"Schlaraffenland", the German Arcadia.

Monday, May 05, 2014

7 Snapshots of Europe, Spring 2014: 2. Bathed in Klimt

Les Baux de Provence is a tiny fortified medieval town that sits high on a rocky outcropping and has the distinction - perhaps even notoriety - of being named one of France's "most beautiful towns". This appellation brings with it the promise of tour buses, many many tour buses. Being tiny as well as most beautiful then becomes a significant problem. Fortunately we were there in early April, at a time when the tour buses were in the single digits, rather than the double or even triple of July, but it did lead one to wonder, where would all the people go? The answer it turns out was into the mines. The bauxite mines. A couple hundred meters back, along the side of the rocky outcropping, was the world's first bauxite mine (bauxite, Les Baux, get it?) and this has been transformed into an otherworldly art experience. I was skeptical. "Tourist bait," I thought. "Cheesy and overpriced," I thought. "Bo-ring," I thought.
I thought wrong.
Maybe the experience in July packed shoulder to shoulder with jostling seniors from Hamburg would be different, but that day it was mostly empty and it was extraordinary. We stepped into a vast empty underground chamber, the floor, walls and ceiling of raw stone. The ceiling was three or four stories up and the chamber divided into sub-spaces by massive square pillars and partial walls. And all around us, on the floor too, were moving projections of paintings. Moving and morphing and blending into each other. The show that day was Gustav Klimt. We were bathed in him. Bathed in his astonishing colour. Music took this already overwhelming experience and made it emotional. "Overwhelming" has a pejorative flavour, but I mean it in its most positive sense. My jaw literally dropped. I mean it: my chin hung loose with my mouth open. I almost cried it was so beautiful, so moving, so unexpected. This went on for twenty minutes as we wandered the vast space, but I could have spent the whole day there.
This was apparently originally the idea of the artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. His films are run continuously in a second mine space. We saw old Greek women wailing about a dead boy in jerky black and white. We lasted about two minutes. This was the anti-Klimt. Perhaps the antidote was necessary to ease the transition back into the world.

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