August 15, 2007

Poste Haste

If you’re in Paris this month, and haven’t yet checked out the current exhibition at the Musée de la Poste, I would strongly encourage you to see it before it ends its run on September 1st. The exhibition, titled “Avec le Facteur Cheval,” is a fascinating look at one man’s life’s work, and includes numerous examples of other artists who were inspired by his creation.

Today on Interesting Thing of the Day Joe writes about the Palais Idéal, a colossal structure built by the eponymous facteur (postman), Ferdinand Cheval, over the course of thirty-three years. The exhibition at the Musée de la Poste features a large model of the completed Palais, which allows you to peer into all the nooks and crannies of Cheval’s imagination. You can visit the real Palais in Cheval’s hometown of Hauterives in southeast France, but this model is the next best thing. Visitors can also watch a black and white film from 1958 that features a discordant jazz soundtrack and the voice of a narrator reading from Cheval’s writings set over haunting images of the Palais. There are also many beautiful photos of the Palais on display, including prints by Robert Doisneau, Lucien Hervé, and Gilles Ehrmann.

The rest of the exhibition is devoted to the works of other artists who were inspired by Cheval’s vision, either its eclectic style or its creative use of materials. These pieces range from oil paintings, to photography, silk screening, textured glass, delicate lace sculpture, and tableaus made entirely from sea shells. It’s fascinating to see the impact Cheval had and continues to have on contemporary artists, even as he was inspired by so many disparate sources in producing his work.

The ticket to the Cheval exhibition includes free access to the museum’s permanent galleries (an overview of France’s postal system that should appeal to history and technology buffs alike), as well as to the other exhibitions currently running. I especially enjoyed “L’Angelus sonne toujours deux fois,” a collection of postal correspondence between artists Henri Cueco and Denis Fontaine inspired by the film “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” and the Jean-François Millet painting “L’Angelus.” Since 1999, Fontaine has mailed Cueco a series of over 60 objects, each bearing the image of the famous Millet painting. These objects range from a tennis racket, to decorative ceramic plates, to a soccer ball (or football as it’s known outside North America). You just have to see it to believe it, and if you are interested, make sure to get there by September 1st before it closes.

Another bonus of the museum is the plethora of Éxupery-related merchandise in the gift shop. If you are a fan of Le Petit Prince, this is the place to stock up on key chains, pencils, postcards, notebooks, and even action figures bearing his likeness. Philatelists interested in French stamps can also find some interesting specimens at the Point Philatélie in the museum. Although I highly recommend a visit to the Musée de la Poste, be aware that it is not set up for non-French speakers. I’m sure it’s possible to visit and have an enjoyable time even if you can’t understand the signs or explanations of the exhibits, but knowing a bit of French definitely helps.

The Musée de la Poste is located at 34, Boulevard de Vaugirard, on the eastern side of the Gare Montparnasse. The closest Métro is Montparnasse-Bienvenüe.

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