Letter from Paris

How do we think of the future today? In all probability, not very differently from the way we did 100 years ago. This comes to mind after visiting an exhibition titled «Le futurisme a Paris – une avant-garde explosive» – running until 26 January 2009 – which is on display on the top floor of Centre Pompidou.  The heavy metal gizmos of steamship funnels, steel joints and oil refinery tubing, also known as the Beaubourg to its 8 million annual visitors, used to symbolize the future just a few years ago. At least that was what was said in 1977, when the Pompidou Center (constructed 1971-1977) was inaugurated near Les Halles and the Marais, as the 21st century gargle of modernity. Not long after the end of the 1990s, it became a noted attraction in Paris. The center, today past the age of novelty but well into respectable middle age, was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, the British architect couple Richard and Sue Rogers and Irish structural engineer Peter Rice. The exhibition «Futurism in Paris» marks the centenary of the publication of Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto on the front page of the daily Le Figaro on February 20, 1909. The first avant-garde movement of the 20th century, Futurism wanted to break with the past and its legacy in order to reflect the advent of a new world characterized by technology, the energy of crowds and the hectic activity of the modern metropolis. With more than 200 artworks and contemporary documents, this exceptional exhibition invites us to consider – or, rather, re-consider – the status of the future in our own time. Greece is participating in this exhibition with two paintings on loan from the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki. «Study for a Portrait» and «Traveling Man» by Liubov Popova (created 1914 -1915) have journeyed from Thessaloniki to the top floor above the Place Baubourg and its magnificent view of the grays and browns of Paris’s rooftops. Now, let us cast our minds back on the audacious story of how Greece formally acquired the famed Costakis Collection of Russian avant-garde artwork some eight years ago. Art aficionado George Costakis was a Muscovite of Greek descent who built up his collection between 1930 and 1960 by exchanging works by western artists for paintings by stigmatized Soviet artists who had gone contrary to officially adopted state culture. Thanks to the former Minister of Culture, Evangelos Venizelos, the collection was bought by Greece in 2000 and transferred to the museum currently housed at the Lazariston Monastery in Thessaloniki. It was announced that this would be a «temporary» solution since the Museum of Contemporary Art was to be relocated to a former industrial complex, also in Thessaloniki. This would enable, it was trumpeted, the display of the entire unique collection «soon, very soon.» Now, after 10 years, the paintings remain in their «temporary» home, with no relocation in sight. Speaking of a «Greek presence» in the French national modern art museum, which houses exceptional collections of some 50,000 works by artists such as Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Miro, etc., let us not forget an album released by Vangelis (Papathanassiou) in 1978, titled «Beaubourg.» This Oscar-winning composer lived in Paris in the early 1970s and I remember a New Year’s party at his house where the guests included Salvador Dali and Yiannis Tsarouchis. Still in Paris, there is racism and there is sexism in Shakespeare’s «Othello,» directed by Eric Vigner at the Theatre de l’Odeon. With a hardly «black» Samir Guesmi as a revelatory Othello and Benedicte Cerutti as his captivating wife Desdemona, the production charged most of the audience emotionally, especially in the final bedroom scene. How does one interpret a play on jealousy in the 21st century? Is the Moor a fool, as one school of thought continues to argue, pointing out that Othello is not as sophisticated as the Venetians, or is he entirely blameless, and is Iago, the representative of the devil himself and the only criminal in the play? The quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, where the Odeon theatre is situated, has always retained its special appeal. The hangout for Greek expatriate writers and the intellectual center for left-wing Greek directors, philosophers and bohemians in the junta period of the 70s, this was the place where you could meet personalities such as Melina Mercouri, Nikos Koundouros, Vangelis Papathanassiou and Vassilis Vassilikos with his muse, Greek-American Mimi. Their favorite places on the intersection of the Boulevard Saint-Germain and the Rue Bonaparte were the Cafe de Flore, Les Deux Magots and the Brasserie Lipp. Yet times have changed and what everyone discusses nowadays in Paris’s hangouts is once more all about «Cherchez la femme….». Women have remained on the fringe of politics in this country, believing they were not really welcome in an overwhelmingly male club. At the moment, only 13 percent of French parliamentary seats are held by women. Yet things really seem to be transforming. Last week, former French presidential candidate Segolene Royal was contesting the results of a vote to choose the leader of the French Socialist Party, after she lost by a tiny margin to her rival Martine Aubry. It is not yet clear who will finally hold the presidency of the Socialist Party. However, what seems to be preoccupying the French most is why the defeated Socialist in France’s presidential polls has split, after a 25-year relationship, from her partner, Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande. «I have asked Francois to live his life his way and he accepted. We no longer live in the same home,» Ms Royal told the France Inter radio station some months ago. The revelations were expanded on in a book, in which Ms Royal said Mr Hollande was having an affair and that she had asked him to leave their home. Jealousy once again.