My favourite department store in Paris is without a doubt Le Bon Marché. Unlike the more famous Galeries Lafayette, the shop is a more manageable size and is often free of the hoards of tourists that are constantly cluttering the breathing space on Boulevard Haussmann. Moreover, Le Bon Marché always has the most beautiful windows and is currently hosting the first French exhibition of original artwork by Ai Weiwei.
Xi Er, Air de Jeu presents a beautiful display of creatures floating from the ceilings of the Parisian store. The white animals look like kites flying into the world of Parisian luxury from a mythical place and time. These beautiful beasts have been taken from the Chinese Shan Hai Jin – the Classic of the Mountains and the Seas. The title, means ‘playground’ in both Chinese and French, which seems fitting, as the animals have been crafted like kites from a team of Shandong artisans and master kite maker Wong Yong Xun. Their efforts have resulted in the birth of flying dragons and turtles that have been constructed from bamboo and clothed in white silk. The fairytale creatures are said to work in conjunction with Ai’s longstanding interest with freedom and repression.
While a department store may seem like an unlikely place for an artist to exhibit their work, Ai has stated that he likes his work to be displayed in a place that is directly linked to a city and its citizens, something that would probably be more difficult in a museum or gallery. Moreover, the artist has also explained that he is interested in his work being ‘associated with perfumes or ladies’ bags’, having ’no idea why and how the people are so interested…but I always admire that a human has those needs.’ For many, fashion and art go hand in hand, so it does not at all seem absurd to me to use one as a backdrop for the other, especially when the results are as beautiful as Ai’s display in the 7th arrondissement.
As a bonus, the current windows at Le Bon Marché also play host to another woman who could arguably be described as an artist: Iris Apfel. The display of Ai and Apfel in the same place seems terribly absurd – however, I am sure that many would agree with me in saying that everything Apfel does is absurd – and that is why so many people love her. In a complete juxtaposition to Ai’s interiors, Apfel’s exterior presence is loud and colourful. The windows see Mrs. Apfel partaking in many famed Parisian activities, from visiting the runway at Paris Fashion Week to visiting the Opera.
Both the Ai Weiwei installation and the Iris Apfel windows currently visible inside the gorgeous Le Bon Marché are definitely worth a visit if you just so happen to be in Paris now or in the near future!