This weekend we’re checking out The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters at MoMA. And because the weather is supposed to be beautiful, we’ll spend some time in the Sculpture Garden too. Update: this exhibition closed in March 2015. To stay updated on what's going on right now, sign up for our #YourArtWeekend newsletter here.
THE ART /
The Paris of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a vibrant mix of high and low culture, centered in the cafés and brothels of Montmartre. Fans of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris will recall Marion Cotillard leaving the roaring twenties for this Paris, a carnival of singing, dancing, sex and cheap wine. The era’s most famous characters -- and Toulouse-Lautrec’s subjects -- were performers and prostitutes. The artwork on display here captures them both onstage and off, celebrating the city’s intoxicating nightlife while also capturing the quiet moments of its leading women’s daily lives.
Toulouse-Lautrec's portrait of one of these leading women, dancer Jane Avril -- one leg skyward, dress fabric fluttering -- is an advertisement for life lived as though everything were a loud, high-octane performance. You get the sense that he would have cabaret music blasting out of tiny speakers in these lithographs if he’d had the technology to do it.
The overall atmosphere of the show is energetic and colorful, but Toulouse-Lautrec’s work does not ignore the grimmer and grayer parts of modern city life. The highlight of the exhibit is “Elles,” a group of lithographs depicting small, everyday moments in the lives of prostitutes. With these muted, quiet prints, Toulouse-Lautrec offers a sympathetic portrait of these women. It’s what we would see if today’s nightlife photographers followed their subjects home and documented them waking up the next morning, hung over, washing off their makeup, drinking coffee.
Though Toulouse-Lautrec’s own roots were aristocratic (his parents were first cousins, possibly explaining his physical disabilities), he spent his life capturing the “low” culture and bohemian circus of late 19th-century Paris. Lithography, with its potential for widespread distribution and connection to commercial advertisement, was the perfect medium for his warm, celebratory urban art. It is a measure of Toulouse-Lautrec’s genius that his prints are so striking and moving both glued to brick walls outside Montmartre’s theatres and hung and framed in museum collections like this one.
The show is up until March 22nd, and you can attend a lecture about the work, “A Graphic Reality: The Fine Line of Toulouse-Lautrec,” on Thursday September 11th at 1:30pm or Tuesday the 23rd at 11:30am. MoMA invites fans to submit their own sketches inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec by sharing photos of them tagged with #MoMALautrec.
WHAT TO DO AFTER /
If you (or your wallet) are not feeling up for the fine dining at Michelin-starred The Modern, grab a beer or a gelato and sit outside in the Sculpture Garden to end your visit. The Garden Cart offers a few styles of beer from Captain Lawrence (Elmsford, NY) on draft -- we recommend the Liquid Gold Belgian-style ale. Coffees, teas, and wines are also available, plus gelato, sorbet and a few light snacks. It’s nice to be reminded that there are still quiet spaces to sit outside with a friend or two, even in Midtown.