remember (the first was back in 2012), I broke the monotony and took a little trip to Paris. Not far, but 300 km and 1h 40m on a packed highspeed train was the farthest I would go before becoming a very grumpy old lady indeed.

Actually, it proved to be a great idea; while Parisians were busy making their hasty retreat to said paradise, I got to enjoy a view of Paris rarely seen: quiet, peaceful, eerie, gorgeous!

Although I have been to Paris many times, there is something about this city I can’t quite grasp yet; familiar yet strange, friendly yet distant; but always fascinating, like a mysterious creature peeking elegantly behind a multi-layer veil, prompting me to uncover – and discover its charms.

Like when we  climbed the stairs of the Viaduct des Arts to the elevated promenade that runs over 4,5 km from the Bastille Opera almost until the Bois de Vincennes to the east; the Promenade Plantée (Planted Promenade) also called Coulée Vert (Green Stream).

Built on the tracks of a disused railway, part of a larger construction that connected Paris with Strasbourg, it was used by freight carriers between 1859 and 1969 then left abandoned for almost twenty years, until plans were laid to convert it into a park. The first part opened in 1989 and the whole route was completed by 1994.

It became the world’s first elevated park and, a few years later, inspired Manhattan’s famous Highline.

The elevated part of the promenade is 1,5 km long, running between the Bastille Opera and Jardin de Reuilly. From there on, it descents to street level, passing successively through an ultra urban office building plaza, some wide, well-lit and frequented tunnels and a nature path, before splitting at the level of Avenue Général Michel Bizot. The trail we took brought us to, yet another, park (Square Charles Péguy) and a community garden, shared by schools and local residents.

All along, the view is nothing less than spectacular:

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This is the Police Station of Paris 12th arrondisemment. Designed by architect Manolo Núñez Yanowsky, with copies of Michaelangelo’s “The Dying Slave” sticking out from its top floor, this must be one of the weirdest architecture designs for a police building, in the world!

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Walking on Boulevard Soult  towards the Bois de Vincennes, an impressive monument preceded by an uncanny street ”installation”:

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Sitting on the top end of a square lined with palm trees, the gold statue of La France Colonisatrice, fashioned after the goddess Athena; a monument remaining from the Colonial Exhibition, in 1931.

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Paris, 13-18 August 2014

Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

Shani Rhys James |What do Artists do all day?

Have you ever wondered? The recent BBC Four art series offers stimulating answers and draws intimate portraits of the daily lives and work of leading artists.

In the episode I just watched, Shani Rhys James, who is described as one of the most exciting and successful Welsh painters of her generation but is actually Australian (born in Melbourne in 1953), lets us in her 17th-century house and barn in Llangadfan, mid-Wales, which she shares with her husband Stephen West – also an artist.

Over a cup of  coffee, which our hostess grinds manually in our presence, we watch her preparing for an exhibition in Aberystwyth, talking about her latest obsession with flock wallpaper, her childhood memories and first impressions of London, her mother who was an actress – now in her ’80s, her inspirations, fears  and pre-occupations, her work – her life.

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Shani Rhys James, Head 05 no.2 (2005). Three self portraits.

”Concepts; My desire is to produce powerful, emotional paintings which are read for their content, their colour and their abstract elements. I have to be emotionally and mentally taken over by my paintings. They are seemingly direct; I paint about the studio, the kitchen, the artist, my children, childhood memories, so imaginative and observational elements co-exist in each work”. – Shani Rhys James

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Shani Rhys James, Yellow Wallpaper I (2011)

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Shani Rhys James, Skinny Rib (2012). The Artist’s mother in a 60s top with a large bouquet of white lilies on a red flock wallpaper background.

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Shani Rhys James, The Hand Mirror (1996)

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Shani Rhys James, Red Ground II (2014)

This painting was but a bright red background when the episode started. We watched the little girl’s head hesitantly taking shape, while the  Artist pondered how the background should be filled. In the end she decided to keep it monochrome but the episode ended before we could see the finished work.

