In general people who live in Paris, stay in Paris.
And the big news of the moment in the art scene is that we can no longer do this. The reason being that both Galerie Ropac and Gagosian have taken it upon themselves to open new, large-scale, galleries outside the city (although by the standards of anywhere else in the world they are hardly in the nether and beyond, Pantin is still on the Metro, and the Gagosian gallery at Bourget is about twenty minutes from Gare du Nord by RER, however, this isn't the point).
The motivation behind both these moves is space: Paris is just too compact a city to offer the kind of scale a gallery would need to exhibit a serious show of someone whose work is of a large, or as they now say, 'monumental', scale. Someone like -- I don't know -- Anselm Kiefer, for example. Both galleries have opened their new sites to enable them to do exactly that, and, coincidentally, or not, both have chosen to present an inaugural show by... Anselm Kiefer. In honour of this, I've decided to pay both sites a visit.
Galerie Ropac is first, not least because it is slightly easier to get to. It is situated in an old ironworks and my first impression is that the exterior has the uncomfortably fresh look of a corporate headquarters about it; everything looks a little bit too clean, the paint too fresh, the turf too new, and even the tree in the central courtyard still needs to be supported as its roots haven't had time to take hold, whatever kind of convenient metonymy that is. Inside the main space though is great, four different areas of large but not intimidating size which open above to large skylights, the pitch of the roof and the beams retaining enough original character to escape the white cube effect; it is a varied, interesting space. There is a second, smaller, gallery that's square and low with a large window onto the courtyard. It seems fitting, since it's something of a goldfish bowl, that it will be dedicated to performance and is currently showing a collection of Joseph Beuy's work based on his Iphigenia performances.
Anselm Kiefer, Himmelsschlucht, 2011-2012; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac - Pantin.
And then there is Anselm Kiefer. Why do both galleries open with the same artist? The answer would seem to be when you're inaugurating a monumental space you need a monumental artist, and he would seem to be the candidate par excellence for this title at the moment.
The exhibition is titled Die Ungeborenen (The Unborn) and based upon themes of creation. It consists of two series of paintings, a series of photographic pieces and a collection of sculpture. It is everything one would expect from Kiefer: huge, melancholic, magical, and incredibly rich in thought and texture. We see the signature elements, natural and mechanical forms, lead, and rusted iron, dried plants, mud and children's clothing brought together in mysterious combination. The canvases hold a tension of depth and energy, they are sombre and lustrous and frightening. And ridiculous when one thinks that they're basically landscapes. The sculptural pieces are of similar quality; visually engaging, thought provoking, and seemingly timeless. As with all of Kiefer's work it is prophetic and nostalgic; powerful, impressive, and fragile. What we see is, without hyperbole, a good selection of work by arguably one of the most important artists of our time.
Anselm Kiefer, The Unborn Exhibition View; Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac - Pantin.
And to be honest, his work is absolutely done justice by the gallery: the scale of the building means the work isn't crowded; it gives the viewer the necessary perspective; and I appreciated the natural light, particularly for viewing the paintings.
[Part one] would seem to be a success; it felt like a very good reason to leave Paris. Hopefully [Part two] will be the same.
 It is worth noting that if you want to visit the Gagosian and avoid the commuters and traffic you can conveniently land your private jet on the airfield at which it is situated.
(Image on top: ANSELM KIEFER, Für Rabbi Loew , 2010 - 2012, Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, carbon, iron, lead, electrolysis residue, synthetic resin, glass and wire on canvas, 380 x 560 x 35 cm.; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac - Pantin.)