Monday, January 2, 2012

Unnatural History...

It feels funny to play tour guide here in Paris.  Since his arrival, Ryan has been full of questions about what this is and, what's that.  I do my best to fill him in with what I know: bits of French Revolutionary history, stories about the arcs, grand boulevards, and Haussman architecture, anecdotes on the people in the impressionist paintings at the museums, and how to order un café during our daily trips to the boulangerie... It's been interesting to watch his reactions to the sight of the Notre Dame lit up at night, buskers holding concerts in the underground tunnels of the metro, or  being conned by gypsies.  Watching him experience all these things for the first time has made me a bit pensive about how I experience new places.
I think the best moments of Ryan's visit so far has been when we experienced new things at the same time.  The weather has been pretty mild for a Parisian winter, and we've been capitalizing on our good fortune with extensive walks around the city.  During one of these promenades, we came across Le Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature.  (The museum of hunting and nature.)


If you've ever set foot into my room, then you are well acquainted with the number of dead things hanging off of everything:  a mounted deer head, multiple sets of antlers on the window sill, a fawn skin and coyote fur, foxes draped over the chair, a raccoon tail hanging off the end of the bed, and pinned insects under glass bell jars gracing the bookshelves...  So, by default this little museum was bound to be precisely my kind of thing.
Le Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature was the most interestingly curated space I have ever been to.  The museum is set up to imitate a hunting lodge, with wooden paneling on the walls, rich velvet wallpaper, and dark herringbone flooring.  Each gallery is dedicated to a different game animal, and covers everything from it's history as an animal of the hunt and to it's role in literature and mythology, as well as the natural history of each creature. Spread amidst the taxidermy and paintings of the hunt were contemporary works of art, ranging from illustrations of the animal spirit, sculptural abstractions of  the beast, or installations of cast iron sculptures popping out of the ceiling, creating a cascading relief down the wall, or throwing eery shadows from gnarled iron light fixtures. 
This mix of tradition and of contemporary ideas was really compelling, blurring the lines between predator and prey, and perpetuating the myths of man and beast.  
It was the sort of museum that I like to think that I would create: stimulating and visually aesthetic.  Short of launching into an essay on art and the dialect of myth and moral, I will to suffice to say that it was my favorite museum I have ever been to, and I am very glad to have found it.