Art-Sites France: Contemporary Art and Architecture Handbook (1999) (book review)
artdesigncafé - design | 7 January 2011
This review first appeared in Sculpture, 21(1), January 2002, on page 75.
Contemporary visual arts travelers face a dilemma every time they travel to a new city: where is all the art, design, and architecture that you’ve seen splashed over the world’s magazine and book pages? Do you need to spend months doing library searches and making phone calls to find out what is there and where it is? Do you buy a map and plot out an art-filled path? Or will you have to troubleshoot on site, relying on piecemeal information and advice? Addressing the contemporary visual arts market, Sidra Stich’s Art-Sites France: Contemporary Art and Architecture Handbook (1999) is like the brilliant research assistant you can’t afford. After relying on this book as my insider’s guide to Paris, I had to review it.
For me, Art-Sites France facilitated the easiest-to-navigate customized tours I’ve ever experienced in an art capital. Try doing this independently in Seoul, Bangkok, or even London. This book is not just a guidebook— it’s a time-saver, money-saver, schedule-organizer, concise information-provider, and tour guide. The volume, half of which is devoted to Paris and day trips from the capital, details and locates contemporary art museums and centers, galleries, sculpture parks, many public artworks, all sorts of buildings by well-known architects, film centers, and specialty bookstores. This means that you can see 10 things in one day, when before you could only plan on four or five.
When I tried to organize my pilgrimage to Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1929–33), my travel guidebook— with decent visual arts coverage— came up empty, and the information desk attendants at a major exhibition center couldn’t help. But Stich certainly did, and she probably anticipated the query, mapping out the somewhat difficult route. (Luckily, I found her book in the center’s bookstore.) On day two of my “Corbu tour,” instead of a one-stop trip to Villa La Roche (1923–25) in a Parisian suburb, my afternoon trip expanded to include the UNESCO headquarters and interventions by Tadao Ando and Dani Karavan and the Parc Andre Citroen (1988–92)— an intellectual and conceptual park with Gardens of Movement and Metamorphosis. My trip to the Grande Arche in the La Défense area became instantly contextualized. Stich had a section and map waiting, and my public art tour began— including works by César, Calder, Miró, and a work in progress— amidst the site’s sometimes seedy, movie-set Modernism.
The book is also important for bridging the Anglophone-French visual arts world linguistic divide. It makes French things more accessible to the non-fluent, since world travel has become more accessible than the world’s languages. There’s a lot going on here that doesn’t seem to get pushed through— or passed through— the Anglophone media net, even just a three-hour train trip across the English Channel in London. It could even be argued that the book is a travel booster for its directed readership; it’s now so much easier to concentrate on looking at the work, instead of investing so much time just trying to find it.
Yet every book has its shortcomings, and Art-Sites France is no exception. It’s thin on design— fashion, interior, graphics, product, and industrial design— but then it does, after all, bill itself as a “contemporary art and architecture handbook.” Still, where are the designer hotels of the ’90s, design shops, and the wide range of contemporary interior interventions? Secondly, for me, the book was simply too good. With so many interesting modern and contemporary “interventions” so clearly mapped out, I completely forgot about the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. Art-Sites guides to Britain/Ireland and Spain, both by Sidra Stich, are also available.