Friday, October 4, 2013

A Surprise at the Palais des Papes...

The Palais des Papes is the most visited tourist attraction in Avignon. Gil and I arrived here two days ago, and spent the bulk of the day yesterday visiting this amazing historical structure. The monument is fascinating. We easily spent almost three hours there, meandering around, listening to the recorded tour and marveling at all that we saw.

The Palais is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Since my feet have been firmly planted on US soil, I am fascinated with ancient architecture. Mine is such a young country. The construction of the Palais was begun in 1252. That fact alone boggles my mind! 

Because of its size, the Palais serves as an art exhibition center as well. The first such exhibition took place in 1947. This was a fact unknown to me. Imagine my surprise when I found myself face-to-face with contemporary art made by well known women artists while touring the building. The exhibition presently installed is entitled "Les Pappesses," and includes the art of Camille Claudel, Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Jana Sterbak and Berlinde De Bruyckere. 

The title of this exhibition refers to the story of Pope Joan. In the ninth century, predating the arrival of the popes in Avignon, a charismatic scholar was elected pope, and reigned as such until it was discovered that she (as a representative of God on earth) was pregnant. The story took hold of the medieval imagination. Even today, at the end of the conclave at the Vatican, a pierced chair allows verification of the sex of the newly elected pope, to avoid appointing a popess again. Goodness!!

I was fascinated seeing the modern and contemporary art juxtaposed with this ancient ediface. I am including a few images of the work displayed for you to see. The first image is of a tapestry made by Kiki Smith. Smith has worked in varied media. This is one of several tapestries included in the show made by her. I was moved by this particular tapestry for sentimental reasons. Smith utilized the eagle to symbolize the importance her country (the United States) holds in her life. Each tapestry was in a similar color palette and fit in remarkably well in the Palais. In fact, at first glance, I was inclined to believe that they had hung in the building for centuries. You can see how well the tapestry fits relative to the colors of the wall and floor surrounding it. 

Kiki Smith's tapestry at the Palais des Papes

The next piece for which I have an image, is a scupture made by Louise Bourgeois entitled "Spider." I spend sizable amounts of time visiting Washington, DC since I live so close, so the minute I saw "Spider," I was transported home. One of her sculptures, very similar to this one, is installed in the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Art in the District of Columbia. Art is indeed a univeral language. That said, seeing this piece in an ancient building provided a much different perspective. The ancient, with the more contemporary, was an exceedingly interesting comparison. I am perhaps as impressed with Bourgeois's persistence as I am with her art. It was not until she reached the age of seventy that she was recognized with her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

Spider by Louise Bourgeois at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, France

To see more about this exhibition, you may go to this worthwhile website: 

More soon! A bien tot!


  1. Hi Lynn, I enjoyed reading about the art you saw in Avignon. I was there in 2010 and saw the most incredible elephant balancing on its trunk! Here's a link the the photo:

    1. Hey Trisha, Thanks for reading. I was fascinated by what I unexpectedly saw there. Looks like you got a surprise too! I will be posting a bit more about my visit to France, and then on to other things.