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Global Focus

2018 in retrospect: Culture in France

Bronze Spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois in the exhibition Women House in La Monnaie, Paris.
Bronze Spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois in the exhibition Women House in La Monnaie, Paris. Siegfried Forster / RFI

2018 has been a colourful year of culture in France. Among the highs and lows: scandals and deaths, new worlds, old worlds. And even webbed worlds.

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The year opened and closed with dramatic cultural arachnids. In January, in La Monnaie de Paris, Louise Bourgeois’ famous giant metal spiders held court alongside other female artists in a show entitled Women House.

2018 closes with another look at the webs we weave, this time a full immersion in the world of spiders with Argentinian artist Tomas Saraceno at the Palais de Tokyo. Saraceno gives us real webs, real spiders and real experiential moments – even allowing visitors to climb into a giant web.

"Jamming with spiders" continues at the Palais de Tokyo until 6 January, 2019.

It was a big year for Alberto Giacometti too. In 1926, the Swiss sculptor moved his studio to an unassuming atelier in Montparnasse. At first he thought it was tiny, but he later recalled that the longer he stayed, the bigger it seemed to become. He would remain in the dimly lit space – which had a leaky roof and, often, no running water – for nearly 40 years.

Now, many decades later, a reconstituted version of the studio has opened to the public as the centrepiece of the new Giacometti Institute in Paris. It officially opened to the public in June.

Pushing the boundaries of portraiture

The Fondation Louis Vuitton had another strong year and ends with one of the biggest hit shows of 2018 – the somewhat unexpected pairing of work by 20th century American street artist Jean Michel Basquiat and 19th century Austrian artist Egon Schiele.

The two artists both died at a tender age. At just 28, Schiele succumbed to the Spanish flu. Basquiat died 80 years later at 27 of a heroin overdose.

Like Basquiat, Schiele’s bold expressionist works were shocking and controversial for their time. The two artists were also amazingly prolific, with an output that was both acclaimed and attacked while they were both still living.

Basquiat is of course an accepted bad boy, but it is Schiele who really has the power to shock, his often-deformed bodies pushing the boundaries of portraiture. This must-see show of 2018 continues until January 14, 2019.

Aznavour, the last troubadour

In October of this year, French music and culture suffered a major loss. Charles Aznavour, the 'Frank Sinatra of France', died at the age of 94.

Aznavour was born in Paris to Armenian parents. He sold more than 100 million records in 80 countries and had written and recorded more than 1,300 songs.

Over the years, Aznavour recorded duets with the likes of Elton John, Céline Dion, Bryan Ferry and the original American Frank Sinatra, as well as the classical tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo.

One of the cornerstones of the French cultural landscape is the theatre festival in Avignon every summer. In this year’s heavyweight laden festival, Thomas Jolly presented a mythological king who feeds his brother his own sons, Milo Rau recreated the murder of a gay man in Belgium in 2012 and the festival director Olivier Py cast three men in turn as violent prison inmates, as poets and as coldblooded bankers.

Crime and punishment in the desert

Legendary English theatre director Peter Brook was back at the helm of a new play in his Paris theatre Bouffes du Nord in March as he directed The Prisoner, which Brook also co-wrote. This typically pared back narrative was based on a story that now 93-year-old Brook heard he was travelling in Afghanistan 50 years ago.

Together with his collaborator Marie Helene Estienne, Brook told the story of a man who murdered his father and was then sentenced to live in the desert outside of the prison walls until he had found redemption, imprisoned without being in prison, somehow the torture is greater.

Theatre in France this year became even more socially involved when The Good Chance Theatre set up its tent in Paris. The Good Chance Theatre builds temporary theatres of hope with the aim of promoting freedom of expression, creativity and dignity for everyone.

It gives people the opportunity to express and empower themselves, to engage in dialogue and debate, and to experience the enriching and transformative power of art.

2018 set a high cultural bar in France. The coming year has a lot to live up to.

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