Contemporary Meets Classic

Posted in art by Anna on July 13, 2009

There is nothing more refreshing than a contemporary artist who could not possibly care less about being contemporary.  Working artists devoid of the desire to make a political statement, change how society defines art, or discover art’s “final frontier” provide a welcome relief from the oppressive onslaught of “Look at me!  Look at me!” installation pieces where artists force-feed their viewers pornography or anarchy simply for the sake of fashion (or the intentional deviation from fashion).  Jean-Baptiste Ballot provides viewers with a beautifully composed escape from the annals of trend at his new urban photography exhibit at the Loyola University Museum of Art, Paris-Chicago: The Photography of Jean-Christophe Ballot.4

Ballot approaches his subject, the similarities and differences between the cities of Paris and Chicago, from an old-school, old-world perspective: classic, elegant, thoughtfully rendered photographs.  Said thoughtful rendering is manifested in Ballot’s artistic choices, such as his decision to photograph Paris’s sculpture of yore, including Rodin’s timeless work, “The Kiss,” along with such modern Chicago installments as Calder’s “Flamingo,” setting up an old-world, new-world parallel.  He also zeroes in on the architectural parallels of the metropoli, incorporating a shot of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, sandwiched between two photographs of the old staircase in the Musee de l’Orangerie.  These shots are clever in a multitude of ways, because although the pavilion is metallic, abstract, and contemporary, suggesting the future, its sweeping arches and broken abstraction mirror the grandiose art-nouveau staircase, which is voluptuous and elegant, even in its state of abandonment and distress, made evident by the rubbish pile behind it.  In this series, Ballot highlights the similarities and differences between Paris and Chicago with effortless grace.

Ballot’s most interesting incorporation, however, is a series of photographs of the interiors of museums.  By integrating museums as the only indoor depictions in the show, Ballot singles them out as the soul of the city, its cultural pulse.  Of course, there are the more typical gritty industrial shots, and sleek architectural photos.  But it is Ballot’s museum pieces that really capture the essence of the cities, and by shooting them, he brings a kind of regal dignity not only to the museum displays he photographs, but to the cities to which they are home.


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