This year the Easter Bunny arrived in Paris in the form of snowflakes, exasperating the French who are always desperate for sunshine after months of gray days. Even more so this year, as many of the museums which brighten the cultural life of the capital seem to be either under repair or laying in their own artistic hibernation: the Pompidou is mostly closed for major restoration, the Jeu de Paume has nothing programmed until May and the Grand Palais is still getting its glass cupola re-paned.
Nevertheless, in the galleries behind the not-so Grand Palais a long awaited show of Eugene Delacroix just opened (Apr. 7-July 20). Devoted to the artist's final years, the exhibition of 88 paintings and 333 drawings is the kind of lines-around-the-block show that Parisians and tourists alike thrive on. It's so, so, French.
If it warms up a bit, however, then the crowds will surely flock to the Bagatelle Park in the Bois de Boulogne, where there is a delightful indoor/outdoor 30-year retrospective of the sculptors Francois X. and Claude Lalanne (Mar. 14-Aug. 2). Their signature grazing sheep seen on the lawns of "only the finest chateaux of the world" are here sharing acreage with bronze donkeys, dinosaurs, geese and alligators swimming in lily ponds as well as the rest of the Lalanne menagerie.
It is a tour de force as an installation and the fact that it stands up to the extravagantly flowered gardens of the Bagatelle should merit the Lalannes a reconsideration in the annals of contemporary sculpture. Don't miss the exhibition inside the two wedding-cake-like houses that flank the gardens. Claude's Art Nouveau-inspired jewelry and Francois' smaller abstracted beasts might be less of a surprise, but the piece de resistance is the gilded Rococo music room run amok with furry sheep. It is the kind of mise en scene that could make edgier artists bleat with envy.
If you're still in the animal mode, go to the opposite end of the city and the opposite end of the artistic spectrum to see Annette Messager's exhibition "Old monkeys don't teach us to how to grimace." It is a subtle installation of the artist's work in the spruced-up National Museum of African and Oceanic Art in the Porte Doree. Situated above the city's Aquarium, Messager's crocodiles and tortoises are still alive but forced to share their caged landscape with her miniature photographs either balanced on poles or dangling from above on strings. Her cloth dolls with photos, puffed-up plastic bags, and deconstructed stuffed toys -- which she has stated have often screamed at her when she removed their innards -- share window display space with beautiful examples of African and Oceanic masks and ritualistic objects.
While looking for Messager's strategically situated work, one is led on a tour through this 1930s Colonial art deco palace . . . one of Paris' most beautiful and exotic locales. The museum's director, Jean-Hubert Martin, a curator beloved by artists, has been named the director of next year's Lyon Biennial. He is known for curating the art-cult-classic "Les Magiciens de la Terre" at the Pompidou in the 1980s. No doubt Lyon will be on everyone's European itinerary in 1999.
For the post-war urban archeology crowd (and you know who you are) there are large architectural remnants saved from destroyed buildings by Jean Prouve at Jousse Seguin's Grand Dia space on the rue des Taillandiers. An ancillary exhibition of rare examples of rare commissioned furniture is at Enrico Navarra. Prouve fans are awaiting the 272-page catalogue with texts by the architect's daughters as well as by contemporary architects Sir Norman Foster and Jean Nouvel, among others. Nouvel is best known for his precious glass buildings such as the Cartier Fondation on the Boulevard Raspail.
And the Fondation, in continuation of its titillating romantic season of amour, is presenting a full-scale survey of work by the late photographer Francesca Woodman -- which finally opened after several delays. Woodman, who committed suicide in 1980 at a young age, is known for her Byronic self-portraits . . . a perfect match for the foundation.
But back to the other glass house, the Grand Palais. On Apr. 29 a large-scale Man Ray exhibition has everyone whispering. It seems that a Man Ray collector Werner Bokelberg was left holding the bag on a cache of fake Man Ray photographs made from original negatives on paper lots from the 1930s to the 1990s (20 years after the artist himself was solarized). There has been lots of finger-pointing, with suspicion cast on everyone from dealers, experts, printers and even close friends of the artist himself. Le Monde photo critic Michel Guerrin's recent report suggests that there are quite a few fakes still out there, belonging not only to the likes of Elton John but even to prestigious museums (which should know better!).
Guerand admits that some of the problem may have been exacerbated by Man Ray's own-less-than rigorous managing of his "product," but the main charges seem to be directed to the girlfriend of the late artist's printer (who himself died recently) and her present boyfriend. It will be one of those dramas that should be televised on Court TV.
And speaking of TV, wouldn't it be cool if you could watch it while commuting to work in the Metro? Well, pixel heads, the news is that the new "Meteor" Metro line will be fitted with 16 high-tech video monitors in order to engage the public with a changing menu of video art. The line debuts next September and will run from Madeleine to Tolbiac. Who needs fin de siecle sun-filled glass palaces for art when you can just look at a lighted glass box underground?
For that matter who needs sunshine!
See you then . . .
DEBORAH IRMAS splits her time between Paris and Los Angeles.