An hour and a half away from Paris, sits one of France’s most singularly beautiful museums, La Piscine de Roubaix. What was once a gorgeous art-deco public pool, has been preserved and transformed into the home of an immensely diverse and spectacular collection of artworks that span across centuries of aesthetic, intellectual and political movements. Yet the exhibits and works are all united by a common stream of intention that the glimmering strip of pool which remains in the center of the museum embodies; an intention to, above all, pay homage to the history of the building, and to explore the curatorial possibilities within a space that allows for such a unique art-viewing experience. Currently at La Piscine, there are more than five shows on display- and although reading about them is no match to the panoptically calming experience of taking in the sparkling pool lined by marble statues that bask in a golden glow from the massive stained glass murals- let’s dive into some of their current exhibitions…

As the musée d’Orsay celebrates the 150th anniversary of its first impressionist exhibition, they have lent pieces to 30 different museums in France, opening a dialogue with the entire country. Most notably on loan to La Piscine is Degas’ iconic bronze, Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, which has only been on display to the public as of late last year following an extensive restoration. Other works include Renoir’s controversially beautiful Garçon au Chat, as well as a few renditions of Camille Claudel’s La Petite Châtelaine. Amongst other impressionist gems, these pieces come together in a collaborative exhibition titled “Les enfants impressionnistes”. As we walk through the galleries, a preschool class field trip follows behind us and their giggles bounce off the walls- a very fitting soundtrack for the day. 

In their sister exhibition “Les enfants de La Piscine,” many of the museum’s archived pieces have been taken out to be rediscovered on occasion of this collaboration. The tiled shower cabins circling the pool have been reworked into little gallery vignettes that explore the role of the child as subject in art in conjunction to the shifts of the role of the child in societal and philosophical perspective. Stiff and posed portraiture of the 17th century bourgeoise are displayed in contrast to abstracted, emotionally charged portraits that emerge as the child begins to be more widely regarded as a complex individual. One small yet important piece within the exhibition is an early 18th century booklet designed to explain workers strikes to children. Another striking work is Rene Iche’s surrealist sculpture of a half-skeleton child which he sculpt in a single night after the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish civil war. (See below)

 

Their self-proclaimed golden child of the exhibition is Felix del Marle’s 1932 work, “Young Boy with a Ball, Portrait of Jean-Pierre Dobelle.” This piece is extremely peculiar and stylistically rare, as it was created during a brief period in Marle’s career wherein he turned away from neoplasticism and back to figurative painting while suffering an intense existential and spiritual crisis. Yet, the geometry and futurism of his line is ever present in this portrait, marking the boy with an unsettling, uncanny-valley quality. It is a uniquely intriguing piece that grows more complex the longer you look at it, and one that comprehensively personifies the contrasting notions of childhood that the exhibition explores.

Further on, visitors are invited to discover the massive collection of work collected by lifelong partners, Pierre and Chantal Georgel. With works collected over half a century of enthusiastic love, friendship, and admiration of art, the donation of this collection to La Piscine not only serves as a remarkable occasion to discover an enormous variety of art, but it also feels a bit like walking through time. The exhibition consciously embraces its inescapable subjectivity, giving the experience a deeply personal, poetic quality- like walking through the love letters of Pierre and Chantal, and to the many artists they cultivated such important relationships with. From the works of their dear friend Jean Cocteau, to Victor Hugo, Joan Miro, Pierre Soulagés and to Bruce Nauman, the collection encapsulates so many different worlds, times, and ideas. I am struck by the thought that this is exactly what it takes for a relationship to flourish for so long- a passion so diverse it allows one to hang Victor Hugo next to Bruce Naumen on the living room wall. Chantal herself is warm and almost ordinary, she invites us to explore her “cabinet of curiosities” the same way my grandmother tells stories about the pictures on her walls. In its subjectivity, the whole exhibition embraces a sort of inherent chaos as well. The curatorial storylines are foraged out of the context of overlapping themes such as the polarity of light and dark, or the relationship to illustration accompanied by text as seen through their love of poetry, and the intimacy evoked by the Georgels’ preference for small format works. It feels voyeuristic in the kindest way. Between the lines and frames, it reads also as testament to keeping the flame lit, or rather to acknowledging that the flame must be fanned by the world outside- it is at once a very romantic and very real depiction of commitment to culture and passion, however you define it. “Compagnons d’une vie, un donation à La Piscine” is on display through the end of May. 

And lastly but certainly not least, is the small and mighty retrospective of illustrator Pascale Barbe. He is a character to say the least, one that radiates childlike wonder and enthusiasm. He pulls out a Tibetan singing bowl, chants in a language I can’t identify and then proclaims- “I am not a professional. Art is a pretext for unburdening oneself. I am preserving the relationship between man and child, between point A and point B. My little stick figures are so simple, we’ve all made them, every child has!” He declares his love for street art, to Agnes B, Paul Klee, Les Chadocks, to punks and spiritualists, to Foucault, Heidegger, and to poetry. With a visual language that is so familiar, it’s hard to believe that he has, for the most part, only been celebrated regionally. His works evoke the same politically charged tone as other artists who have embraced le petit bonhomme as a conductor of universal expression such as Jean-Michel Folon, Keith Haring, or Banksy, amongst so many others. He explains that street art existed long before we imagine it did and points to what he defines as the most important part of his exhibition- an image of a skull and crossbones stencil graffiti by Albert Frank done in 1944 Leipzig, with writing that roughly translates to “Hunger! All this thanks to the Führer.” Later on, as he dedicates and illustrates our exhibition catalogs, he asks me my favorite number- I say six or seven. He draws me standing before six suitors, throwing balls at them, the seventh is floating on a patched up cloud. 



Thank you to the warm and wonderful staff of La Piscine, for inviting ASVOF to explore their extraordinarily beautiful universe and collections. For more information on exhibitions, traveling to La Piscine, and ticketing, please visit https://www.roubaix-lapiscine.com/en/home/





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Rianna Murray

American in Paris. Interested in Art and Fashion.

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