Mama reviews ‘Dioramas’ expo at the Palais de Tokyo

written by Linda Mak

Rallying my kids to go to an art gallery is never easy, and I may have slightly oversold the ‘Dioramas’ exhibit to my daughter, age 10. You know how the Palais de Tokyo has really large scale, cool, fun, art installations? Well, imagine if they do one with dioramas, like from the museum in NY, or in ‘Night at the Museum’, and you can walk into them and interact with them or something like that? It will be fun, maybe?”

Def: Diorama. A model representing a scene with three-dimensional figures, either in miniature or as a large-scale museum exhibit.

Well, it wasn’t exactly like that. But, I was nonetheless intrigued and inspired, and the kids were, well, more or less entertained. So for a Paris outing, I counted that as a Win-Win.

I love dioramas!

It all started in my third grade Social Studies class. I made crumbly salt-flour dough figures, placed them in a farm scene inside a shoe box and called it the representation of the agricultural life of Native American Indians. My fascination grew into parenthood, with several trips to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, strolling through the vast corridors of stuffed animals and ancient human civilizations carefully arranged and resting forever in glass boxes. Naturally, I was a bit over excited to go the Palais de Tokyo to see what was in store for us.

Jean Paul Favand, ‘Naguère Daguerre 3’ (2015) 19th century painted canvas, installation and light set design, Musée des Art Forains (Paris) ©Photo by Linda Mak

Upon entering the ‘Dioramas’ exhibit, there was actually a short clip of the movie, ‘Night at the Museum’, where Ben Stiller is trying to speak to Sacagawea but she can’t hear him.  We had a chuckle at the coincidence of that. I began to slowly walk through the exhibition, reading each placard of the early history of the diorama art form.

I lost myself inside the contained miniature dream world that dioramas allow us to enter

This first section resembled an exhibit one would expect at the Louvre rather than the Palais de Tokyo, and the kids sent out that ‘tune out’ vibe and promptly ran ahead. Wanna-be-Cultured-Mom Fail! I was sure I had lost them for good and would find them napping on the sofas in the foyer.

Charles Matton, L’Atelier de Giacometti 1987 Wood, resin, paper, plaster, glass. Collection Antoine de Galbert (Paris) ©Photo by Linda Mak

Ignoring the fact that my children were unsupervised (like the sign at the front informed me not to do due to the fragility of the works) I lost myself inside the contained miniature dream world that dioramas allow us to enter.  The exhibit details the history of the diorama, provides a lot of traditional museum examples, like cob-webbed taxidermy dioramas and anthropological dioramas, and then moves into the artistic dioramas and how contemporary art adopted and interpreted the art form.

Patrick Jacobs, ‘Yellow Slime Mold with Blue Pink Gills’, 2015, Diorama viewed through 5cm window. Styrene, acrylic, cast neoprene, paper, gouache, polyurethane foam, ash, talc, starch, acrylate, vinyl film, copper, wood, steel, lighting, BK7 glass Courtesy of the artist. © Photo by Linda Mak

It was at that point I walked into a dark video installation room. I found the kids mesmerized by a 42-minute film called ‘La Town’ by Cao Fei. I hadn’t lost them after all.  They loved the film; it was like a nightmare set in an eerie dollhouse city, spanning time and space. But next to that, they were more impressed by Mathieu Mercier installation as my son shouted, “MOM!! THERE’S A FISH WITH FEET!!” Alas, the axolotls did not appear for me and I sat for a long time looking at the world’s most torturous fish tank for a fish with feet.

Mathieu Mercier, Untitled 2012. Diorama, showcase, neon light, earth, aquarium, water, a pair of axolotls. 219.5 x 180 x 330 cm View of the exhibition Sublimation, Centre d’art Contemporain d’Ivry – Le Crédac. Courtesy of the artist and Le Crédac. Photo © Andre Morin / Le Crédac. © ADAGP. Paris 2017

At last! I was reconnected with the supposed lost art of dioramas that I did not know I had lost. I learned a lot more about the art form and communication techniques of the diorama. However, I wish that there were more contemporary forms represented. Although the exhibit was bigger than I expected, I think I did expect something even bigger or more interactive. But I guess that would go against the voyeuristic nature of the diorama I suppose. Hmmm…

Courtesy K-Echo Photo, Galeria Patricia Conde (Mexico) and H Gallery (Paris) ©Dulce Pinzón, Nostalgia, Historias del Paraíso series.

‘Dioramas’ is on at the Palais de Tokyo until September 10th.  It’s not to be missed if you are a fan of dioramas, or if your kids are curious about set design, or what goes into a diorama museum installation. Mine were not, but they managed to find something to enjoy. Like the dreamy diorama at the top of this post by Ronan-Jim Sévellec, the train wreck installation, ‘1 to 87’ by Fiona Tan and, of course, the fish with feet.

And, lesson learned: If you take the kids to an art exhibit depicting life, you’ll find that they will like the live animal most. Yet, I’m sure they would have loved to see the real female tit, if it was on display in the ‘Bedroom Tit Box’ by Tom Wesselmann. Maybe when we were there, the tits owner was out having a cigarette.

Tom Wesselmann, Bedroom Tit Box, 1968-70. Oil, acrylic, assembly and real breast. 15 x 30 x 21,5 cm. Courtesy succession Tom Wesselmann and Almine Rech gallery

But wait there’s more!

Also on now until September 10th at the Palais de Tokyo is Hayoun Kwon’s virtual reality experience called ‘The Bird Lady’. Kwon has created a breath-taking walk into a memory of her former drawing teacher and it is also available in English. It’s a total trip and worth queuing for. But note, it’s only for adults and adult-supervised children aged 14+.

Hayoun Kwon, ‘The Bird Lady’ ©Photo by Linda Mak

The Palais de Tokyo also has fun workshops for kids and the whole family, so check them out here. And, for some ideas on how to get your kids more enthusiastic about art in Paris check out our 10 Tips!

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Love MLP

‘Dioramas’ is on at the Palais de Tokyo until September 10th