By June Sawyers, special to Tribune Newspapers
January 14, 2014
New travel books: Metronome: A History of Paris from the Underground Up" playfully looks at history through city subway stops. "Art Cities of the Future: 21st Century Avant-Gardes" looks at the new centers of emerging expression.
"Art Cities of the Future: 21st Century Avant-Gardes"
New York. London. Paris. Those were the art cities of the 20th century. But the art world is changing, and new cities are challenging the old establishment, as indicated in this handsome collection. Some of the cities might be surprising (Beirut, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg) because so many of them are touched by violence and perceived to be dangerous. Each chapter begins with an introduction to the individual city, including a brief history of its artistic background while exploring what is happening now; profiles of the artists and examples of their work follow.
The art scene in Beirut, says essayist Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, emerged in the 1990s, after the end of Lebanon's long-running civil war, even though, as she notes, the city never fully regained its prewar stature. Bogota, Colombia, writes Jose Roca, has been "rediscovered" by members of the art establishment. Johannesburg has reinvented itself, says Tracy Murinik, as a vibrant artistic city while still addressing its complicated apartheid past.
The art scene in other cities, such as Istanbul, has exploded in recent years with new cultural institutions and museums opening in renovated and oftentimes multimillion-dollar buildings that once were homes of the city's elite. The People's Art movement began in Seoul, South Korea, in the 1980s, notes Hyun Jung, endorsing activist art as a protest of the government's dictatorial policies. Since then the city's art world has promoted international exchanges and underground culture. Paradoxical Singapore ("Disneyland with the death penalty," is how it has sometimes been described) combines chaos and order, censorship and cultural and racial diversity. The new National Art Gallery, scheduled to open in 2015, will rival in size the Tate Modern in London. Meanwhile, the relative isolation of Vancouver, British Columbia, ensconced comfortably at the edge of Canada, has allowed "iconoclasm and independence" to flourish, observes Reid Shier.
The book is a whirlwind artistic tour through modern avant-garde cities.
"Metronome: A History
of Paris From the Underground Up"
St. Martin's Griffin, $17.99
It isn't often that one can learn about history by riding the subway. But that's what comedian, author and movie actor Lorant Deutsch did.
Deutsch tells the story of Paris from the first century to the 21st by using 20 stops on the Paris subway, the famous Metro (short for Metropolitain), as starting points. In the introduction, he recalls that his love of history began in the French village where he spent his childhood. What he especially remembers are the visits to the French capital with his grandparents.
"When we reached the outskirts of the city … I would gaze into the distance at its lights," he writes. He remembers too the neon signs, the effervescent colors of the city that both frightened and excited him.
At age 15, he went to live in Paris, where he knew virtually no one. Instead, he learned about the city and its past through the subway stops, crossing and crisscrossing the area, he recalls fondly, riding the rails while constantly asking questions. (What was the meaning behind the names of the subway stops?) "It was a country boy's ticket to ride." Each stop tells a particular story of not only Parisian history but French history.
Durant begins at what he calls Caesar's Cradle. The Ile de la Cite stop is in the heart of Paris, the city's unofficial birthplace, on the banks of the Seine. He ends his journey in the 21st century at La Defense in a neighborhood that is barely 50 years old. In between he makes pilgrimages to Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Saint-Germain-des-Pres and Bastille, among others. Throughout, he includes entertaining sidebars in the form of historic queries. (When did Paris become Paris? What remains of the Sorbonne of yesteryear? How did the "The Mona Lisa" end up at the Louvre Museum?)
The book is perfect for history buffs, lovers of Paris and, of course, subway buffs. It includes two sets of color photos.
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