Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I’m a great one for visiting art galleries and museums, as my children will attest in loud, groaning voices (I call it culture, they claim it was child abuse). Grenoble has some wonderful museums and I’ve been to most of them. There’s nothing like gazing at a work of art or an ancient artefact to raise your mind to a higher level, I say.

As my mind has been wallowing in the murky depths of self-pity for the last six months, I’ve been doing quite a bit of gazing. OK - some of it was navel gazing (although my navel is quite ancient) but mostly, I’ve been going to art galleries.

The Musée de Grenoble is one of the best art galleries in France with collections from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Modern art makes me nervous so I spend my gazing time in the pre-twentieth century rooms: there is something soothing in the gleam of old oil paint and I never get tired of scrutinizing the faces that peer at me from across the centuries. I have to fight the urge to run my fingers over the canvases but the unnerving presence of the museum guard puts a stop to that. He follows me from room to room, eyes narrowed, as if he expects me to slip a Canaletto under my coat when nobody’s looking. I wish.

The Musée de Grenoble regularly hosts temporary exhibitions but these are usually too modern for me to understand. However, I once had two photos selected for a photography exhibition there called C’est dimanche and was invited to the vernissage. I assumed I was going along for a glass of wine, a couple of vol-au-vents and some arty small talk after which I could scuttle home. When I arrived, though, there was a camera crew standing in front of my photo, which had been blown up to gigantic proportions, waiting to interview me.

Not having prepared anything at all to say, I babbled my way through the interview, knowing that the minute it was over, I would come up with all kinds of witty observations. I did, of course, but it was too late. Isn’t that always the way?

The photo was of my dear dad and I’ve posted it below. He told everyone he met – with a twinkle in his eye - that his portrait was hanging on the wall of one of the most prestigious art galleries in France. My wonderful dad died in December but he left behind him a legacy of love and laughter. Just look at the photo and you’ll understand what I mean. He was seventy-two when it was taken…

One day, I decided to be adventurous and go along to Le Magasin, “one of France’s foremost sites dedicated to contemporary art since 1986”. The fact that it is housed in an old boilerworks on a disused industrial site should have given me an inkling of what to expect.

It was bloomin’ freezing for a start but perhaps that was an intentional, contemporary irony I failed to appreciate. Still, anxious to cast my prejudices aside, I set forth with a mind that was, if not open, most definitely ajar.

The first exhibit was a beautiful jet-black sculpture of a unicorn which appeared to be classical rather than contemporary until I learnt that it was made from the wreck of the artist’s car after a particularly bad crash. But it looked like a unicorn and I understood it and this gave me confidence to continue.

Halfway up the corridor, bewilderment set in. Was this art or just some stuff the cleaner left behind? Was this bar of wood in the middle of the floor a shoe scraper or a subtle statement of metaphysical proportions? I panicked and looked around to see what other people were doing. They were nodding and murmuring words that I suspect they had just made up but more to the point, none of them looked confused.

I shuffled despondently to the next room, casting a brief nod and murmur at a light switch on the way (just in case) and found myself in what I could best describe as MFI-meets-Claire’s Accessories.

And that was when, with a rusty but determined creak, my mind slammed shut…

Next week, I’m going to an exhibition by the Chinese artist, He Yifu. He paints mountains. His pictures look like paintings of mountains. They say: ‘Look, I am a painting of a mountain.’

And I shall simply gaze….