Friday, October 21, 2011

Four Seasons in Paris - La Bibliotheque Nationale Francois Mitterrand

There is a place in Paris where all the seasons come forth. The first is winter, like a vacated boardwalk it surrounds you in gray, a lasting gray brought to the surface of your skin from the solitude of your breath. You can see others from this winter boardwalk, but they remain isolated by the hum of an ever present wind. You can watch them walking in different directions away from you, knowing each step carries with it a sound silent to your ears because of the muffled breadth of open distance - boundless claustrophobia holds you until you break for spring.

When you reach the end of the boardwalk there is a glimpse, the tops of trees and the flight of small birds only for a minute. Once you enter the path to the building - a jutting steel corridor stabbed at an angle like a knife resting with its tip firmly pinched between small cells of a wood cutting board - your view of the trees is blocked. The short glimpse of vegetation that motivated your descent becomes more irresistible to find until slowly the edge of the knife recedes to reveal the green once again. It gets closer and thicker but like the best of Spring it only lasts a moment as you find your way through the building's envelope towards summer.

Summer lasts eternal inside this building. Summer days wrap buried evergreens along the corridors. You are guided by the warmth of red at your feet, blanketed by windows bursting white sun through their over-human proportions, accompanied by rows of neatly aligned concrete pillars standing tall and ordered, smooth with the craft of skilled human hands, their cool gray bodies positioned next to soft orange wood. The wood provides a datum against which the concrete becomes three dimensional. Periodic interruptions in these two materials signal the dusk of summer's day - the start of summer's evening - the endless parade of summer stars.

After spending the night under the stars, there is one place left to go. It is the only room that bears resemblance to the seasons in its disobedience to them. It is the temperate winter afternoon or the cold summer rain - unanticipated, welcomed, loved entirely for its brevity. It is the familiar concrete and light that penetrates the top of this space, disobeying the metal doors and sheets of metal draped across the walls. Voyeuristically you stand there, looking up at them from below. Just as quickly as you happened upon this space you unwillingly leave it behind.

When your time ends in this building you head for autumn. Ascending the same way you came in, the green slowly disappears and you are left only remembering the colors of summer.

As the memories fade, back to the winter boardwalk, boundless again.

optimistic gray - the kolumba art museum

Only once before have I seen this many shades of gray. On the verge of a pond in Kyoto there lay thousands of stones nestled against one another, all owning some unique variation of the same color. Even there however, the grays do not feel limitless. The stones are placed underneath your feet, isolated by each individual shape and bound by water and the road above, alongside the park's greens and sky's blues.

The grays inside this museum are not bound by anything. They extend endlessly around you, wrapping like a duvet cover in that moment before sleep arrives, when the lights have been extinguished and dreams are inevitable. In some places the grays melt into each other, in others they pop so bright or burrow so dark because of their adjacency to such contrasting hues.

If not for physical separation between wall and floor, a continuous black edge one quarter of an inch thick that casts a shadow twice its own width against the wall, I would be helpless to determine which gray belongs to what surface.

Even with such guidance I am prone to thinking they all belong to some other dimension entirely, holding themselves together familiarly as floor, ceiling and wall so I am not frightened. The minute I turn around I suspect them to relax and return to their natural form in which the only separation between each shade of gray is the next one, no physical surfaces or shapes to help orient my visit through the gallery, distinguishable as thousands of different grays simultaneously experienced as one monochromatic being.

Most of the art and the people moving through this gallery add depth to the spectrum of gray.

Sometimes vibrant colors float by offering momentary stimulation - the red balloon in a Paris sky - distracting for a moment but welcome as reference to the stillness of so many values of one color. One optimistic, impermanent yet everlasting gray.