After 20 years in Paris, you'd think I would have hit all the major cultural venues at least once. But you'd be wrong. There are always new ones popping up and old ones I've never quite made it to. One of these is Paris expo at the Porte de Versailles, a huge convention center that houses art exhibits, trade shows, concerts and more.
In the past, I've resisted going because I don't really like conventions or crowds, plus the exhibits tend to be much more expensive than regular museums. But on a rainy day at the end of August, choices for family outings are relatively limited, which is how we found ourselves on the southwest edge of Paris to see two shows: "Lascaux in Paris" and "The art of the brick".
On the surface, the two exhibits couldn't be more different, separated as they are by 20,000 years of culture and technology. But they are strangely complementary as each in its own way explores the desire for human connection, be it through prehistoric cave paintings or Lego sculptures.
"Lascaux" is a multi-media show, mixing film, interactive exhibits and reproductions to retrace the 1940 discovery of the incredibly well-preserved cave paintings in southwestern France. The show is as much about the efforts to study and preserve Lascaux as the art itself, which may be of more interest to adults than children. But the highlight is a full-scale reproduction of the Lascaux's main gallery, where it is possible to examine the drawings and engravings up close.
Interestingly, despite all the scientists and philosophers who have studied the site, they still don't know what purpose it served: artistic, ritualistic, spiritual? But there's something wonderful about the mystery being preserved. What is clear is that the Cro-Magnon artist or artists had an extremely sophisticated grasp of color and perspective, a strong connection to the passing of seasons and the animal world, and a desire to share the work with others (as proven by the fact that certain drawings are meant to be seen in a certain light or from a particular angle.)
"Lascaux in Paris" is not a large exhibit, which still gives you time to hop on over to the other side of the exhibition hall to see "The art of the brick: the Lego art of Nathan Sawaya," which features over 100 pieces by lawyer-turned-artist Sawaya made entirely of -- you guessed it -- Lego bricks.
I'd heard of Sawaya prior to seeing the show and even seen photos of some of his pieces, but nothing does justice to seeing it in person. What could have been a gimmick instead becomes something incredibly powerful as he explores the complexity of human emotions and the nature of art using only brightly colored, readily available plastic toys. His sculptures range from everyday objects to portraits to reproduction of great works (the Mona Lisa, the Scream) to a life-size dinosaur skeleton.
Particularly striking is the longing and expressiveness Sawaya is able to put into his human figures (a bust of a man opening his chest to let thousands of Legos pour out, another man disintegrating piece by piece). There is something about the simplicity of the Legos Sawaya uses (many of which are recycled and have been played with in the past) that underscores the universality of his message.
Needless to say, the Legos were a bigger hit with the kids than Lascaux. (Be aware children cannot touch the sculptures, but there is a Lego play area in the gift shop), but both are worth seeing before they move on. Go early to avoid the crowds and take advantage of the reduced price ticket for both shows, which is only available at the venue but not on-line. Taken together, the exhibits are a strong reminder than human beings' desire to express themselves and connect with others have not changed that much in 20,000 years. Plus Legos are awesome.