On my first trip to Paris almost 10 years ago, my husband and I visited the Picasso museum located in the third arrondisement in Paris, and it housed an impressive collection of Picasso’s works from his days of his Cubist paintings to his sculptures and engravings. I don’t recall noticing much of the museum itself except that it was small and each exhibit was displayed in several disconnected rooms, making the flow of the exhibits a bit incongruent.
So after learning the museum underwent a renovation and expansion in 2009, I put it on my never-ending lists of places to visit once it was complete. After a 5-year renovation, the museum finally reopened this past fall, and I crossed it off my list a couple of weeks ago.
The new, larger collection is housed in the Hôtel Salé, a beautiful and grand 17th century building that was once home to Pierre Aubert, a salt-tax farmer, who made his fortunes through various strategies but one being a tax collector on salt, thus naming his house Hôtel Salé, which is “salty” in French.
However, since the building was initially built for a residence, it never provided an ideal space for showing art. The goal of the renovation was to create more space to display a larger collection of Picasso’s own art and works created by his fellow artist friends and mentors. Jean-François Boding, the architect responsible for the renovation, successfully created a minimalistic interior within the beautiful, historic exterior. He chose to create the interior walls out of white plaster in order to emphasize the artwork. However, in the main galleries, the beautiful original plaster frescoes on the ceiling and scrolled iron railings are intact and provide a stunning backdrop and appealing juxtaposition to the modern, minimal exhibition rooms.
The expanded art collection takes you through a more thorough understanding of Picasso’s range of artwork – the man tried his hand at almost every medium possible-and shows his artistic maturation from his early days to the end of his career.
I would be remiss to not encourage you to see the expanded collection. However, another artist whose work was displayed in the new museum enamored me. The hanging light fixtures in almost every room took my breath away. I felt absurd spending more time taking photos of these sculptural luminaries than carefully observing Picasso’s work.
Naturally, I pulled out my iPhone and did a quick Google search. I learned Diego Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor and designer created the fixtures specifically for the Picasso museum. I thought the lights had been recently designed, but Diego passed away in 1985. I was amazed at how in vogue they were even though they were designed over 20 years ago!
Diego worked closely with his brother, Alberto, who also was a designer that produced several commissioned pieces for the famed Parisian decorator, Jean- Michel Frank. Interesting fact – Jean-Michel Frank was the uncle of Ann Frank. On the eve of the German occupation of Paris, Jean-Michel Frank fled to South America and Alberto Giacometti had already returned to Switzerland. It was Diego who rescued several of the lamp molds he and Alberto had made for Jean-Michel. Fearing the molds would be destroyed during the Nazi occupation, Diego went to Frank’s atelier and filled the trunk of his car with as many lamps and lamp molds as possible.
I loved not only the sculptural style of the fixtures, but also the delicate and whimsical qualities found in the design of the frames. The pairing of these lights in the Baroque style interior created a beautiful contrast. The lights look like they were made of plaster but they were actually made of bronze, to look like plaster, and finished with white paint. Although the style of the lights and the style of the building are quite opposite, the similarities are found in the white plaster-like finish which mimics to some degree the original baroque plaster work found on the walls and ceiling. I immediately started creating a rather lofty DIY project to create a fixture for myself, but then realized that often the simplest seeming pieces of artwork are some of the most difficult to achieve.
However, the lights reminded me of the playful fixtures designed by Stray Dog Designs whose creations are made of papier-mache and cost a fraction of one of Giacometti’s masterpieces. Plus, Stray Dog offers the lights in a myriad of colors providing options that can range from sophisticated to more playful. I think I may save myself some time and frustration and opt for one of these centerpieces!