It is on display from 7 June to 7 September 2014 at the Dean Clough Gallery in Halifax and on the BBC website.

Shani Rhys James is represented by the Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff. More of her work can be viewed on Axisweb.

What do Artists do all day? series is available on YouTube by Art Documentaries.

 

The Flatiron Triangle & A bite of Eataly

At the triangle formed by 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue and Broadway, facing Madison Square Park and pointing directly at the Empire State Building, stands one of New York’s most iconic skyscrapers – the Flatiron Building.

Built in 1902, at 20 floors and 285 ft (approx. 87 m) it was not the first nor the tallest skyscraper in New York – but it was certainly the first triangular one. Actually, another floor was added in 1905 raising it to 21 floors and 307 ft (93 m) height. Which explains why in order to reach the top floor, one has to take a second lift from the 20th. But it doesn’t necessarily explain why the bottoms of the windows are chest-high making it impossible to enjoy the magnificent view unless standing up.

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Flatiron Building in early stage of construction, Fifth Avenue and Broadway, New York City. 1902.

Designed by architect Daniel Burnham from Chicago, with influences from the Beaux-Arts architecture (a late form of Neoclassicism where Greek and Roman models are combined with Renaissance forms) and built by George A. Fuller, a construction company also based in Chicago.

Its peculiar form and postcard-perfect structure has inspired countless artists, photographers, filmmakers and travellers like us who, camera on hand, hope to catch its geometrical magnificence from every possible angle.

Although it was named ”Flatiron” the building is not an isosceles triangle (a triangle with at least two equal sides) like a real flatiron for cloths, but a right triangle:

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Floorplan of one of the Flatiron building’s floors from a 1902 issue of architectural digest. Found in a very interesting article by R. Grigonis regarding history and myths around the Flatiron Building: http://www.interestingamerica.com/2011-01-03_Flatiron_Building_New_York_by_R_Grigonis.html

Depending on where one stands, it may look like a normal building or a thin, flat wall – like being in an IMAX theatre having an intriguing real-life 3D movie experience.

Looking at its curvy vertex, I was wondering what it would be like to work in one of the ”point” offices. Being a working space it is not open for viewing but I gather from different articles that, because the building is so narrow, most of the offices are flooded with light which helps create a pleasant working environment; but, on the other hand, its structure favours a number of atypical spaces which not only make it difficult to fit modern office furniture but also discourage casual contact between staff. And, oddly, the bathrooms alternate by floor – men’s rooms on even, women’s rooms on odd floors. Not the most user-friendly office building but only a small inconvenience considering that workers spend a big part of their day in one of New York’s – and indeed the world’s – most recognisable buildings!

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Flatiron Building today from same angle: Fifth Avenue and Broadway, New York City. 2014.

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The other reason why you should visit this part of Manhattan is just across the street and is called Eataly. The grandest and finest food emporium dedicated to Italian gastronomy, with more food shelves, stalls and gourmet restaurants than you would normally expect to find in a small Italian town, all brought together under one roof.

The variety and quality of products neatly displayed in stacks, refrigerators, on ice or pallets, spread over an indoor area of  50,000 ft² (4,600 m2), is so dizzying you’d be excused for forgetting what it was you came in for, in the first place!

Actually, Eataly is a chain with Chicago being the largest in the USA (at 63,000 ft² – 5,850 m2) and Rome accommodating its Megastore in a staggering 170,000 ft² (15,800 m2)-large abandoned Air Terminal of the Ostiense railway station. Considering the scale difference, why Rome would need an Italian food market larger than Piazza del Popolo escapes me, but these are the facts.

So bedazzled were we at Eataly that, after the first few rounds we decided to keep it simple and settled for a salad of the freshest seasonal vegetables and a crunchy bruscheta del giorno, at Le Verdure. But the real treat was a homemade, wonderfully creamy gelato (right next to the entrance on the 5th Avenue) with vanilla and salted caramel flavours, washed down with an Italian latte. Mouthwatering bliss!…

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The Flatiron Building,
175 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York

EATALY,
200 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York

Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

New York, 3 June 2014