Art Hash: Art, Blended
I was 13, almost 14, when I first saw Paris; what was supposed to be a one-week trip turned into two after my mom declared we were having too much fun to leave just yet. (Ah, Mom–I adore you for that.)
I remember visiting church after church (falling in love with architecture AND history), until my head was swimming with jumbled visions of Notre-Dame, St-Germain-des-Prés, and Sainte-Chapelle. The catacombs haunted me, the Louvre with its polite throngs of crowds jockeying for position in front of the Mona Lisa, cameras strapped around their necks, inspired me. Royal retreats like Fontainebleau and Chantilly brought my imagination to life (maybe just a tad too much) as I carefully weighed the merits of hiding under the massive bed of King Louis XIV so that I could wander the halls alone after dark. We had our daily brioche at Fouquet’s, chocolate at Café Angelina, and light-as-air crêpes at a teeny tiny haunt on the Left Bank–I’m still pining for those, having tried (unsuccessfully) to recreate their delicate texture at home.
Years later, I make visits back to “my” Paris whenever I can. Not too long ago I was in London when a meeting-free morning and afternoon meant only one thing: road trip! l I took the Eurostar from London, arrived at the Gare du Nord, hopped on the Metro, and planted myself on the steps of the Louvre courtyard, meditating on I.M. Pei’s anachronistic pyramid.
It’s the architectural juxtaposition that fascinates me in Paris: heavy with history, this courtyard seemed an unlikely spot for a modern-day ode to the past by way of glass and steel. But, that’s what Pei does–he transforms the ancient by way of a contemporary vernacular, at times distilling an idea down to its basic forms, while still honoring its intent. Because of this, his designs never seem dated–they’re always of the moment. In his formative (architecture) years, he was interested in Le Corbusier and befriended the Bauhaus’ Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer–Pei took their influence and made it his own.
Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art in Doha similarly references the historic and interprets it in the clean lines of form and function. Opened in 2008, the museum takes inspiration from the famed architect’s travels and studies across the Islamic world. At 45,000 metres, the entire project actually rises from a man-made island–protecting it from future development as well as allowing the interplay of reflected light and shadow across the French stone exterior. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Louvre, but haven’t yet been to Qatar–Pei’s latest, and likely last, creation is on my list.